Is technology beneficial to children’s early learning?

Lit apps guide screenshot

Manchester Metropolitan University have been working with the National Literacy Trust to create a guide for teachers and parents to find the best literacy apps for children.

Dr Natalia Kucirkova, Senior Lecturer in Early Years and Childhood Studies, has helped develop an online Literacy Apps guide as a resource to assist adults in choosing apps for children aged 0-5 years that support language, literacy development and reading for pleasure.

Dr Kucirkova, said: “There has been a sharp rise in teachers using digital books in pre- and primary schools in the UK as well as parents using storybook apps with children at home.

“With thousands of these apps on the market and most being advertised as ‘educational’ things can get confusing – especially when research shows that these apps may not be that helpful for children’s reading development. By creating a research-based app guide, we want to empower parents and teachers to understand the potential of children’s apps and at the same time, highlight the features of digital books that are likely to support communication, language and literacy development in young children.”

The guide

The Literacy Apps guide offers a large selection of children’s apps and digital books that have been checked using a quality framework and have been reviewed by experts.

Apps within the guide can be filtered according to a set of criteria. As well as age, parents and teachers can specify what skills the app should help develop, for example, listening and attention, understanding, speaking, reading or writing. The level of engagement within the app can also be filtered according to a research-based framework on children’s engagement with digital books.

In this way, adults can consider whether:

  • The app is fun and makes children feel included and empowered, through the response of the screen, for example touching, tapping, swiping and more.
  • The app allows the child to play with others either in person or virtually.
  • The app has goals, rules and gives clear feedback or encouragement when the child engages with it. These goals and rules can be adjusted to suit the child.
  • The app gives children different activities, characters and stories to be involved with.
  • The app lets children use their imagination, make new stories or change what is happening.
  • The app can be changed to relate to the child – adding voices, pictures or by creating their own characters.

Charlotte Billington, Early Years Project Manager at the National Literacy Trust, said: “Almost every family has a touchscreen at home so it is likely that young children will want to copy their parents when they see them using tablets and smartphones. However there is little guidance available for mums and dads who are unsure how to use technology in the most beneficial ways for their pre-school children. Although parents will naturally have concerns about screen time, technology can be used in positive ways alongside books to help children learn.”

The app guide and other free online resources developed by Dr Kucirkova will be included in a reading toolkit. As part of the ‘Read Manchester’ campaign, Manchester City Council will distribute the toolkit to all libraries, registered childcare centres and selected primary schools in the city. Read Manchester aims to promote reading, boost literacy and raise awareness of the importance of reading in transforming children’s lives.

The Literacy Apps guide is available here: http://literacyapps.literacytrust.org.uk/