Apps for very young learners


As an ELT publisher but also proud new mother, one of my favourite things over the last 15 months has been watching my daughter learn language. It has also been fascinating to watch her use technology – as a true digital native she will grow up in a very different world to the one I grew up in. Will the books she uses at school be e-books? Will she use a tablet in class? Will she be surprised that people ever used a pen and paper, or even a printer?

At the age of 15 months my daughter can already unlock the iPad by swiping her finger across the screen and start a picture slideshow. As a one-year-old she is not frightened of technology. It’s there and it’s something to play with.

In order to distract her from the allures of email and unleashing untold havoc on the contents of the iPad, I’ve downloaded some apps for her to play with. Some parents would say she is too young to have ‘screen time’. I say, she’s going to be surrounded by technology her whole life – why not start now?

The apps I’ve downloaded have helped her with her language development. Maybe some of your young learners would like them too.

FisherPrice Laugh and Learn Animal Noises – this app introduces the names and sounds of animals, using pictures and labels. It’s like a series of animated flashcards with a catchy song I’ve found myself humming on the train. What is interesting about this app is that I can use it with a book containing pictures of some of the same animals. If an animal is in the book and in the app, she can do the animal sound when prompted. If it isn’t, she can’t. So, neither the book nor the app are teaching her everything – she needs me to prompt her, and the app and the book to reinforce one another.

Paint Sparkles – I’ve found that learning about colours is confusing for a one-year-old. She can understand the names of objects but try to explain that the ball is yellow and she will look completely confused. Painting makes this easier as when she selects a colour I can tell her what it is. This app allows her to select a colour and then paint with it on screen or select one of the black and white line drawings to colour in, and the colours sparkle as you drag your finger over them.

The Wheels on the Bus – she loves this song. This app is a simple animation where the bus’s doors open and shut, windows go up and down etc. depending on the line of the song. It’s a lovely way to illustrate the song, teach her some non-animal vocabulary and get her dancing along at the same time. 

In the Night Garden – this is a popular BBC programme for babies in which the characters speak a kind of baby language. The app includes a couple of games in which babies can select their favourite characters and then either wash their faces or find hidden objects. It’s a fun way of introducing a game suitable for very young children – every tap on the screen produces a sparkle so they can find the correct answer by trial and error. It’s also a good way of introducing prepositions of place (behind the rock, in front of the tree) and words for routine (washing your face).

In looking for something to entertain my daughter, I found that the best entertainment was both of us interacting with the app together. I haven’t, sadly, got any more free time by using these apps, but I do have a happy mini-digital native.


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