The iPhone As An Educational Kids Toy

Have you upgraded to an iPhone 3Gs, or perhaps you’ll treat yourself to a 4th generation iPhone this year? Don’t trade in, sell, or give away that old iPhone. Why? It’s a powerful educational toy that could help prepare your child for the next era of personal computing, in addition to providing boundless educational and entertainment benefits.

I make these claims specifically about the iPhone, not only because many are displaced by avid upgraders, but because a case is available, the OtterBox Defender, to effectively child-proof your precious gadget and ensure it lasts long enough to educate and entertain your little one.

The Case

Let’s get the case out of the way first. It’s an essential piece of kit for ensuring sticky fingers, moisture and gnashing teeth stay clear of the quite delicate iPhone. In addition to protecting it from these things, it’s also a good shock absorber and should keep the phone safe from accidental drops and knocks. The OtterBox defender is a monster of a case, but sadly the iPod Touch versions have been discontinued. So unless you can get hold of one it won’t help make a cheaper, more immediately attainable iPod touch stand up to the assault of your little one(s). Fortunately, with the iPad on the horizon and OtterBox geared up to make some, as of yet unannounced, cases for it there is yet hope for combining the two, along with some of the excellent software available in the App Store, to create your own rich, powerful educational tool.

The Idea

The idea of using the iPhone as a kids’ toy evolved over time and was spurred on, in no small part, by both my 2 year old daughter’s intrinsic interest in phones and gadgets and my use of the iPhone in particular, in combination with SlingPlayer, to distract her with television.

The second, and more decisive, moment in the iPhone 3G’s transition from obsolete (in the face of the iPhone 3Gs) gadget to powerful educational tool was my discovery of the game Angry Birds.

The Software

It all started with Angry Birds

When I moved on to the greener and more geeky pastures of the Nokia N900 my iPhone, retrieved from my partner who has upgraded to a 3Gs, became another obsolete addition to the bulging bag of gadgets I carry around with me. The N900 Ovi store, underwhelming as it currently is, came and bestowed upon me a free download of Angry Birds, a stunning game which I later found available on the App Store for little over 50 pence. Angry Birds is an exciting, engaging and interesting game which can be completed, by and large, with little more than blind luck. This made it a brilliant candiate for capturing the attention of my daughter who quickly grasped the concept of firing birds with the little slingshot and was as addicted to the game as her parents until we caught onto the idea of the iPhone as a toy and found more titles for her to discover.

At one point there were, quite literally, all three of us playing Angry Birds on our respective devices.

And then moved on to Doodle Buddy

Doodle Buddy is an even more impressive App for children. It’s definitely designed with little ‘uns in mind, as is evident by the quite irritating, to anyone over the age of 5, sounds which permeate every stamping of a smiley face, heart or tens of other little “stamps” onto the canvas.

Alongside the endless entertainment of hilarious sounds and virtual rubber stamps Doodle Buddy, of course, allows you to doodle. Virtual doodling, as I’m sure any parent will agree, is an absolute godsend and is completely free from the mess associated with drawing using real crayons, pens, paint whilst retaining both the educational and entertainment benefits. At least those not directly associated with the development of that archaic practise long lost to geeks such as I: handwriting.

Of course, whether or not this “virtual” painting will have any bearing on the development of skills necessary for physical handwriting is not for me to say. I’m not a child development expert, merely a keen observer fascinated by my daughters interaction with technology the likes of which I could not even imagine as a child.

And then it got really interesting with Trace

Trace, as you may or may not know, is an interesting game based around a simple principle of doodling physical platforms applied to levels which get progressively more complex. These physical platforms are navigated by an in-game character over which you have direct control and must guide to a star, the goal, over your hand-drawn platforms.

This is the most interesting game because it seems like an inherently difficult concept for a child to grasp. Yet given a few quick lessons about the basics of moving the man, drawing platforms and erasing platforms I submit that any two-and-a-half year old is capable not only of completing the early levels, but developing the understanding required to potentially solve later levels with a little assistance.

Indeed, this is the very behaviour I observed in my own daughter who has quickly grasped not only how to draw platforms but how to erase them when they don’t quite work. In addition she is capable of walking the man to the goal, correcting the platforms when she finds them to be unsuitable. What she hasn’t yet grasped is how to walk and jump simultaneously. However, she does know when to ask me to guide the man and perform the necessary jumps.

This game interests me most because it has demonstrated a clear understanding of more-advanced-than-usual childrens’ game mechanics, coupled with evidence of problem solving skills.

It’s refreshing, and exciting to see a piece of technology normally reserved for adults yield such educational and entertainment benefits. You may think it’s wrong to rely on gadgets, but we live in a modern world where a thorough understanding of today’s computers and touch user interfaces will surely benefit your child in a future of ubiquitous computer appliances. A future gently hinted at with Apple’s controversial iPad.

There are yet more games

The iPhone has much more to offer children and I encourage you to explore the app store with your child in mind and consider purchasing an OtterBox so that you might let them try some simple titles and gain a much more profound insight into the world of computing than they would from operating a dumbed down, toy substitute.

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