Preschool with the iPad: Listen…Think…Poke!

In a previous post, l shared how our daughter Beth learned to work the iPad (See  Finally, she was able to poke and drag, and could, in theory, use a variety of preschool apps. There are some great preschool apps out there, and Preschool EduKitty (1) is notable for its custom settings (where the number of items and types of activities can be chosen by the parent) and the very motivating reward of a kitty sliding down the slide saying “weeeeee.”

After watching Beth use Preschool EduKitty and other preschool apps, it became obvious that we had one more major hurdle to clear before fully utilizing the iPad as a teaching tool: impulse control.  Left on her own, this is what Beth does with a preschool app (Preschool EduKitty, 1):

As shown in the video above, Beth doesn’t listen to the directions (e.g, touch the number 3, pick the circle, etc.), and she immediately pokes at all the choices on the iPad screen. She loves to hear the sounds the icons makes, so the sounds compete with the intended motivator in the program (the little kitty sliding down the slide).  Also, it doesn’t take long to poke at all the icons to find the right one, so she just ignores the directions and starts poking.

I would guess this is a common problem, not just for kids like Beth who have autism or other special needs, but for all young children using education apps on the iPad.  But I have not found a preschool app that includes settings and features that help Beth listen to the directions before poking.  So, as a work-around, I tried the following blocking methods to help my daughter with her impulse control.

Methods of Blocking the iPad

Using my hands.  First I tried telling Beth to wait and blocked access to the screen by putting my hands in front of hers.  This forced her to wait and listen to the directions, and many times she got the answers right on the first poke. But this method was not ideal, because she got very frustrated when I blocked her and she reached around my hands to poke at the screen.

Sliding the iPad.  Then I tried sliding the iPad away from Beth’s reach to make her pause before poking.  That worked fairly well, but she could not study the screen easily because it was so far away.

Acrylic Block.  Finally, I tried using a clear acrylic sign holder (available on Amazon in various sizes, mine is a 11 by 8 1/2 landscape sign holder) to cover the screen. I slid the acrylic sign over the iPad to prevent Beth from poking the screen until the directions were stated. Before I moved the acrylic block, I watched Beth’s eyes to make sure she studied the screen and I re-stated the directions if I felt she did not hear them.  Then I slid it the acrylic block off the screen so that Beth could poke and choose an answer.  After Beth poked the correct answer, I slid the acrylic sign back into place before Beth had a chance to continue poking at the screen.

Here is a demonstration of the iPad sliding technique, followed by the acrylic sign technique:

The acrylic sign block works very well as a work around.  But I wish the  preschool apps included features and settings that would discourage random poking and encourage listening to directions and studying the screen before poking.

The Ideal Preschool App

To manage the impulse control problem, an ideal preschool app would contain the following:

1.  To discourage random poking, the choice icons would motivate children to get the right answer, and downplay the incorrect answers.

  • The icon for the correct answer would have fireworks coming out of it and applause as soon as it is poked.
  • The icons for the incorrect answers would disappear immediately upon selection of the icon with the correct answer (my daughter continues to try to press the icons for the incorrect answers after getting the answer right).
  • An option would be provided to turn off the sound for the incorrect answers (sometimes my daughter enjoys pressing icons for the incorrect answers just to hear the sound they make).

2.When the instructions are given, the screen would pause and have a wait indicator (e.g, the screen changes its look, the icons are inactive, and a wait icon appears in the corner of the screen).  This feature would help a child understand the concepts of waiting for directions and taking time to study the screen.

3. In case number 2 above does not work, the app would have an option for the parent to pause and unpause the screen manually.

4. To minimize frustration due to pausing the screen, activities that don’t require pausing the screen should be included.  For example, the app could include puzzles, matching, and counting sections that allow unhindered poking/dragging.

Do you want the features and settings above within your favorite app?  Then please share this post with the developer and spread the word. Do you have other ideas to manage impulse control via app design? Please comment on this post here or on my Facebook page (  

  1. Cubic Frog Apps (2011).  Preschool EduKitty (Version 1.0) [iPad application software],

4 thoughts on “Preschool with the iPad: Listen…Think…Poke!

  1. michelle says:

    I just want to extend my arms out and hug you….Something that has always been hard for me to do. But you are hugged. I thought of you and something you said to me during library time about ABA….I was so clueless. And blind sided to the truamtic experience to a tteam that basically DID listen. I am trying to see if your friend Michele H. H. can get us connected. No pressure, but I know you get what we just went thru. We have an IEP emergency meeting WED 11/20/13……I just would love to talk to you before then.
    YOU ARE AN AWESOME MOM!!!!!! We think so much a like. Just read your ” lable the kid” blog……I will be obsessed reading more.
    I feel like ASD programs like ABA, can only be re written by parents like us….IT HIT THE REAL ISSUE lacking! innovation, fun, work w the strentghts. What you have seen of my child in library time is real….What they created in our home was nothing short of mental abuse. Trigger levels of frustration resulting in a child we did not recongize. These where seen as their behaviors…Not their for presenting black and white flash cards I fought off for 14 months. I have my voice back . my child’s will never be removed again.!

  2. michelle says:

    sorry//// The team DID NOT listen

  3. ok…next time I proof read….Bad therapists see our kid’s behaviors as just our kids ” BAD” behaviors….The poor skilled therapist are the ones that can’t compormise, are not creativite to find motivational materials to work with, don’t validate what our children are actually communicating, even non verbal child. If your kid is trying to escape you, YOU are not doing something to motivate them to stay. If I child verbally tells you the black and white index cards are “borning, not fun, and says, I don’t want to do this”.. And the theraist keeps pushing the child to do it any way session after session the same way, then it is the therapist that doesn’t understand communication and proper social skills….You compormise and change the activity up rather than push what you want to do. Can you see my jess at library time throwing chairs across the room in a rage? Flipping tables over, screaming and crying , picking anything up in sight and throwing them across the room
    or at therapist.? The gave themselves behaviors to work with because they didn’t interact and see my child. They instigating situations so unatural just to run programs. I cry, and cry , to think this was in my home. We are all in therapy trying to un do this. Teach our older daughter to not be the puppet master and operate her sister as a puppet. New books need to be written for therapists. You should write a book Tammy. Your intellegient and insightful. It’s the insightful part that is lacking w bad theripists.

    my older daughter how to actually engage w jess. Not to appraoch her

    I allowed this in my home too lo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s