Kindergarten App Designers

Icon Literacy


flickr photo by flickingerbrad shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

As adults we often take for granted how easy it is for us to navigate through new digital tools. Many of us ask our students to use a device or new software, but don’t teach them to ‘read’ and understand that tool. In a previous post I outlined how I worked with my kindergarten students to grow more independence when using iPad apps. Much of this had to do with giving them strategies to unlock this new “text” in the same way that we give students strategies to unlocking books. Once we gave the kids more opportunity to practice these strategies, I thought it was time for them to apply their understanding by designing their own iPad app! This would also give me an opportunity to teach some very basic design to our kindegarteners.


Make a Plan (What do we know?)

Together as a class we brainstormed the different things we can do with an iPad, such as, take a photo, draw, type, record our voices, play games etc. I made sure to give silly examples too so that students didn’t start planning apps that weren’t realistic. For example, I asked things like “Can we use an iPad to take a shower?”, or “Can the iPad cook me my dinner?”. The second question led itself quite nicely to the idea that I COULD use the iPad to help me plan a meal, find a recipe, or go shopping for ingredients. Based off of our discussion, students worked in partners to create and plan an app. Those who needed a little more scaffolding had a list of things the iPad could do based off of our initial whole class discussion and could choose off of that list. Other students chose to get more creative and went with their own ideas. Here is an example of a partnership that used mostly items from the list we created and stuck with things they had already seen and used on the iPad.


Here is a different example from a group that decided to design their own game:



All groups were required to have at least four functions that their app could do, but could opt to add up to six functions. I had two columns for possible icon designs because working in partnerships in kindergarten isn’t always easy! This way both could draw their ideas and later we could fairly choose some designs from each member.


Design Principles

I was first introduced to the CARP Principles of Design through the COETAIL community, but it was when I heard Keri-Lee Beasley present a talk on design that made me want to dig deeper into ways I could teach it with younger students. If you do not have her iBook I highly recommend you download it: Design Secrets Revealed -by Keri-Lee Beasley.  For those who are unfamiliar, CARP stands for:

CARP image.001

Used with permission from Keri-Lee Beasley

Some of these principles, such as Contrast and Repetition, can be further broken down into ways in which you can apply them through Color, Shape, and Size. Knowing young students, I thought that Color and Size, were two ideas students would already have some understanding of and would be easier to illustrate. I also wanted to talk about Alignment, because let’s face it, 5-year-olds need to learn ways to organize their work! At the beginning of the second class, I showed this presentation with the introduction that my teaching assistant and I designed a farm game. The functions our game were:

  1. Choose your animals
  2. Choose your animal homes
  3. Feed the animals
  4. Take the animals for a walk
  5. Play with the animals

I am not proud of this presentation because I threw it together in a flurry the day before class, but at least it worked to elicit the thinking I needed from the students. As we went through each slide at the beginning of class, we discussed what we liked and didn’t like about the design on each page. We also took note of any problems we might face in some of the designs (i.e. icons being too small so we might tap the wrong thing, or icons being so colorful it was too confusing).


Students were then given an A3 sheet of paper with an iPad template on it and smaller squares of white paper to draw each icon onto. Students made decisions from their previous plans as to which icons they would use for each function, drew them, laid them out on their iPad ensuring they thought about alignment, then glued them down. It was really interesting to talk to the students about why they placed each icon in the position that it was in. Some explained that arrows might need to be near the bottom corner because you need to move players easily with your thumbs. Others discussed how they put just one icon in a top corner because it was the first thing you needed to do when you opened up their app. Here are a couple examples of final app designs:



Logo Design

Another aspect of this project was their logo design. I showed the students one of the iPad’s home screens and had them notice the “little squares”, which were the app logos. So as a final piece, they needed to design their own logo. I had them notice that most logos did not have many details and was often one or two objects that represented the app. (Student logo examples coming soon!)

Augmenting the Apps

As a final step, I wanted to make the iPads interactive for students so that they could explore each other’s app designs. I used Blippar to make the designs scannable. Blippar is an augmented reality software which allows you to make objects scannable and interactive. What I did first was to take videos of the students explaining each icon or button on their app. Using the Blippbuilder, I put the student icons and videos together in such a way that once a design was scanned, the buttons became interactive. Tapping on each button would reveal a video of one of the designers explaining the function of that icon. You can peel away from the marker image and still interact with the icons that loaded from the scan.

If you want to give Blippar a try yourself, download the app and enter the code 21926 in settings. Then you can try scanning either of the designs in my post above. If you can’t be bothered, here’s a quick video illustrating a couple scans (the second example in this video is one of my favorites!).


Most students noticed that icons generally were lined up along the edges of the screen because the center was reserved for playing or creating space. Overall, I was really impressed with some of the ideas and creations our kindergarten students came up with!

Note: If you would like to explore augmented reality with Blippar, contact them for an educator’s license! 

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