The Ratings

I review and rate educational in the following four areas:

1) Developmental Appropriateness: A lot happens in terms of development between the ages of 3 and 8, but children in this age range are often lumped together as "young children." Educational media usually targets a range of a few years, often labelled for ages 3 to 6 or 4 to 7. Sure, some children are faster or slower learners than others, but in general, the skill set of a 3- or 4-year-old is very different than that of a 7- or 8-year-old. An app can only be effective as a teaching tool if the content is appropriate for the target age.

Criteria: The apps are rated for appropriateness based on the content, relevance to what the child may already be learning at home and/or in school, and the type of motor skills needed (i.e., swiping, drag and drop). Given the young age range, I do not anticipate encountering content that may be deemed as "unsafe" such as mentions of alcohol, drugs, or sex. However, if this arises, I will of course bring attention to it, and it will be factored into this appropriateness rating.


Not appropriate                             Appropriate                                      Highly Appropriate

2) Balance: It isn't enough just to have educational content. Young children's learning is fragile. Apps need to present a good balance of features that are engaging, yet not too distracting. Technology presents designers with countless opportunities to highlight specific content through sound effects, hotspots, animation, etc. Research is beginning to show that some of these features, even if they were meant to highlight the to-be-learned material, can distract from rather than enhance learning.

Criteria:  The apps are rated for the balance of its features. An unbalanced app means that it has too many features that may end of distracting the child from the actual content, or it means that it is devoid of such features causing the app to be possibly unappealing and boring to the child.

Unbalanced                 Could use a few more or less features                        Good Balance

3) Sustainability: As with any to-be-learned material (and any app, really), we want the child to keep coming back to it. The more exposure they have to the material, the more likely it is that they will learn it. However, research with adults has shown that we spend short sessions using a specific app and often move on to the next "flavor of the month" fairly quickly. Can apps keep a child's attention long enough for them to learn the content?

Criteria: The apps are rated for their potential to keep the child motivated and engaged. Does the app provide incentives, rewards, fresh content, and goals?

One-timer                                        Flavor of the month                                           Keeper

4) Parental Involvement: Although most apps do not explicitly have a role for parents, it is important for parents to stay involved. Apps should be viewed as another opportunity for parents to interact with their child rather than as something that can occupy their child during car rides or waiting for soccer practice (although there is nothing wrong with that). Parents can help teach and reinforce the material. 

Criteria: The apps are rated for their potential for parental involvement. I hope to see apps that are designed with parents in mind  but most apps are probably child-oriented. I try to point out where I see a parent playing a role within each app.

Child-only                Parents will probably have to get creative          Joint-interaction App

The scores are then added up and placed in the following categories:

Score: 18-20 = 5 stars (Definitely check this out!)
Score: 15-17 = 4 stars (Solid app, worth checking out)
Score: 12-14 = 3 stars (Average, nothing majorly wrong, but there's probably better)
Score: 09-11 = 2 stars (Does not accomplish it's goal, not worth it)
Score: 08-05 = 1 star (Major flaws, needs improvements before further consideration)
Score: 04-00 = 0 stars (Total dud)

Age recommendations: Based on all four areas of ratings, I've tried to pinpoint what age I think the app is most appropriate for to make it easier for parents to make their selections. This is not always easy and please keep in mind that there are always individual differences and that these are only "recommended" ages.