Giftedness in Early Childhood: Touch Technologies and Educational Apps

TECHNOLOGY-CHILDREN-facebook (1) Touch Technologies can provide unique and rich educational opportunities for gifted children when used to bridge for the gifted child’s asynchronous development. Young children who are cognitively advanced often experience deep frustration when they can visualise what they want to achieve and yet cannot create it. This can result in meltdowns of mammoth proportions.

One  major benefit of Touch Technologies is that they enable a child to gain early access to educational material once considered beyond his/her competency due to his/her fine motor development, for example a young child manipulating a mouse and computer keyboard. While these technologies may provide a solution they can also present parents with a conundrum. How do parents discern whether the software being utilised is indeed a good educational fit with their gifted child’s learning needs? App selection need not be a hit and miss affair.  

Educational Apps can be plotted along a continuum from Instructive, through Manipulable, to Constructive (Highfield & Goodwin, 2012).This continuum provides insight into the level of cognitive engagement and higher order thinking skills required when using the Apps for purposeful learning.

Instructive Apps, for example, Maths Bingo and Counting Caterpillar, predominantly focus on drill and practice and tend to require low levels of cognitive engagement. Usually presented in game format they are colourful and considered to be fun, these generally have high appeal. These ‘game’ Apps have a mission and goals and offer extrinsic rewards (reaching higher levels). They are mastery based and are useful for some students who are seeking to gain proficiency in an area.

Manipulable Apps, for example, Toontastic and Pirate Treasure Hunt, tend to lead children in guided discovery, they allow for multiple responses and provide opportunities for choice. These Apps provide for moderate levels of cognitive engagement and tend to be quite addictive as they give instant feedback.

Constructive Apps such as, Book Creator, Story Kit, Drawing Pad, iMovie, and Explain Everything, are creative and open-ended and allow users to create their own content or digital items. These Apps require high cognitive involvement, and tend to have limited extrinsic rewards. A child who engages in learning without the expectation of extrinsic rewards does so for the sheer enjoyment of learning.

The short video on Instructive Apps provides further detail on the continuum proposed by Highfield and Goodwin (2012).   

Analysis of the top 10 paid ‘Education’ Apps over an 18 month period in three countries (United States of America, United Kingdom and Australia) revealed that there was a predominance of instructive Apps (75%), with a further 23% being manipulable and only 2% being constructive. This has implications for young gifted learners. Parent knowledge on the types of ‘educational’ Apps will be crucial to discern which Apps are likely to provide meaningful learning opportunities that are a good educational fit for their children.


Goodwin, K., & Highfield, K. (2012) iTouch and ILearn: An examination of ‘educational’ Apps. Paper presented at the Early Education and Technology for Children conference, March 14-16, 2012. Salt Lake City, Utah.


This is a post for the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week blog tour


By giftedsue

3 comments on “Giftedness in Early Childhood: Touch Technologies and Educational Apps

  1. Thanks for this, Sue. I’ve long felt uncomfortable with many of the apps I see for kids and been frustrated by how inappropriate most of them seem to be for gifted kids. Your blog has put into words what I was feeling but didn’t have the language for.

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