Bottom Line: A very well-done letter-writing app with tons of energy and even some phonics and counting mixed in. Highly recommended.
LetterSchool, a new preschool app by Dutch developer Boreaal, helps teach writing letters with a smattering of phonics and counting thrown in. There are three levels per letter—tap, trace, and write.
Parents should review the settings before your child starts playing by tapping the gear in the upper right corner. The user can set three different profiles and choose between three different styles of writing for each profile: D’Nealian, Handwriting Without Tears, and Zaner-Bloser. The typeset can be changed at any time and the app saves the progress on each typeset for up to three children.
Even after choosing a typeface, I still recommend using this app with your child, because a handwriting app is only useful if the child is using good technique. When I didn’t correct my daughter, she used both hands (even though she is right handed), turned her hand in an odd angle to make curves, and even rotated the iPad at times. She needed reminders to use her right hand and keep a good hand position.
There are uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as numbers 1-10 in this app. The uppercase letters are on the first screen. To find the lowercase and numbers, simply swipe to see the additional screens. They can also be selected in the settings.
Each letter starts with a really nice little jingle about the letter name and the sound it makes. It’s a great way to introduce children to phonics, and most letters have a different picture for the uppercase and lowercase letters. It would be even cuter if the object identified with the letter changed a few times when attempted, to further develop understanding of letter sounds, or if it could easily be repeated before moving on to the handwriting section.
The phonics aren’t always standard with what children will learn in school. The letter “I” is almost always taught first as the short vowel sound, as in “inch”, but this app uses “ice cream” for the uppercase letter. The better choice of “igloo” is used for lowercase, however. Another—on uppercase “X”, the word is xylophone, and in the jingle it uses “zuh” for the sound the letter makes.
The main focus of the app is the handwriting aspect, which comes after each jingle. It is designed to take a child step-by-step through letter formation, with three distinct steps for each letter.
First, the child simply has to tap on each start point of a stroke, and a cute animation moves down to the end. On a “C”, there is only one tap required, but on an “M” there are four taps to do each of the four line segments. One of the animations was bubbles moving across the letter; another was in the style of those candy heart necklaces (earning some admiration from my 4 ½ year old daughter!)
The second step is trace—this time the user starts on the appropriate spot and must follow the white line to the ending spot, again creating an animation. My favorite was the stretch of grass, which was then mowed when the letter was complete.
On this last step, the letter is shown, and the start/end spots revealed. As the child starts writing on the first spot, the letter disappears, and the child writes as if on a chalkboard. There are no fancy animations here, simply chalkboard-writing on the screen. The child has to be quite accurate in this step, or the chalk line disappears and the starting point is shown again. After a few misguided attempts, arrows appear showing the direction to follow, and the user traces the arrows. This was helpful to my daughter, and I was surprised with how quickly she made corrections to her formation of letters.
The animations provide possibilities for language expansion. The lawnmower cuts the grass, the rocket ship takes off, a ball rolls, and lights illuminate. The ability to choose the style of handwriting is great, and the added focus on letter name/sound is helpful.
As strong as the app is, I do have some suggestions for future updates:
* There could be more customization. I wanted to be able to skip the earlier levels and focus on the chalkboard-style “write” area, but each letter must be completed in order. In addition, the animations on the “trace” section cannot be skipped—some of them took longer than others.
* I found the frequent visual and auditory prompts a bit annoying. It’s helpful for a child playing independently, I’m sure, but as someone who might want to use it in education, it bothered me. I wanted to be able to turn off these alerts in the settings. And on the initial screen, I wanted to be able to pause on the word-picture for each letter. Instead, the app advances quickly and automatically.
One thing there is not a shortage of in the app store is letter apps. Is this one any better than the others you may already have? Almost certainly. The step-by-step focus, cute animations, and ability to choose handwriting style make this app a great choice. The free lite version is an absolute must-download if you're in the market for a letter-writing app.
If you would like to download LetterSchool please use the links provided. The cost is the same, but Smart Apps receives a small percentage. Thanks for your support!
Heather Hetler has three kids and is a graduate speech-language pathologist at a K-4 elementary school. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.