Look, we all know the deal with screen time by now. Every kid is better off outside with their hands in the dirt, chasing balls and butterflies and speed racing their bikes than they are with an electronic device. Fact. Every day of the week.
But sometimes, just sometimes, my wonder-woman tiara slips a little and I need a break from ball-tag, I need to shower before midnight, or I don’t know, let’s go crazy here… I want to prep a nice meal without making 500 snacks in the process. And it is during those limited times that I have learned to give myself a break and allow my kids some limited (and legitimately educational!) screen time without guilt.
In case you need some help letting go of the screen-time guilt (as I did) here are the facts. AAP put out an official review you can see here. As with everything, (and regardless of the type of screen time involved) moderation is absolutely key. But, there have been some encouraging studies showing educational benefits from a child’s “active” screen time, i.e., engaging with apps via an iPad or tablet. For example, a recent study published in the International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science, and Technology* found that:
…children can develop emerging knowledge about print in digital contexts using an iPad, or a similar tablet, and that it offers unique ways to employ reading, writing, listening, and speaking within one context.
When it is used appropriately (read: not binge-watching baby shark do-do-do) the screen can provide children with learning opportunities. To be clear, we are in no way advocating for a tablet to substitute for your guidance or play time with your child. Screen time is NOT a filler for social skills, coordination, or emotional development. Face to face interaction and active, tangible learning time is imperative for every child’s development. However, smart screen time CAN be a wonderful educational tool to supplement your child’s day (particularly in moments of parent burn-out).
The AAP also found in research** that:
Well-designed television programs, such as Sesame Street, can improve cognitive, literacy, and social outcomes for children 3 to 5 years of age and continue to create programming that addresses evolving child health and developmental needs (eg, obesity prevention, resilience)
Caveat: if you’re momming kiddos under 2, all of the current evidence unfortunately says, no benefit***. The brain of a kid 15 months to 2 years can learn from some types of interactive apps if they do them WITH you, but not watching videos or slapping the screen of an ipad unattended. With all that being said, we’ve collected here some of the most fantastic and legitimately educational apps for littles that can be downloaded to your phone or iPad to provide some smart screen time for your kids, when they (or you) might benefit.
So, without further ado… here are the keys to your next quiet, guilt-free shower. You can thank us later.
Smart Screen Time Apps for Kids
Endless Learning Apps
True story: this app is responsible for teaching multiple of our collective children their letters and early sight words. Preschool teachers legitimately asked for the info on this app because our kids far exceeded grade level in early phonetics – and as much as we’d like to take all the credit for that… we just can’t. The full repertoire of Endless apps includes Endless Reader, Wordplay, Numbers, Alphabet, and Spanish. They have all been wonderfully educational and entertaining for our whole harem of kids.
Ages: 2 and up
Cost: Apps can be purchased separately or bundled. They run about $8.99-15.99/ea. The complete school bundle is $59.99, and is worth every penny.
Moose Math actually succeeded in making math fun for our kids. And as adults who struggle to use “math” and “fun” in the same sentence… we are big fans. Through a mathematical adventure, Moose Math teaches counting, addition, subtraction, sorting, and geometry through activities like the “Moose Juice Store” where kids add ingredients to create smoothies, Puck’s Pet Shop, and the Lost & Found. The app aligns with Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten and 1st Grade and includes a Report Card section for parents and teachers.
Coding for kids. That your kids will like. In other words, awesome-sauce. This app uses cute little fuzzy guys (sort of reminiscent of Pac-man?) navigating maze-filled planets to teach concepts like sequencing, order of operations, algorithmic operations, and conditional logic statements that comprise the fundamentals of every modern programming language.
Ages: Grades K-5 (ages 4-11)
Cost: App is free, in-app purchased Parent Pack is $29.99.
If you have any space-loving guys or girls in your family, this is the app for you! Just hold your iPhone or iPad up to the night sky and Sky Guide automatically aligns itself to the stars above you—no setup required. Our kids love identifying the planets and seeing the constellations’ illuminated illustrations. (Um, ok, really I use this alone too. It’s just straight nerd-mom cool.) You can search for meteor showers, track satellites, or show your child what the night sky looked like the moment they were born! You can also receive notifications whenever the International Space Station flies over your location, which our family loves to track together! Sky Guide works anywhere— with or without Wi-Fi, cellular service or GPS. This app is packed full of information and is sure to please curious stargazers of any age!
Merlin Bird ID
Our kids love using this app to identify birds they see at our feeder or on walks around the neighborhood. They enjoy browsing through the photos and hearing different bird calls or even playing the calls to “talk” to different birds they identify in our backyard. Powered by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this app is full of vibrant photos and encourages outdoor enrichment to locate and identify different species. Grab your binoculars!
This piano-lesson app is best for older kiddos 4 and up. It has a HUGE library of contemporary and classic songs for piano and uses visual demonstration of which keys along with teaching music reading. It will “listen” for you play the right key before moving forward in the music in Flow Mode, freeing you up from sitting there watching if they’ve played correctly.
Cost: $19.99/month – less if you sign up for multiple months. Sounds expensive, but is way cheaper than actual piano lessons!
In conclusion, all screen time is not created equal. But smart screen time for our kids is one aspect of technology that we are all hallelujah-dancing-in-the-aisles kind of thankful for over here in the parenting corner. When a parent or caregiver reaches burn out, or heck, when our children’s talents reach beyond our means for that matter (we personally cannot teach expert level pop-piano tunes on a whim), we are happy that they have an educational, enriching alternative to well… us. So when ball-tag injuries require quiet time or the fall leaf-pile-diving allergies have brought your active braniacs inside, we hope that these fantastic apps provide your whole family with some entertainment and growth.
Rock on mommas! We’ve got this.
Real As A M*ther is made up of 4 best friends from high school. We are now a doctor, lawyer, doula, and financial advisor; and collectively we are moms to 9 beautiful kids and counting, We write to keep it #real with advice on parenthood, health, home, money, and more.