iPads in the Preschool Classroom

ipads in preschool classrooms

Teaching in the Digital Age, by Brian Puerling
Chapter 8: Multi-Touch Mobile Devices Bring the World to Our Fingertips

Today I’m hosting Chapter 8 of Teaching in the Digital Age for our Summer Book Study.

I was glad to see that Puerling did not talk about game-style apps for kids because those are not my favorite for the classroom. I think children get enough of that at home. I like using the iPad as an additional listening center, where the children turn (or swipe) the pages of a book as it is read to them. Puerling gave many other ways to use an iPad with children, some that I had not really thought of.

I’ve read on other blogs or forums where teachers say it’s wrong to use iPads in a preschool classroom. However, I think it is no more wrong to have children “read” a book on a tablet than it is for the grown ups, as long as e-books are not the only way children are reading them. I don’t see anything wrong in looking up information a child is interested in on an app or the internet. I don’t think it could be “wrong” for a child to draw on an iPad when I myself find drawing apps useful. (I use them to sketch out designs for new printables I’m going to make.) As long as children have plenty of opportunities to use a variety of real art materials, I see no harm done. An iPad is a real tool in our world today, and children see us using it. Why should we say: this is only for grownups, not for you?

Puerling discussed ways to introduce the iPad to young children. The iPad was designed to be intuitive, and children are capable of using it without instructions. However, I can see the benefits to introducing it the way the author suggests. I’ve noticed that preschool children have a tendency to use too many fingers on the screen and end up enlarging the screen until it’s difficult for them to use. That would be something to address. You could put the iPad under a document camera to demonstrate how to use it with a large group.

The main points from the chapter are in bold  along with a few ideas I thought of while reading.

Facilitate conversation while observing photos.

Using photos with children was discussed in chapter 2, and the iPad is one way to share photos with children without the cost of printing them. If you have a newer iPad (generation 2 or 3), you have a built in camera for still shots or video. Take the iPad with you on a nature walk throughout the year during each season and take photos of the plant life. When the next season comes up, have children discuss the differences between the previous photos and more recent ones. The iPad also has a setting to make it behave like a digital picture frame. You could set it up in your science center with photos that support your current topic, e.g. leaves for Fall or seashells and marine animal images for a study of the ocean.

Leafsnap HD is an app that could be used in the classroom or outdoors to identify leaves. Or, look at the pictures and compare the different shapes of leaves. There’s another one called Trees Pro HD for identifying trees. These types of apps are basically like having a field guide with you, and both are free.

If you frequently use video on the iPad, but would like to get still shots, I highly recommend an app called Video 2 Photo, which gives you each frame of the video. You choose the ones you want and then you have still shots from the video. I’ve used it and the images are very clear and sharp.

Engage with literature.

As mentioned, I like “listening center” style apps, where the children flip the page and the book reads along. I love the fairy tale and fable story apps by Kidztory. Another way an ipad can be used as a listening center is to purchase audio books through iTunes and have children listen to the story along with a paper book.

Develop skills in music.

There are several apps that have interactive children’s songs, such as Duck Duck Moose’s Wheels on the Bus. Last year, I found an app called Monkey Drum. Children beat the drum and the monkey copies the same pattern. To extend this, you could use it in a large group. Have the monkey do a beat on his drum, then have the children copy the beat by clapping or drumming a paper plate drum. (This would be great on a projector.) Monkey Drum is free, but has in-app purchases which you can disable in settings. Garage Band could be used for creating music or showing children the sounds of different instruments.

Inspire Creations in Art.

There are several sketching apps with a wide range of prices. My preference is Penultimate, but there’s also Skitch and Bamboo. If you like to show children art from the masters, Art Authority is a good one.

Create Video Books.

I haven’t had children create video books yet, but I think it’s a great idea. Just another way to show children that they can create real books like professional authors.

Conducting Research.

I often use the Weather Channel website or app in the classroom with the children to determine whether we need jackets or not. They are less likely to argue with the Weather Channel than with me.

Other Ideas…

At the end of the year last year, I used my iPad to make a video of the children reciting a poem and we played this video for the parents. Since we didn’t have time to memorize the entire poem, I broke it up into lines and filmed small groups of about 4-5 children saying each line. Before filming, I told them what to say, then we filmed. I used iMovie to cut the outtakes and stitch the whole thing together.

I also loved Puerling’s end of year idea of having the children make videos for next year’s class. I plan to do that next May, and have the children demonstrate our procedures, such as arriving to school, using the block center safely, bus safety, and many, many others.

Puerling also suggests using an iPad for e-portfolios. An ipad could come in handy because you could use it to take photos of the children as well as take photos of work samples. Puerling mentions scanning children’s work, but its much easier to take a picture of their work. An app called Evernote could be used to take anecdotal records. I also like the audio recording feature of Evernote.

We have only one chapter left in the Summer Book Study. If you are interested in buying the book, Redleaf Press has offered a 35% discount for the book study. Just use the code: STUDY.


  1. Donna Maeder says

    I gave my grandson access to an IPAD. He is 3 years old and has mastered its use already. He already knows his sight words through first grade, can read, does simple math, and loves playing word search and boggle. I attribute much of this young learning to the IPad. Obviously I use other methods of instructing him alongside of the IPad but it keeps his interest longer than a pencil and tablet.

  2. says

    So many fantastic ideas! I especially like the photo idea of taking the ipad with you and taking pictures with it. We do a Tree Observation journal in K, so that will be perfect for my kids to look at the differences from one month to the next!

