Fun ways parents can introduce digital technologies in preschool learning

Young children are using digital technology and mobile devices now more than ever. A large scale 2013 study by Common Sense Media showed that across all US based families surveyed, nearly 40% kids have accessed educational content on mobile devices. This number is even higher (standing at 43%) for preschool students between two to four years.

Educator attitudes toward exposure of young children to digital media content and technology is also changing. In 2012, the NAEYC, North America’s foremost trade association for early childhood education professionals gave a formal thumbs up to the role of technology and digital media in early learning. The group believes that when used intentionally, appropriately and with careful discretion, technology and interactive media can be effective teaching tools for early childhood educators.

Here are some fun and interesting tech-related activities parents can do together with their preschool kids to prepare them for kindergarten. These activities are also inspired by a previous post from AdTech Dad on the Four Cs or the Four Super Skills to help prepare preschoolers for jobs of the future.


Produce your own cartoon

Early childhood educators worldwide have long used puppet play for preschool and kindergarten learning activities. There are many benefits of puppet play. Among the ones we find most important are that it helps to stimulate imagination and creativity (open ended storytelling), encourages empathy (thinking and stepping into the puppet’s shoes) and boosts oral language skills. Here’s a technologically charged alternative to the hand puppet…

Introducing Toontastic 3D, Google’s storytelling app for kids. The Android and iPhone app which provides young children and parents a simple platform to make their own cartoon movie clips. The app has easy to use tools and templates to design and draw characters, plot unique storylines, bring characters to life via animation and narration and insert soundtrack and music. Google calls it a “digital puppet theater” and as of June this year, kids all over the world have created over 2.5 million cartoons with 24,000 hours of content on the platform. It’s time to put your director caps on and make (digital) movie magic with your little ones!

Make e-Collages

Collages are simply defined as artistic compositions made of a variety of materials. It is a favourite and foundational art activity for early childhood teachers and children. Educator and writer, Colleen Corbett explains very nicely why the art form appeals so much to young children when she writes, “it (also) allows a certain level of flexibility. Children can make decisions about which materials to use and can then manipulate these shapes of various textures, forms and color until they are satisfied with their arrangement”.

Enter a digital alternative; electronic collaging. This activity offers a new and different medium for open ended creative expression. In traditional collaging the skills involved would be cutting, gluing, decorating and the general handling of physical materials. E-collaging will hone in new but familiar sets of digital skills for your preschooler such as snapping photos via a mobile camera (improves hand and eye coordination), typing (improve word recognition), doodling and sticking of digital stickers (encourages creative and artistic expression).

There are many collaging mobile apps in the market – PicCollage Kids is a good starting point and comes from the same makers of the successful collaging app for adults, PicCollage. Here’s a link to a dedicated page highlighting the awesome ways teachers are using PicCollage Kids in the classroom. Many of these activities can also be done at home. Start your e-collage today!

Create digital art

Drawing (and painting) is a core developmental skill for children and a universal kindergarten activity. It promotes a whole host of benefits to young children. Aside from cultivating creativity, it also helps preschoolers to develop their early perceptual abilities. Young children start to better understand the sensory world around them like people, objects, shapes, colours, lines, alphabets, nature etc by replicating these experiences in their drawings and paintings.

Many of the drawing apps today can reproduce almost lifelike works with incredibly realistic art tools like extensive colour palettes, pencils, brushes, pens of different shapes and sizes. The best way to familiarise digital drawing and painting to your preschooler is to start with basic concepts like colours and shapes and then move on to more complex objects like animals and people. As advised by early learning professionals trade body NAEYC, the idea is to naturalise the use of technology as much as possible because “when truly integrated, uses of technology and media become routine and transparent—the child or the educator is focused on the activity or exploration itself and not on the technology”.

A simple and free mobile app to start with is Memopad from Paris based studio Tayasui (only available for Apple iOS). If you’re looking for a more kid friendly and feature packed option, you can look at Drawing with Carl from the same studio. It offers more interesting functions like pattern stamping, mirror mode and photo importing. Pick up your digital brushes and bring out the inner Picasso in your little ones today!


Co-create a digital family tree

Cooperative and collaborative learning provides children with many important social skills and have increasingly been included in kindergarten activities globally. A study has shown that people working in groups cooperatively spend more time on the subject and have reported greater satisfaction levels that those who worked individually. Education consultant, Tony Vincent says that “working effectively with others is an extremely complex endeavour. Collaboration skills are complicated to learn because they are actually people skills. Learning these skills takes guided practice and quality feedback”.

