By Lucy Gill, Director: Apps & Technology Fundamentally Children
Many of us are dreading long journeys with our children this summer, struggling to work out what will fit in the suitcase to entertain them when we get to our destination or simply wondering how to fill all those hours at home on a rainy day!
Technology is certainly not the only solution to keep children entertained, far from it, but there is no doubt it can help! For many of us tablets like the iPad are particularly key – and why not, with such a small device children can be entertained in such a huge range of ways. After all, as well as endless apps at remarkably low prices through the one device you can also play music, audio books, films, TV programmes, read ebooks, flick through family photos and create new photos and videos.
That said, of course we would never encourage tablets to become too dominant a feature in a child’s play diet. Don’t be too quick to turn to the tablet the moment you start a journey or they’ve got bored, too much screen time can be genuinely damaging. Getting children off the tablet can be hard but setting clear ground rules here to ensure children have a balanced play diet is critical. The vast majority of a child’s playtime should certainly be spent offline in active play, social play as a family or with friends, imaginative play, creative play etc. If you’re stuck in a car, a good family sing-along or a game of I-Spy still are good places to start! Here are some other ideas on how to make your holiday a stress-free experience this year.
However, as and when you do turn to the tablet, here are our top ten tips on how to choose apps for the summer holidays:
Learn something relevant to where you’re going: think about where you are going and what you might see/do and see if there might be opportunities to link what they do on screen with what’s happening off-screen. There are apps that touch on geography, history, cultures, cuisines, religions, languages, currencies or even transport. For example, apps that focus on the airports such as Tiny Airport can help younger children understand what’s involved and so cooperate better on a journey.
Literacy & reading apps: Reading is so crucial for children and it has been shown that children who read in their own time do better at school and later in life. There are such a range of digital books available that can be enjoyed with you reading alongside or independently that can really help (alongside reading physical books too, of course). The challenge is simply to find the storyline that most inspires your child. Something like Me Books offers a huge library of books to choose from.
Develop a strength/interest: Is there a particular subject or topic your child has really shown an interest in or excelled at? This may be a school subject or just something that’s currently caught your child’s interest. Apps or other content to further this interest can really help a child find their own identity, spark an enthusiasm for learning and help develop their confidence. For example, if they’ve shown an interest in science try The Human Body, Toca Lab or Monster Physics.
Overcome a weakness: If your last school report highlighted areas where your child is struggling, finding fun apps that approach this topic in an entertaining way (ideally without it feeling like school work) can be a great way to overcome this. For example, if you have a child for whom maths is a chore try the Tiggly Maths trio of apps and see if Tiggly Chef can spark their interest.
Get creative: apps can be particularly good at inspiring creativity and imagination. There are many creative drawing apps and several with unusual themes like Duckie Deck Birdhouses, or Tiggly Draw. Whilst others focus on imagination, storytelling or musical creativity.
Get physical or social: look out for apps that break the stereotype that screen-time encourages static, solo play. There are a growing number of apps that encourage children to get active like the Kurio Motion apps preloaded onto the Kurio TAB or to play as a group.
Look for independent, expert endorsement of apps: we would always encourage you to check for reviews of apps before you buy. Websites like the Good App Guide provide independent, expert feedback on apps for children to give you more confidence in your choice.
Be willing to pay for good apps: whilst there are some good free apps out there, unsurprisingly most of the quality offerings have a price tag attached. However, given what you get they are typically pretty low cost – if you’ve checked the reviews and know the app is good then a small price tag shouldn’t put you off.
Let them have fun: this list so far encourages an educational angle to your app choices. That’s great but if these are primarily for a child’s play during the summer holidays the focus should be on fun. By all means find apps that help children learn while they are having fun but they should enjoy playing. Some apps with a less educational angle are of course fine too!
Beware of streaming services abroad: and finally, if you use on demand TV services in the UK, don’t forget that most streaming video services do not work abroad so download in advance if you can!