Teaching with Tech

Teaching with Tech: How iPads and Tablets Can Help Your Child Learn

Screen time is a touchy subject for a lot of families, but that doesn’t mean technology is all bad. In fact, when it comes to reinforcing classroom learning, iPads and other tablet computers work wonders for students with ADHD.


Meredith Soddy was considering buying an iPad. Its portability, speed, and simple interface were all in its favor. It was the idea of sharing the tablet computer with her six-year-old daughter, Amanda, that finally moved her to make the purchase. Though they’ve had the tablet for only a few months, Amanda has already benefited from the educational apps on her mother’s iPad.

“The tablet reinforces what she’s learned in school, and allows her to apply it in a different setting,” says Soddy, an administrative assistant in Wyoming, Michigan. “She’s learning but doesn’t even know it.”

A touch-screen tablet’s simple interface and portability make it great for reinforcing and supplementing traditional classroom learning. The best educational apps for these tablet computers are easy to use, making them perfect for children, especially those with attention deficit.

[Free Download: Teacher-Approved Apps & Tools for School]

“The digital world is designed for a child to be in control,” says Francis Judd, a former teacher, who designs educational apps.

Teaching a child to use a tablet computer is easy. The difficult part is making sure that the time spent on the tablet is constructive and purposeful. Amanda, who has ADHD, uses her mom’s tablet to play educational games. Soddy says they hold her attention better than books or videos.

Lauren Goldberg, a junior kindergarten teacher, has four iPads in her classroom, and she agrees with Soddy. She says it’s the music and interactivity of the apps that keeps her students’ focus. Though she doesn’t teach children with learning disabilities, she believes that the iPad would work for those with ADHD.

“My students wear headphones when a game has music, and that helps them block out the rest of the class and focus on the task in front of them,” says Goldberg, who teaches at the Catherine Cook School, in Chicago.

[17 Best Assistive Learning Tools for Students with ADHD]

Goldberg also believes that the iPad helps her students complete tasks because there are concrete steps involved in using a computer. To use a drawing app, for example, you need to open the app, tap the pencil icon, choose a color, then draw with your finger. “When I give my students crayons and paper, they usually get distracted,” says Goldberg.

Soddy knows that structure is important for Amanda. Many of the games she plays have built-in incentives, collecting points or stickers, that keep her playing.

Making Up for Learning Deficits

Poor handwriting is a problem for many children with ADHD. Tablet computers are an effective tool for older children. While there are apps that teach younger children to write, and even how to hold a pencil, other apps help those with poor handwriting avoid it altogether. With a tablet, students can type notes, or even take a photo of the blackboard, to copy notes later. Typed notes, and the ability to search them at the touch of a finger, help older children with ADHD stay organized.

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Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., a psychotherapist from Boca Raton, Florida, who specializes in the treatment of ADHD, recommends the iPad for keeping chore lists and reward charts. Parents and children can prioritize tasks, and keep track of rewards earned for a job well done.

Time spent on the iPad can be given as a reward for completing homework, household chores, or other tasks. Instead of preventing these tasks from getting done, this encourages your child to complete important things first.

Be creative with the ways you allow your child to use your iPad. For example, some children prefer to read a book on a tablet. Since the tablet hides what they are reading, it can prevent embarrassment for a child who might be at a lower reading level than the rest of the class.

Soddy has imagined a future in which her daughter takes a tablet computer with her to school each day. “iPads are being given to high school students in our area as a matter of standard practice,” she says. “But Amanda won’t be using her iPad to play games in the classroom.”

Best Apps for Students

  • WET-DRY-TRY: a handwriting app that teaches young children to write letters and numbers.
  • CRABBY WRITER: an interactive game that teaches children to build words.
  • CHALK WALK: an innovative game that encourages younger children to use the “pincher grip” that is important for holding a pencil and writing.
  • SNOWFLAKES STATION: a teacher-designed game that lets children create their own snowflakes. It teaches the concepts of symmetry and organization.
  • KINDERTOWN: a collection of teacher-approved educational apps that can be sorted by age and ability.