What skills can creative tablet games develop in children?

Peter MosaferiadisTechnology in education


At first glance, it seems that many of the tablet games currently on offer are a messy mix of media and graphics – with little educational value. But a recent study shows that a digital puppetry game on an iPad might actually help children develop their digital literacies and creative abilities.

Karen Wohlwend (2015), a professor at Indiana University, USA, looked into how creative, open-ended games that operate on tablets can offer additional opportunities to develop child literacy. She compared them to educational games operating on a desktop computers, such as word-recognition apps.

Wohlwend studied the way three pre-schoolers, María, Alma and Kaila, played the iPad game PuppetPals, where they were asked to freely compose a story with six puppet characters and a backdrop.

As they played with the app, Wohlwend found that they engaged in a variety of ways: from stretching and pinching to resize characters to narrating and creating sound effects for their story. There were capable of collaborating with each other to create a puppet story on the iPad, leading to a lively and playful story-making session.

Wohlwend argues that the app helped develop literacy in three critical ways. First, by touching and swiping on the iPad, they learn how to navigate around the digital sphere. Second, these creative apps position children as creators, rather than viewers, of digital media, thus encouraging children to create their own stories. In connection with this, the author argues that the multimodal interactions offered by the PuppetPals app stimulates children with a wide variety of sensory modes, thus developing literacy. These sensory modes include sound, visual, movement, speech and haptic feedback. Third, children can negotiate and collaborate in creating a story by reconciling between their different visions to how the story should progress. In the end, they can create a shared storyline that, as the researcher argues, is a type of literacy in its own right.

A separate study by Michelle Neumann (2014) from Griffin University, Australia supplies additional evidence to support those findings. The study, conducted with 109 pre-schoolers, found that children who have greater access to tablets have better letter sound and name writing skills. Furthermore, seven out of ten parents in the study reported that tablets were conducive to developing literacy in their children. These results show that tablets have a previously unseen potential in developing literacy among pre-schoolers.

These studies provides a strong case for the efficacy of tablets in developing literacy, and to a lesser extent, creativity, in the preschool context. What skills can your child develop with these apps?



Wohlwend, K. , (2015). One Screen, Many Fingers: Young Children’s Collaborative Literacy Play With Digital Puppetry Apps and Touchscreen Technologies, Theory Into Practice, 54:2, 154-162, DOI: 10.1080/00405841.2015.1010837

Neumann, M. (2014). An examination of touch screen tablets and emergent literacy in Australian pre-school children. Australian Journal of Education. Vol. 58(2). 109-122. DOI: 10.1177/0004944114523368