  3. Kathy says

    There are some great suggestions in this chapter but unfortunately I do not have an I-pad. Due to cost, I have a Kendall Fire that I let the children in my class use. However, there are limitations to this device when compared to an I-Pad. I would love to know if any teachers have come across good apps for this device. The children in my class and my grandsons enjoy Shape Builder and Monkey Preschool Lunchbox. There are also lots of stories available.

  4. says

    The iPad has the potential to be a great learning tool but the issue arises when the kids are also used to playing non educational games on them at home and then have trouble separating the educational and non educational aspects. Because while a lot of the educational apps are also fun, they often cannot compete with the likes of angry birds.

    • Jacinta says

      I disagree with angry birds being a problem. Whilst I understand its not a game we want children playing all the time… it is not un-educational… Yes it does not ask the children to count or practice letters… But it requires them to problem solve, to experiment with velocity, angle, strategy… All mathematical skills. They are able to experiment with cause and effect, to learn and adapt from their past mistakes… Hmmm not educational you say???? Just a thought…

  5. says

    I have just the one iPad 2 I use in my class. When we were looking at shapes we used the camera to take photos of things in our classroom that were rectangular shaped or circular shaped etc. I haven’t used it as a listening post yet but plan to in the near future. We also like to use Talking Tom for counting practice. The children love to hear the funny voice and think its a great game. I think they forget they’re actually doing something educational.
    Thanks for the great tips. I’ll be implementing some into my classroom.

  6. says

    My nieces and nephews were given iPads and I have to say it has been a great educational tool for them. I know of some preschools too that are providing iPad access to their students with blinding success.

  7. Regina says

    I love the leaf app! I just purchased two iPads for my preschool classroom and I am also wanting to stay away from the games. If you find any more great apps, please post them.

  8. says

    Thanks for sharing Karen! I am preschool teacher as well. I have not been able to use or buy IPads yet. I have mixed feelings about using the Ipad in the classroom. However, I do understand the viewpoint that it is something that is apart of our daily lives and that children need to learn how to use these devices as well. I think the important thing is that these devices shouldn’t take the place of manipulatives and book etc.. It will be interesting to watch as a teacher how technology continues to develop and how the classroom environment will change because of this.

  9. Susie says

    I have some amazing apps on my IPAD for my Pre-K. I also purchased an OtterBox, which is a protective case. My favorite apps are interactive stories, such as The Monster at the End of This Book, Pat the Bunny, and Spot the Dot. I am careful about limiting the time children spend on both the computer and the IPAD. Even if they are working with a friend,it is very easy to zone in on the technology and isolate. Preschool is for socializing and manipulating objects, such as building in blocks and pretending in dramatic play. Technology cannot match those experiences. The learning tools of technology are cool and have their place, but a time limit is essential.

  10. says

    I just discovered your article, and fully encourage the debate which you engage. I feel the iBook format will revolutionize the educational environment, even at the pre-schooler level, where early-reading, critical-thinking skill development, and visual perception skill-based content, in ebook or app form will flourish. I agree that time-on-tool must be supervised, and interpersonal communication skill activities/opportunities must not be diminished…but the visual advantages of this touch screen driven medium should be capitalized on for it’s potential in attracting full attention…and maintaining it for an extended time!
    I would like to offer an example of recent iBookstore-available content which illustrates my point. I’ve attracted and maintained full attention of both, pre-schoolers and cancer-treatment patients…with the same exact visual tale…
    “The Illustrated Wynken, Blynken and Nod.”
    This could be of interest to administrators of pre-school IPad labs, and parents. A preview is available at the iBookstore.
    Enjoy the fantasy…

  11. Kenia says

    We use an iPad in our preschool daycare. It has been a huge success. We mainly use the iPad as an incentive & for reading time, but from time to time we allow the children to use it for learning time. We monitor each child and time them. Some of the apps that have been hits are: UmiNumbers, Teach Me (Kindergarden – 2nd grade levels), Agnitus, Math Bingo, Toddler Teasers & Intro to Letters.

  12. Michele S says

    I would love to hear opinions about using an Ipad in a traditional 4 year olds classroom– my kids are only in school three days a week for 2 1/2 hours from Sept – May. I am not sure an ipad for their use is a good idea… I feel it is harder each year to engage the children in hands on manipulatives since they are all exposed to screen time/electronics so early. I am feeling parents will not be receptive to ipads. I do love some of the teacher led ideas as well as the listening center which we currently do w/ cd’s and earphones. Any input is appreciated!

  13. heidi schaffner says

    I found an app called NoteSuite that lets you take notes, add photos to the notes, and then send these to DropBox (an app which can send these notes to your desktop for assessment).
    In my classroom, we use the iPad as a ‘center’. Children have to sign up to have a turn, then use a 5 minute sand timer to time their turn. I feel like it isn’t long enough to ‘suck them in’ to the screentime, and it is teaching them a strategy to use when taking turns (using the sign up sheet and the timer).

  14. Kate says

    “An iPad is a real tool in our world today, and children see us using it. Why should we say: this is only for grownups, not for you?”
    Because it is our duty as adults to understand what is developmentally appropriate for a child, and what is not. Driving a car (for example) is for grown-ups, and not for kids. Would we let a young child drive a car just because he showed interest in it? No, children are not developmentally ready. Yes, an ipad is a real tool in our world today, this is true, but not all tools in our world today are meant to be used by children.

    • says

      That’s true, it is our duty as adults to decide what is developmentally appropriate. However, I believe an iPad can be used in an appropriate way. Handing a child an iPad to play games is not my idea of an appropriate classroom activity, but the methods described in the book were very appropriate and meaningful, in my opinion.

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