It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a few years since Apple unleashed tablet computing on the world, but in that short time the tablet has gone from a new gadget for the tech crowd to an almost indispensable tool for teaching.
Home computers have been around for over three decades now, and there has been teaching and learning software available from the very beginning. But, the revolutionary advance that tablets brought to education was their intuitive touch screen interface. Not only do they no longer need to know how to use a keyboard or mouse, but kids who can’t read or even know the alphabet can sit down with a tablet and immediately start using it.
Of course the tablet is just a tool, and as with any tool, it needs to be used properly to be effective. Below are some suggestions to get you started using a tablet computer to introduce your child to computers and to the world beyond.
Very young children
A child’s ability to learn and absorb new concepts can be amazing, and while some children might be ready to learn using the tablet sooner than others, it’s never too early to give them the opportunity to try.
- Drawing programs – Drawing apps can be good for children of all ages, but it’s an especially good way to first introduce children to the tablet. At its heart, it’s the most basic and instantly gratifying use of the tablet: you move your finger across the screen and a line appears where your finger was. It’s essentially finger painting without the mess. It’s also a great way for young children to learn about colors.
- Letter and number recognition – It’s never too early for children to learn the alphabet and numbers and there are dozens of apps out there designed for toddlers that help to do just that. A good app will be very interactive, associating numbers with counting, and even begin to introduce your child to the standard keyboard layout.
A lot of children don’t begin reading until they’re in first grade, but many of them start much earlier. Early reading apps help to introduce reading in an engaging manner that can sometimes hold the child’s attention more effectively than simply being read to by an adult.
- Learning to read – Books aren’t going away anytime soon, nor should they, but tablets can provide a much more interactive experience for children just learning to read. From animations that illustrate the story to books that read themselves to the child while he or she follows along with the highlighted text, it can be a very effective and engaging way to learn how to read.
- More advanced reading – It’s hard to think of a book that’s not available as an eBook these days, so whether your child is reading Curious George or Harry Potter, a digital version of the book is a great way to not only keep an eye on what they’re reading, but also possibly save a few dollars in the process.
Math and Science
Let’s face it, we’re not all experts on the things we want our children to learn and at some point in their schooling – often sooner than we’re ready – they are going to be learning or wanting to learn things that we simply don’t know enough about to teach. Fortunately, there are apps and videos available to fill in those gaps, and when your child finds something he’s passionate about exploring further, there is no end to the knowledge to be explored.
- Making math fun – Computers are the direct descendants of calculators and math is still probably the thing they do best. Math can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be, and with the right software it can be less intimidating and fun.
- Science – There is simply no comparison between seeing a diagram of the solar system and seeing an animation of it in motion. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a narrated or annotated video of a volcano erupting or a rocket launching is worth volumes.
- YouTube – You might be thinking of YouTube as a site you’d rather your child not visit, but in addition to the junk, there is a treasure trove of educational material delivered by experts that will fascinate you and your child. Of course you should always pre-screen videos, especially for younger children, but some good YouTube accounts to take a look at include OrganicLearning, MakeMeGenius, KhanAcademy and CrashCourse.
There’s almost no end to the learning software available for tablets, but some other interesting areas include:
- Foreign languages – experts say that children are better able to pick up new languages if they start early and learning on a tablet where they can proceed at their own pace and hear proper pronunciation is a perfect place to start.
- Music – You’ll never learn to play a trumpet on an iPad, but you might learn the piano. And beyond the piano keyboard, there are plenty of apps that will help your child learn to read music and recognize instruments by sound.
- Handwriting – It seems counterintuitive to think you can learn handwriting on a computer, but the touch screen interface is perfectly suited to help guide young hands in the proper formation of letters.
You’ve probably noticed I haven’t recommended any specific tablets or apps in this post. There are dozens of tablets available and thousands upon thousands of apps available for them – far too many to name and new apps are being released every day. If you’re looking to buy a new tablet to use with your child, you can’t go wrong with an Apple iPad or an Android tablet made by any of the major manufacturers. But there are plenty of other options in the marketplace – just be sure to read the reviews and see what software is available before you make your purchase.
And always remember that a tablet is just one tool to help with your child’s education. While many of the apps are designed for the child to work without constant supervision, it’s always a good idea to reinforce the lessons learned and, where possible, show your child how what they’ve learned applies in the real world.
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