When I was buying the very first tablet for my 3yo son, I thought it would be mainly used for educational games. Man, I couldn't be more wrong.
I already knew that Android games for toddlers suck. I have tried a few of them on my older phone, but I kind of hoped that commercial games and better hardware would do the trick. I bought the fairly powerful Nexus 7 and even purchased some games. I searched through the piles of games and left a lot of bad reviews behind me. No luck. Icons of the games lie unused on tablet's desktop to this day.
I've written off the whole app scene some time ago. I just thought that games are a big exception. They are not. I've been foolish investing in the app island when there is the Internet ocean to explore. Here's my Pirate's Map of the Preschool Internet. It's just a few small islands at the moment, but I now feel I am on the right course.
Preschoolers generally don't read, but they can readily understand images and videos. YouTube turned out to be a goldmine of educational material. There's everything from all kinds of animals, through solo music instruments to visualization of how car engine works. Whenever I need to explain new concept, I stop talking and instead pull out the tablet and play video that clearly demonstrates what I mean.
YouTube isn't without its flaws. Android hates ad blockers and those pesky ads are thoroughly annoying when trying to deliver educational material. YouTube is also full of nonsense linked from every video and every search. Kids tend to be attracted to the worst rubbish for some reason, so no unmonitored browsing at this age. There's a voice search that would be great for kids except that it appears to be thoroughly deaf, failing to recognize simple words like "cat". I wish there was some video equivalent to Wikipedia that would be specifically designed for preschoolers and toddlers.
#2: Image Search
YouTube is great for animated stuff and sounds, but static objects like pyramids are better demonstrated via image search. It's also much faster than browsing through videos since you can see many pictures at the same time and switch them much more quickly.
#3: Google Earth
This one is good for geography. We have a story book about going to the North Pole, which inevitably leads to the curious question as to where that North Pole actually is? No image and no video will show it as clearly as interactive planet that can be rolled and zoomed as necessary.
Admittedly, my list is a bit short. Nevertheless, I have a few hunches as to where to go now. Here are my tips for likely cool "games" that preschoolers are actually going to enjoy:
- Photos: The tablet is producing poor photos when compared to digital compact, but the main point here is the fun of documenting one's achievements and having some sense of life's continuity.
- Time & calendar: This is going to be great for explaining when mommy and daddy go to work and when do they stay at home. It might also help to explain what we mean by "short while" or "5 minutes".
- Painting: This one is a no-brainer. All kids love to paint. These apps, where you fill area with a tap or where you are "guided" through what should be creative process, just take fun out of it. Simple canvas with free line drawing is ideal.
- Typing: I have discovered that all those typing games are unnecessarily complicated and confusing, inserting goals and constraints where free typing with parent's guidance would do much better job. I will use my old netbook's keyboard for this, because kids should explore the world with all senses whenever possible. Those virtual keyboards just don't cut it.
Seriously, kids don't care whether something is labeled as a "game". Everyday tools are often much more fun, because they have been actually designed to be usable rather than "just for kids". Think of all those cheap plastic toys. Would you want to use them yourself? If not, why do you think kids would like them?