Choosing Software for Children (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Jul 26, 2007


Tutorials are educational programs designed to present topical information to children who already read. Children can frequently go through tutorials by themselves as long as the program instructions are clear. Content questions and self-tests help to sustain interest in the subject being presented.

Less Structured Software

Software which encourages self-expression or invites a child to give creative responses to questions is characterized by few preset responses; children may be asked to use computer "tools" such as a word processing program, preprogrammed musical tones, or a color palette to create their own stories, composition, designs. Two examples of open-ended software follow.


Among the most complex and intriguing programs for children who know how to read, simulations ask a child to play a role in a specific situation. The child is presented with alternative choices to help solve a problem or move through an experience. Later choices are based on the consequences of previous ones. For example, a simulation for older children might involve a journey for which children must decide which supplies to buy, which direction to travel, how to meet specified hardships, and so on.

Younger children might be asked to shop in a grocery store, using pictures to select food to be eaten by a family in a week. As yet, few simulations are available for younger children.


This computer language, which uses a "turtle" triangle to indicate direction, was developed for children at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under Seymour Papert. Children can think of a design such as a house or circle, determine the programming steps needed to represent it graphically, and use the turtle to create the image on the computer screen. Originally designed to help children learn mathematical concepts and programming while exploring the capabilities of the computer, LOGO provides a computer environment in which children can experiment creatively and develop a sense of their own power over the computer.

Previewing Software

Whatever the degree of structure, finding copies of programs to preview (or to try out with children) is often difficult because computer stores seldom carry a large stock of children's software. Also, a program may not be available for every make of computer. Check first to see if the program you want matches the computer on which it is to be used. As a single program may cost from $20.00 to $50.00, previewing before purchase is important. To locate software to preview:

  • Read software reviews in computer magazines and make a list of programs you would like to try
  • Ask other teachers or parents to recommend good software
  • See if your library has a children's software collection
  • Ask for a demonstration of children's software at your local computer store
  • Visit a friend who has a program you want to preview and ask to try out the software
  • Write to software producers asking to borrow software for a specified trial period, agreeing in advance that no copies will be made

As you preview, remember that a program adults enjoy is not necessarily appealing to children; conversely, software which delights children may miss the mark with adults.

A well-designed, easy to use program with interesting content that also shows awareness of children's love for the ridiculous, the repetitious, or the surprising is a find. When choosing software, look for programs which reflect understanding of children and invite children to contribute from their own experiences.

For More Information

Clements, Douglas H. COMPUTERS IN EARLY AND PRIMARY EDUCATION. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985.

Jones, Nancy Baker, and Larry Vaughan, editors. "Evaluation of Educational Software: A Guide to Guides." 1983. ED 237 064.

Malone, Thomas W. "Guidelines for Designing Educational Computer Programs." CHILDHOOD EDUCATION 59 (March/April 1983):241-247.

O'Malley, Christopher. "Boosting Your Child's Creativity." PERSONAL COMPUTING (March 1985): 100-107.


Spencer, Mima, and Linda Baskin. "Microcomputers in Early Childhood Education." In CURRENT TOPICS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, vol. 5, edited by Lilian Katz. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Co., 1984.

Spencer, Mima, and Linda Baskin. "Choosing Software for Children." In COMPUTERS IN EARLY EDUCATION: ISSUES AND PRACTICES, edited by James Hoot. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986.

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