Let me start off by making a confession: I don’t own an iPad. When it comes to technology and therapy, I am a bit old school, however, despite my opinions on screen time, I also have to stay connected to the needs of my families, and something I get asked quite often is “what are the best apps for speech and language development?”
There are a few things to keep in mind when using apps with your child and clients:
- Apps are not and should not be a replacement for teaching and person-to-person connection
- Apps should be interactive, educational, engaging and functional
- The amount of time your child is using the app should be limited and monitored
- For children under 18 months of age, avoid the use of screen time all together. Video chatting, through platforms such Facetime, Whatsapp or Skype, can be used in moderation, for example: if a parent is out of town or a long distance grandparent. Pediatricians report that video chatting with family members can help build relationships, however, the AAP reports that more studies are needed to determine the cognitive and behavioral impacts of too much screen time, particularly with babies and toddlers.
- If choosing to introduce media to little ones 18 to 24 months of age, parents should choose high-quality programming, always be present, and more importantly be interacting and playing with their children. Devices should not be a replacement for interactions, but rather a shared activity and experience.
- For ages 2 to 5 years old, doctors recommended 1 hour or less per day of screen time, and urge parents to continue choosing high-quality programming and to continue parent involvement: watch the program with your little one to help them understand what they are seeing.
Screen time is a personal and family decision, so whether or not you choose to allow your kiddo to have some screen time depends on what is best for your child and what feels most aligned with your family values. As I said, I don’t own an iPad and have never gravitated towards apps in my sessions, but I have used a few and seen the benefits they can have when done right. Also, because this is an important topic for many families and professionals out there, it makes it important to me, so I have come up with a few of my favorite apps that are engaging and interactive, and that encourage connection and expression! All of my recommendations are apps that are intended to be done with your little one!
Apps for your Toddlers & Preschoolers:
- Wheels on the Bus: this is a fun, interactive version of a favorite song! You can sing-a-long by recording your own voice, learn and label various nouns and actions, and interact by spinning the wheels, opening the doors, swishing the wipers, and so much more!
- Baby’s Musical Hands: another great musical activity that will allow your little one to explore and create their own music, inspiring so much self-expression. Your little one can learn about instrument sounds (like the drums, piano and guitar), as well as colors. Not only is this a great fine and gross motor task, but also a great task for eliciting language to label and request!
- Peakaboo Barn: in this app, friendly farm animals are waiting to be make friends! Help your little one guess who the animal is based on the sounds you hear. This is a great way to work on identifying and labeling animals, making animal sounds, using consonant-vowel or vowel-consonant combinations, and making predictions! A great cause-effect game for our little ones!
- Toca Boca: there are many Toca Boca apps that are great for identifying and labeling nouns, verbs, and attributes (such as color, size, shape, etc.). Many are theme-based so you can encourage lots of expression here. Take a trip to the hair salon or invite your friends to a birthday party!
- First Phrases HD: this amazing app works on identifying and labeling nouns and verbs, and is a multi-modality approach to learning language (you hear it, see it and can record your own voice). This is a great way to increase your little one’s sentence length, moving from one word to two-or-three word combinations and then your little one watches as their character follows their command! A must have for increasing expressive language! There is also a version that targets following directions of increasing complexity, check that out here: Fun with Directions HD.
Remember, apps can be a great way to supplement speech and language development when they are used in collaboration with real-life events and interactions. Play and connection with your kiddo is the number one best way to empower, encourage and expand speech and languagedevelopment!
Sholeh Shahinfar, MA, CCC-SLP, RYT
Sholeh Shahinfar is the founder of Valued Voices, and a licensed Speech Language Pathologist, Child Communication Specialist and Certified Oral Motor Therapist. She is passionate about uplifting children’s voices in the world and inspiring self-expression. In her free time, she loves going to the ocean, exploring nature with her pup Kobe, and spending time with her family and friends!