A lot of these early social skills are picked up in preschool and at home. As a parent, we need to guide our children early on the importance of cooperation. We can start with a free online family centered activity that can involve grandma, grandpa and all our children’s cousins living near and far – Let’s build a collaborative online family tree!

We can start with opening a Google account and by going to Google Drawings. This web app is very popular with elementary educators to organize group projects because of its ability to allow simultaneously editing from different participants. Start building your own family tree by inserting photos of your family and getting your little one to pick and name your immediate family members. To make this activity more collaborative, get all your other extended family members to participate and build your extended family tree. Simply email or share the link to the family tree document to other parents, aunts, uncles and older cousins and they can start adding to the tree. Start documenting together!

Promote team activity with digital shapes

Team building activities are very beneficial to kids. Not only does it enhance their social skills but it helps them to understand the importance and effectiveness of learning and working together to achieve common goals. A 2015 research study from Northwestern University found that kindergartners who shared iPads during classroom (primarily in pairs) did better in their achievement tests that their peers who had one iPad to themselves. This promising study indicates that collaborative learning around technology may offer additional benefits to preschooler early learning.

Early education author Rosalind Thomas argues that “children are not born knowing how to cooperate with others”. Parents can start to encourage kids early by introducing team building activities at home. An easy and fun tech-based team game parents can start with is RelationShapes, a multiplayer game which “teaches children to identify, analyze, and create with the visual building blocks that make up our world”. It offers split screen and multi-touch interface to enable the up to four kids to coordinate, create and match shapes together. Teamwork makes the dream work!

Explore diversity online

Social awareness or the ability to appreciate similarities and accept differences in groups and individuals are essential life skills that enable effective collaboration. Kindergartens are already introducing concepts of diversity and social inclusion through activities like storytelling and singing that promotes multiculturalism. Such activities help young children to be more open minded and encourages more cooperative behaviour.

One of the many ways, parents can support the development of social awareness and cultural diversity in their preschool children is by exploring differences and similarities in other world cultures. The internet is a wide and open ended resource for discovery of this information and there are many sites and apps parents can access together with their children.

An interesting starting point is an iOS app called Homes by TinyBop. It allows children and parents explore and wander within four different types of houses in four distinct countries – a Brooklyn Brownstone house in the US, a Guatemalan Adobe, a Mongolian Ger and a Yemeni Tower House. The app helps children to better understand the similarities of how people in other countries live and within familiar concepts of the home such as food, water, rooms and utilities etc. At the same time, it celebrates diversity by illustrating cultural nuances in architecture, food, decoration and local living customs. Experience how the descendents of Genghis Khan are living today!


Digital color mixing

Experts at the American Philosophical Association believe that we should start our children early on logical and critical thinking. They believe that although preschoolers and young children may not be ready for formal lessons in logic, they should be guided to provide reasons for their conclusions and be able to evaluate reasons given by other people. In a Parenting Science article, the author argues that activities involving science and logic should always feed into pre-existing “learning paths” in kindergarten curriculum. One of the common learning paths cited was “cause and effect sequences pertaining to everyday objects”.

All children are taught to recognize colors at a very young age. A simple lesson in cause and effect is through understanding how primary colors are mixed and become secondary colors. An easy to use website that allows for simple click and mix learning experience is Knowpapa’s online color mixing tool. Although not purpose built for kids, this free online tool is more open ended and allows the user to continuously change the color by adding new colors into the mix. Let’s start mixing it up because life is not black and white!

Scientific Q&A for kids

Source: Ask Dr. Universe website

Children are naturally curious and we as humans have a natural need to understand the workings of the world around us. It’s becoming more apparent that early exposure to and understanding of general knowledge, as early as kindergarten, provides statistically proven advantages to children. A 2016 joint study from University of California, Irvine and Pennsylvania State University showed that “if you enter kindergarten with very little knowledge about the natural and social world, you are likely to be struggling in science by third grade, and you are then likely to still be struggling in science by eighth grade”.

This is exactly why experts have argued that “questions allow children to get information they need to move their knowledge structures closer to adult-like states, the ability to ask questions to gather needed information constitutes an efficient mechanism for cognitive development”. Parents should always approach question asking with patience and the internet is an amazing source for finding out answers.

