This quarter I’m taking an educational technology class that focuses on developing new technologies for child development. It’s been fascinating learning about how much tech there is out there to help children in all stages of development, from toddler to teen. It’s also startling to see how much content parents have to sift through, and knowing what constitutes as “good” or “bad technology. What, for example, makes a “good” storytelling iPad app? Can Neopets teach your child about economics? Does FanFiction instill a sense of authorship and creativity in children? There have been so many uses of technology that we have explored in my class, and I’m hoping to share the best metrics for each tech category.

iPad Apps

Many iPad apps nowadays are geared towards helping improve child literacy. There are apps that read aloud to children, that highlight words or provide simple dictionaries. Even classic books, such as Dr. Seuss’ “Cat in the Hat” and the Sesame Street “The Monster at the End of this Book” have been upgraded with interactive pages and engaging animations. While there are many features packed into these apps, there are a few things to look out for when trying to find the cream of the crop.

  1. Look for apps that promote guided participation. Research has shown that parents who actively interact with their child while reading help improve their child’s literacy rather than if the child were left reading on their own. Not only is this good bonding time, but the parent can help keep the child on task, explain new words or correct mispronunciations, not all of which an app can do.
  2. Make sure the app doesn’t have a “TV” feel. Some apps just seem like a mini TV show with subtitles. Stay away from these. Ideally you want to have words highlighted and the ability to turn pages freely when navigating the book/app.
  3. Look for age appropriate content. Some book apps are made for slightly older children. Just make sure that the book you want your child to read fits in with their attention span (isn’t incredibly long or too low-level).

These are my personal top three pieces of advice when sifting through reading apps. And remember, it’s always good to limit screen time as well. You don’t want your child to navigate away from the app and use “reading” time for game time!

Tech Toys

Think Goldiblocks or Lego Mindstorms. Kits or electronic toys that promote digital education are on the rise. Children ages 5+ can now find some sort of way to engage with electronics in casual play, which exposes them to relatively complex concepts at a young age. When looking for tech toys, keep a few things in mind:

  1. How reusable is it? Is there one configuration to build a device, or can the tech toy be modified or rearranged to be something else? The reusability factor not only encourages further use, but also helps develop creativity.
  2. How much tech is there? A toy that only offers one circuit for a light bulb decoration isn’t really a tech toy. Make sure there’s enough material and content to keep your kid learning!

Online Websites

Believe it or not, there are actually some websites that are better for your children’s development than others. But it all depends on how they end up using these sites. For example, Neopets, Webkinz and Club Penguin are great sites to engage your child in social play, responsibility and commerce understanding. is a great place for tweens to develop their writing and creativity skills. However, as a parent you have to keep tabs on your child while they play. I don’t have metrics really for this category, but here some suggested sites that are better than others for kids of all ages.

  1. PBS Kids – this is a great site for younger users looking for fun games with an educational component. Minimal advertising and popular characters make this site a go to for many parents.
  2. – this is an online version of the popular Scratch programming environment. Kids can create their own games with visual programming, and then share their creations with others online.
  3. Pottermore – if your kids like Harry Potter, then this site is fantastic. There are community elements such as house competitions and forums, interactive stories from the book, and fun mini games that tie into the original series. Definitely a fun way to get your kid to explore their favorite books from an interactive angle.
  4. National Geographic Kids – all kinds of cool articles, activities and games for your kids to browse, relating to the natural world around us and vetted by National Geographic.

These are just a few sites I’m aware of. As with any technology, it’s important to limit screen time and make sure to monitor your child on whatever site they end up using.

There are tons of other educational tech tools around, and if you want to add to this brief list, feel free to leave a comment!