The importance of education technology has been increasing steadily over the last few years. Parents and teachers worldwide have given their thumbs-up to custom mobile games which have distinct (and valuable) learning elements. A 2016 survey reported that, in 1 out of every 5 households, kids in the 8-9 age group had access to cell phones. The figure swells to a whopping 60% for children between the ages of 10 and 12. What’s more, close to 55% children report that they are completely at ease while using mobile gadgets. A vast majority of these kids use apps and games – and that, opens up the opportunity of using interactive educational apps as a viable supplementary learning tool. In what follows, we will provide useful tips to developers on how to create good learning apps and games for the young ones:
Relate the app’s content with school syllabus
Unless you are working on a GK application (even that should have labels), the knowledge your application should not be in vacuum. For instance, if you are making a maths or an English-learning application, find out what the kids learn in each class (i.e., the school syllabus), and design your app accordingly. The app should ideally complement the classroom teachings – offering an easy way for children to understand and remember topics better. Do not simply drop new ideas in a vacuum…kids won’t find it interesting, and would gradually stop using the application.
Think game. Learning comes later
How can you make your educational game app more engaging? Simple enough – just don’t make it seem like ‘just another’ boring learning software. Do adequate brainstorming to come up with interesting (and simple) gameplay ideas, and find out how these ideas can actually be transformed into smartphone and tablet apps. Once you have the game prototype ready, it will be easy enough to add questions and other learning elements to it (i.e., it should be a ‘guided exploration’ exercise). In other words, in a children’s learning app, the ‘learning’ bit has to come last!
Note: For junior school kids, racing games are a tried-and-tested favourite. Think about mobile racing game ideas, with different characters and scenarios (single player and multiplayer). These games work best with quiz-type questions.
3. Make the splash screen short and sweet
A bright and colourful splash screen is an absolute must for your app for kids. However, you also need to make sure that the splash screen does not linger on for more than 8-10 seconds. If it does, the little ones are bound to feel restless and might end up not using the application at all (kids are bound to be impatient, right?). Avoid making the home screen too elaborate either, and do not include too much under ‘Settings’. Children should be able to launch your app and start playing at once, without having to go through long texts and many customization options.
4. Taps & swipes are great; Drags & pinches aren’t
A 5-6 year old child will neither have fully developed motor skills, nor will they be familiar with advanced interaction methods with mobile apps. That’s precisely leading app developers advise against the usage of drag-and-drop gameplay methods in learning apps for children. Screen-pinching is yet another activity that should not feature in such applications. Go with simple tap and swipe gestures – your target audience will find it easier to use, and the engagement levels will be a lot higher.
5. Make things larger-than-life
Children love fun, surprising, out-of-the-world stuff – so don’t hesitate to include such elements in your mobile application. You can have panda races in the desert, bear races, princess rescue missions, gold-digging games…things which will intrigue the young ones and keep them from being distracted. Stay away from including any inappropriate displays, however (in shooting games, avoid showing violence in any form). Don’t let the narrative of your games become mundane anywhere – only the most interesting kids’ apps become successful.
Note: Consider adding famous fairy tale/cartoon characters in learning games. Most children already know about them, and that builds an air of familiarity about your mobile app.
Competitions and reward schemes matter
And that too, in a big way. A little kid has to be constantly motivated/coaxed to use your educational app – and what better way to do that, than offering them in-game currencies (stars, coins, points, etc.) at regular intervals (say, for each correct answer). What’s more, mobile app developers should ideally make games with multiplayer options. A child should have the option of challenging his/her friends and showing off his/her knowledge by beating them!
Note: Single-player games should also have a competitive feel about them. Players can either race against system-generated opponents, or against time (or both).
Include multiple types of games in your app
For a kid, variety is a big thing. No matter how beautiful the graphics and UI of a game is, children are bound to find it monotonous after some time – if they do not get the chance to check out other types of games. That, in turn, can result in the active user-base of your app to drop off. To tackle this probability, it is highly recommended to create apps that contain a large number of ‘different games’. A child should be able to play one game for some time, and then hop over to another one – without any chance of boredom setting in. Ever.
Do not distract the kids
Background music, fun popup questions, audio messages, notifications – all have important roles to play in boosting the overall appeal of a mobile application meant for school kids. However, the developer has to ensure that such ‘bells and whistles’ are not likely disturb the li’l users – when they are playing a game, or reading a story, or participating in any other form of in-app activity. If you are working on a free app for kids, double check to make sure that the included advertisements do not, in any way, encroach upon the gameplay areas. Users should also have the option of disabling these ‘bells and whistles’, whenever required.
Be wary of digital wallet misuse
In all fairness, a 4-5 year old child can’t be expected to understand the value of money. In case the app you have designed has in-app purchase options (and it should, for additional engagement) – make sure that kids have no chance of accidentally making payments to buy stuff, without the consent of elder ones. Do not add any random tabs/buttons on the screens, tapping which would lead to money being deducted from credit/debit cards or digital wallets. IAP is a valid channel for mobile app monetization, but it should never be misused.
Note: Staying on the topic of security, an educational mobile game should protect the privacy (all types of personal information) of the kids. The name, age, location or any other information should not become accessible to unauthorized third-parties at any time.
10. Platforms, devices and compatibility
Close to 9% of the 2.2 million+ apps in Apple App Store are educational applications. In Google Play Store too, the competition is similarly intense. App makers generally prefer to customize their learning apps for any one of the platforms and release it. This allows them to factor in initial reports, feedback and complaints (if any) – before porting the application to the other platform. It depends on individual developers/app companies whether to start out with the iOS or the Android platform (Windows Phone has much lower competition, and should be considered later). The backward compatibility of the app (that is, the oldest version of the platform it can work on) also has to be clearly specified.
In addition to platform compatibility considerations, you also need to finalize the devices that will support your app. A recent research found that, more than 30% of preschool kids in the UK are regular users of the iPad (with tablet-usage starting at the tender age of two!). Making your game compatible with smartphones and tablets are, hence, a no-brainer – and there should also be a custom version for desktop systems. Kids, after all, should be able to play on their computers too!
11. Delight the parents
Of course, the educational app you launch should have many ‘wow-factors’ and nice surprises for the young ones. However, these can weave their charm ONLY AFTER the app has been downloaded on a device. And who takes that download decision? That’s right – the parents! Make sure that your application has enough features to delight the moms and dads of children (and the teachers!) – so that they feel that using it will indeed benefit their toddlers.
12. Test the apps. And then, retest them
Just because you are making apps for unsuspecting kids – that does not mean you can do a half-baked job with the animations, illustrations, screen transitions, and other visual elements. Every element in the app should be in coordination, and in a smooth flow – delivering a great user-end experience (UX) to the young learners. Remember, if there are glitches, they would be reported promptly to parents and your app might be uninstalled in a matter of minutes. After all, there is no dearth of alternatives at the stores.
Above all, app developers need to be honest to themselves, while working on mobile games for children. Create apps that actually have considerable learning value, instead of simply churning out spin-offs of successful games created by others. A good kids’ app is one that indeed helps in learning endeavours, and is not a cheap revenue-earning tool. Don’t forget to add a unique USP to your app too!
Education technology in general, and educational apps for kids in particular, are expected to become even more popular in future. Not surprisingly, many app companies across the globe have started creating custom m-learning games – and you can create one too, by following the above tips.