Bottom line: Parents or teachers should find this text to speech app invaluable to assist children learning to read and those who need spelling practice.
In evolutionary terms the common ancestors of this app would be fridge magnet letters and the Speak and Spell. What Word Wizard has in common with those old-school toys is a feature that is also its biggest strength - simplicity.
The app has two main components: a talking alphabet and spelling quizzes. The former is just what it sounds like - the alphabet, shown at the bottom of the screen. When the child drags and drops letters onto the board, the app sounds them out and as they are combined, speaks the words produced. For example, if the child chooses the letter ‘a’ followed by ‘n’ and ‘t’ they would hear the words ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘ant’ as each letter is added. Play of this nature is vital for the development of both letter recognition skills and an understanding of what letters sound like when used alone and in combination. The developer, L’Escapadou, produces apps based on Montessori principles and Word Wizard illustrates one of those principles very well – play is children’s work.
What Word Wizard, developed by L'Escapadou, has that fridge magnets don’t is not only interactivity, but also the ability to customize:
* Three different voices are available – one British and two North American and the speed and tone of the voices can be played with for fun.
* Letters can be sounded out using either phonics or names.
* The letters can be arranged at the bottom of the screen in either alphabetical order or in a Qwerty keyboard format. They can also be shown in either upper or lower case.
* Use of a grid allows for easier letter placement when building words but the parent or teacher can turn this off enabling the child to place letters anywhere on the screen.
* Children with fine motor deficits can work on developing these skills with drag and drop letter placement or, if the keyboard emulation setting is chosen, they can simply touch a letter to select it.
* Spanish and French aren't included in the English app, but they are available separately.
Word Wizard’s second component, the spelling quizzes, is useful for older children. Built-in to the app are 184 word lists containing over 1,400 words. In addition, custom word lists can be added. The features I most like about the spelling quizzes are:
* They support error-free learning. Words are spell-checked very subtly – if the word is spelled correctly the letters are framed in white, if incorrect the framing is red. There are two backgrounds available, colors or paper, and the paper background is the best one to use if you want spell-check to really stand out. In addition, if a child doesn’t know how to spell a word, then they can request one letter at a time to be given as a hint.
* As the app requires neither hand-writing nor speaking, it could be a great tool for assessing the reading and spelling skills of special needs children who are non-verbal and/or cannot write.
* The visuals for successful completion of both single words and entire quizzes are fun without being over-stimulating.
* There is a report displayed at the end of a quiz outlining how many words were successfully completed and how many hints were required. There are also statistics indicating how many times a quiz has been completed.
I obviously like this app a lot but there are a few things I would like to see in order for me to give this app a perfect, five star rating, however.
* A male voice option. Currently all three voice options are female.
* The ability to select the letters the child can choose from. Oliver can identify all 26 letters when he sees them in isolation but the entire alphabet all at once is currently too much for him to process. So, for example, if you show him the letter ‘A’ he can name it. If he is shown the letters ‘X A L’ he can find the ‘A’. However, if he is shown the entire alphabet, he can’t yet locate the letter ‘A’ even though it is the first letter and he can recite the entire alphabet. It would be great if there were an option to customize the number and order of the letters the child can work with.
* Keyboard mode works wonderfully when adding letters to the board but in order to remove them the child still has to drag-and-drop. An option to remove letters in this mode without requiring a drag-and-drop would be ideal, maybe a double-tap?
* had trouble hearing some of the words in the spelling quizzes (e.g. bad, can and bat) and had to use hints to correctly identify them. For the record, I had selected the voice of Rachel – she may be British but I seem to have trouble understanding her, even though both my parents were British - and yes I can in fact spell all of those words correctly.
* An option for emailing quiz results and/or more detailed data tracking would be ideal.
In summary, despite the few modifications listed above, Word Wizard is terrific and I highly recommend it for all parents and teachers of kids who are either learning to read or trying to expand their elementary-level vocabulary.
If you would like to purchase Word Ball please support Smart Apps for Kids by using the links provided. The cost is the same but Smart Apps gets a small percentage. Thanks for your support!