iPad interface patterns for kids

As I raise an iPad kid, I ask myself: how should interfaces for small kids be?

Indeed, we hardly watch any TV, so he didn't learn how to "consume passively". Interaction is natural to him, and he makes no difference to the world of atoms or bits.

Interface Playground

Of course the iPad is not intuitive in the first place. But playing with the iPad, my son is a great source of inspiration for me as an interaction designer. He was 7 months old when the iPad entered our family. At this age babies start to understand coherences and they start to manipulate their environment deliberately. So the iPad was my son's companion from that start.

Some criteria of babies and children are great for obervation:

  • Children are eager to just try out.
  • They don't have any fear of breaking things.
  • They don't or hardly have any preconsumptions. Their memory is "still empty".

What my son already learned is:

  • Tabbing on things, buttons, moving objects (pressing the 'feed me' button)
  • Dragging objects (dragging fishes in the aquarium)
  • Sliding (patting the cat)
  • Flipping (he tries to apply what he learnt from books)
  • Holding, turning, shaking the iPad (the whole device)


What I learned about interfaces may be worth of described deeper, but here are some brief conclusions on what does/doesn't work:

1. No single touch, please

Many interfaces are stuck to only one touch/tab at a time. That's not what a kid does (at least at this age). My son's tabs on the screen often with the whole hand, with both, or at least he tabs with one hand while the other is still on the screen. The boy is often puzzled why a reaction is not repeatable, and I can't tell him "well, the first time you didn't have your second hand on the screen".

2. Placing the buttons

Often buttons for menus or forth/back are placed on the bottom of the screen. That's ok, if the kid is older (my guess: 2+). But even with simple apps like animal sounds my son often flips to the next animal by accident. He knows how to slide, though, as he has learned how to flip books. That might be a better solution for forth/back. IMO the menu should be at the screen top as only parents use it at that age of the child anyway.

3. Clear reaction

Give a clear reaction to every action. Buttons that are only slightly visible and don't react on tabbing just are not understandible for a small child. Buttons should either have a clear tab-status or other kind of reaction, or should be put out of kid's reach at all (if meant for parents).


(cc-by-sa) since 2005 by Konstantin Weiss.