Using Apps in Programs for Older Kids

Over the past year, I’ve been experimenting with using apps in programs for kids in grades K-5, with great success! Sometimes I plan a program entirely around an app (like using LongExpo to do light painting and Stop Motion Studio to make stop motion animation movies). Other times I come across an app that I think would enhance a program I have already planned. Below are three examples of how I’ve incorporated an app into an otherwise tech-free program.

Screen shot of the Little Things Forever app, taken by the author.
Screen shot of the Little Things Forever app, taken by the author.

Little Things Forever by KlickTock (App Store: $2.99, Google Play: free)
In this app, you try to find hidden objects in a large collage-style image. On some levels, you race to find everything before time runs out.

Over spring break, a coworker and I did an I Spy program for kids in grades 3-5. The kids assembled their own I Spy-style collages using paper and small objects. They wrote a list of the objects to find and we photographed the results. The kids finished their collages at different times so it was the perfect opportunity to use this app, because kids could easily join in as they finished. I projected it onto a large screen and manipulated the image on the iPad while the kids gathered around the screen and pointed out the objects as they found them. I had been uncertain about how this would play out in a group setting, but the kids worked cooperatively and were quite enthusiastic about it.

My First Tangrams Lite by Alexandre Minard (App Store: free/full version is $1.99)
Tangrams are ancient Chinese puzzles that use seven specific shapes (five triangles of different sizes, a square and a parallelogram) to create images, such as a cat or boat. This app has kids assemble the images by dragging pieces into the right spot on the screen and includes pieces with different shapes (rectangle, semi-circle) than a traditional tangram.

As part of a series of STEM programs for kids in grades K-2, I did a program on tangrams. I read a story aloud, the kids put together various tangrams, and they did a craft. At the end, I passed out four iPads and the kids worked on the app in pairs. Even the kids who had a hard time with the actual tangram pieces understood the app and had fun with it. I think it builds different skills than actually holding puzzle pieces in your hand, but it was a nice complement to the rest of the program.

Underground Kingdom by Visual Baker (App Store: $2.99)
This is a Choose Your Own Adventure book turned into an app, about a person who falls into a seemingly bottomless crevasse in Greenland and finds a secret underground world. This style of story lends itself quite well to the app format.

Ok, I admit that I haven’t actually used this one in a program. I planned to use it last summer in a read-aloud program for kids in grades 2-4. It was an informal program in which we read funny picture books and chapters of longer books, and I was looking for activities to break up the reading. I ended up scrapping the app at the last minute for time reasons. But I think it would be great to do with a group; every time you run into a decision that has to be made you could have the kids vote and go with the majority. If you try this, let me know how it goes!

Liz Fraser is Children’s Librarian/Technology Coordinator at the Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich, IL and serves on the ALSC Children and Technology Committee. She writes about library programs for kids at Getting Giggles and can be found on Twitter as @lizfraserlib.

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