Ask Dr Universe, a child oriented Q&A website from Washington State University is a repository of FAQs (frequently asked questions) from kids around the world. Although most of the questions are from children aged seven to twelve, this is still a great resource for parents to go through science based questions with their preschoolers. Answers to questions like “How is ice cream made?” and “Why are plants green?” are written for children and answered by the site’s main character, Dr Universe, an intelligent cat with a strong thirst for science and knowledge. If your child has a question that you cannot find in the site, Dr Universe invites you to send it via email and they may even feature it. Let’s get curious and start asking why, why, why?

Discover more about the animal kingdom

Source: SwitchZoo website

One of the critical thinking learning paths in kindergarten is “variation and classification”. Essentially, carrying out activities that help children understand that different objects and living things have different characteristics or distinct properties. For example, mammals are warm blooded and give birth to their young (except for platypuses and echidnas which lay eggs). This process help young children to better organize their knowledge and structure their understand of the world around them.

A fun and wacky way to teach children about animal classification while allowing them the flexibility of imagination is through the Switcheroo Zoo. The site allows kids to interactively switch around the heads, legs and tails of animals to make new animals. It also offers a simple game called “Please Do Feed the Animals” which allows children to match animals based on their dietary classifications (herbivore, omnivore, carnivore). If you like to find out more about an animal, you can go through the comprehensive list of animal profiles which details interesting information like lifespan, diet, natural predators and habitat. Take your young explorer for an animal adventure today!


Learn basic reading techniques through cartoons

Researchers at University of North Carolina argue that “children who develop strong language and communication skills are more likely to arrive at school ready to learn and are more likely to have higher levels of achievement”. The research also suggests that “the more often adults read to children, the better children’s language skills”. Many children learn to read generally around six to seven and there are the exceptional few that start earlier from four years onwards. However, education researchers have observed that motivated children can pick up reading quite quickly and especially when reading “becomes, to them, a means to some valued end or ends”.

Parents can supplement their regular reading sessions with their children with introducing simple early techniques of learning how to read. The phonics method is quite popular and it involves the ability to hear and identify corresponding spelling patterns based on the sounds that they represent. A interactive and fun way to introduce phonetic reading to children is through Alphablock videos. Their Youtube channel offers over 100 videos of animated alphabets that interact and work together to form clear phonetic sounds. Preschoolers can start with level one and it goes to up to level five. Let’s start rer-rer-reading!

Try out speech activated search

Source: Youtube Kids iOS App

Experts at John Hopkins University agree that on the average, children will say their first word between the age of six to 11 months. At two to three years, children would have developed a vocabulary of between 200-300 words. By the time they are four to five, their speech will be mostly understandable with the exception of long and more complex words. Speech skills are an important element of functional communication and helps children increase their independence and learning participation in the kindergarten classroom. It’s important that parents support the development of oral communication skills at home as it will help their children achieve better results in school and beyond.

A fun and motivating activity to help your preschool children to speak better and clearly is to teach them how to utilize the voice search function in the Youtube Kids video app. The app is developed specifically for young children and toddlers and has a very user friendly interface. The content within the app has been curated by Youtube to be as child friendly as possible and they offer parental controls which can help to further restrict content accessible. The voice search button which can be activated by tapping on the microphone icon in the search page is a delightful way for young kids (who are still unable to spell or type) to independently discover content. This provides great practice for them to speak more clearly as the voice search tool needs proper pronunciation to provide better search results. Start finding content with your voice today!

Learn basics of typing

Early education professionals at the NAEYC have acknowledged the positive contribution technology and interactive media can have on early learning. They’ve also defined effective uses of technology and media as being “active, hands-on, engaging, empowering, able to provide the child control, individualised and used as one of many options to support children’s learning”. As we rapidly shift toward computer and device (tablet) based learning in the classroom, keyboard typing will become more of a foundational learning skill rather than an optional one.

Early education experts and occupational therapists generally agree that the optimal age for formal keyboard learning for children is between 3rd and 4th grade or seven to ten years of age. There are minimum finger span and general motor skills requirements that allow for effective typing on the physical keyboard. However, there’s no real need to postpone introducing typing to younger kids – parents can start them early by introducing concepts of typing and spelling, familiarise them with the layout of the keyboard and where the keys are located.

We at Tapkins have developed a fun word learning, spelling and typing app for preschoolers between three to five years. We believe that systematically combining typing with words and images enhances word recognition and can support the vocabulary development of young children. Our smartphone and tablet (iPad and Android tablets) app is currently free to download via the Apple App Store (iOS), Google Play (Android) and Amazon Appstore (Android).

Download our FREE app today!