It's a wonderful teaching toolAs an Inclusion Specialist for a program that serves children with special needs, I’ve been skeptical about the value of computer games and apps on the development of young children with varying abilities. But after seeing the results when using effective apps with children with special needs, I’m convinced that when used appropriately and with continuous monitoring, educational apps can successfully be incorporated into early intervention programs to support young children’s development. Here’s one example:

I was working with Ann, a three-year-old at a family child care who had underdeveloped language skills. Most adults couldn’t understand what she was saying. During visits, I suggested various learning apps for Ann to use with her provider and parents. Her favorites were the ‘Name Game’ and ‘Sing It’, which she used and performed with ease. Soon, her vocabulary, pronunciation, and confidence blossomed. She began singing at school, which was an amazing surprise one day for her mother.

Apps and Preschoolers:

At the Inclusion Project, we adopt a strengths-based approach for all the children we serve. Using apps helps us to focus on children’s skills, not just their challenges. We have found they are especially useful for children with developmental delays or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

apps1Apps are not a passive activity like watching TV. Children learn by doing, not just listening and watching. Young children are more attentive when offered high-interest tasks, and most children thrive when activities are interactive, attainable, and predictable. Apps can be extremely interactive, with games that build various skills such as critical thinking, visual, and auditory processing and with activities that provide tactile, hands-on experiences. Many apps also focus on children’s communication, fine motor, gross motor, problem solving, and social-emotional development.

Like any technology or media, apps should be carefully selected and continuously monitored by parents. Too much media and technology can have a negative impact on a developing young brain, and without proper monitoring, could lead to cognitive overload or regressive social communication skills. That’s especially why children under age two should not use apps (or have any screen time, for that matter).

Selecting Apps for Your Child:

If using apps with your preschooler, parents should look for ones that are conducive to learning, ensure a worthy success rate, and are fun and enjoyable.

  • Use apps that emphasize vocabulary, articulation, critical thinking, penmanship/hand writing, art, music and opportunities for peer interactions. There are apps for various subjects such as, emotions, shapes, farms, professions, sensory (sound, touch, visual tracking, sequencing, and adaptive skills, etc.).
  • Choose apps or games that meet children’s functional and developmental abilities, not just the recommended age. It’s most important that children enjoy the game, and are successful at it. Move on to a higher level only after a child has mastered a game or skill.
  • Read user reviews and comments to find games conducive to learning. Common Sense Media has lists of the best apps for preschoolers and for children with special needs or learning disabilities.
  • Choose games that allow opportunities for turn-taking at least half of the time so children learn to share and play with others, thus increasing social communication skills and compliance.
  • Limit app/tablet use to 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Monitor your child’s sensory response. If the bright lights or quick movements are over stimulating for your child, stop playing.

Some of my favorite educational apps and games we use in our program include: Touch and Say it, Match It Up, Sing It, Buzz Read to Me, Sort It Out, Animal Sounds, Name Games, What’s Different?, and Tap To Talk.

Ange Burnett is the Inclusion Project Coordinator at the Contra Costa Child Care Council. She can be reached at (925) 676-5442 or

For more information on this topic, read Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young Children, Technology and Early Education by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.



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