Apps My Preschooler Loves & Tips for Making Screen Time More Meaningful

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My 4-year-old has been allowed to play on screens for about a year now (ever since she found out they really do work outside of airplanes, a trick I was able to make work for a couple of years during long flights to Portland, New York, and Orlando). I do limit her screen time (both on devices and with television). I use a timer and when she hears it ring, she knows it is time to put the device away.

When she is on a device, I want it to be at least a little bit educational and meaningful. However, the apps she likes and the things she wants to watch do not always match with what I would like for her to explore. One thing I do to close this gap is to use what she is doing on the device as inspiration for what we do when screen time is over. 

Here are some of her favorite apps to play and watch on her device; paired with some of my favorite activities to make screen time more meaningful:

  • Cake decorating videos and “cooking” apps. Her favorite cake decorating video is Peppa Pig Birthday Cake. The channel is HooplaKidz Recipes. I actually love that she enjoys watching these videos. If you have a future baker in your home, make sure you take what is going on in the video as a suggestion of something to do in your own kitchen! Put away the device and bake or decorate some cookies. Another app she really loves that you can use to kick off fun in the kitchen is Junior Chef’s Cafe.
  • Drawing and coloring apps. She loves apps created by Bini Bambini, especially Drawing Academy for Kids. These apps are actually really great. She traces and draws little animals and then they dance around. I like to make sure that after she creates digital art, she sits down with some actual paints or crayons and colors in “real life” too. She also loves Disney’s Coloring World and Happy Color.
  • Duck Duck Moose, has tons of FREE apps for children. I love these because they are truly educational. An easy activity to pair these with are real puzzles, manipulatives, and books. 
  • Toca Boca makes some awesome apps. She enjoys Toca Pet Doctor. They have a number of apps that are “real life.” After playing, Pet Doctor, for example, I like to suggest to my preschooler that she gathers some of her stuffed animals and plays “pet doctor.”
  • Hello Kitty Nails. My kiddo has a few nail salon apps she likes. So, of course, we have some kid-safe nail polish that she can use to paint her own nails (and mine and her dad’s) after she plays with the app. 
  • Chances are there is an app that goes with whatever your child likes to watch on television. Many of these apps stream the programs, but then also include games, puzzles, and other activities on the app. After playing, you can read a book that ties in with the app or if your house is like mine … you have so many of these television characters as toys. Have your child recreate something they did on the app with their character toys. Some of my child’s favorites are:

You do not have to feel guilty about screen time. Sometimes you need a quiet moment to yourself. However, be sure you limit the amount of time your child has their eyes glued to a screen. Use what they are doing for hands-on fun inspiration! 

What are your tips for limiting screen time? What are your child’s favorite apps? 

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Valerie Byrd Fort was born in Florida, but when she was four years old, her family moved to the midlands and never looked back. She is mom to Katy (human) and to Lucky, Mozzy, and Penny (rescue dogs). She is married to Marty Fort, owner of the Lexington School of Music, Columbia Arts Academy, and Irmo Music Academy. She is an Instructor for the School of Library & Information Science at the University of South Carolina, where she teaches Children’s Literature to future classroom teachers and librarians. She is also Coordinator for Cocky's Reading Express, the University of South Carolina's literacy outreach program. Valerie is passionate about books, literacy, libraries, and reading aloud with children of ALL ages. She writes about books and other literacy related topics on her blog, Library Goddess. In her free time, Valerie enjoys reading, Barre3, going to Target and endless scrolling of social media  

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