Bottom Line: An innovative app designed to help develop the pincer grasp skill and is also helpful for preparing for cursive writing. Pay close attention to this one.
Chalk Walk is a new app by Mrs. Judd’s Games specifically developed to help young children develop the important pre-writing skill of the pincer grasp, a critical part of educational hand-eye development, as the hand position when playing closely mimics the way a child should hold a pencil.
There are a lot of fine motor apps for the iPad, but most of them, unless used with a stylus, focus on letter formation or writing-stroke development at the expense of hand position, using just a pointer finger to write. Chalk Walk cleverly helps the child to use the iPad with the hand positioned in a very similar way to a pincer pencil grasp, using both the forefinger and the thumb.
The game includes ten levels, each with five different scenes—that’s a lot of practice! On the user’s “chalk walk,” city sidewalks are decorated using a wide variety of different movements—straight, zig zag, figure eights, loops, and more. In each level, the goal is to mimic the movements and earn a prize picture by collecting letter tiles. One letter tile is included in each scene and the tiles that eventually spell pizza, kitty, robot, candy, and more), and after collecting five words, there are two rewards.
The first prize is a little picture (of the word spelled) at the bottom of the screen. For the target audience of children before kindergarten, this is not likely to be very motivating. The pictures, while cute and age-appropriate, are not animated and the child can't do anything with them. The ability to use them like stickers in a chalk scene would be much more fun.
The second reward was a bit more fun for my kids. When the word is spelled, a video of the user’s chalk lines in the five scenes is available. This video shows how the lines move across the sidewalk, circling manhole covers, making boxes around marks on the sidewalk, and in many different ways traversing a city scene.
This app was a little difficult for me to figure out when I started. There is information available on the home screen by tapping the gear for settings, but nothing to explain how to draw the lines. It took a few minutes for me to figure out that the user puts thumb on one color circle, forefinger on the other, and pinches them together, then traces chalk line drawn by one of the pictures (who is, mysteriously, in a bubble).
The settings area is critical for my enjoyment of the game and use in therapy. While the music is fun and peppy, it doesn’t take me long to reach overload, and I was thankful to find the music off option. There are also some sound effects while tracing and when completing that can also be turned off. There is also a setting is to choose right or left hand, but the only change in the app is a picture to show the user to pinch the circles at the start of each scene.
The other settings links available are some brief information about the app and developer (found by tapping the question mark in the settings) and a reset button. Before resetting, the app does require you to confirm that you want to reset all levels.
Take note, there are absolutely no external links to the App Store or social media!
This app also provides a great link to a real-life kid activity that parents should not miss. Take the skills learned out to the street, or at least the sidewalk! Children will have fun trying to create their own chalk lines outside, now with a better pincer grasp.
A very important point to note is that the iPad doesn't recognize the pressure of fingernails. So the child must become accostumed to ensuring that their fingertips are on the screen at all times when pressing. This is mentioned in the instructions but take some practice even if you know the issue.
This app was tricky for both my 4 ½-year old daughter and my eight-year old son to learn. Neither has very strong fine motor skills and they were initially very frustrated. However, with some Mom-couragement, both were able to successfully complete the scenes. My daughter needed direct supervision to help her remember to follow the line, while my son was able to use it independently.
The lack of any kind of visual instructions and somewhat trickiness of getting accostumed to the finger-actions means that Chalk Walk will have to be a play-together app, at least at the start.
My son was very motivated to use it when I pointed out that the loops and continuous line would help him with learning cursive. While the stated goal of the app is the pincer grasp, the process of learning cursive is very similar. It’s a little young in presentation for an older user, but for him the motivation to be good at cursive outweighed the preschool-themed prizes.
While neither of my kids stayed with the app long enough to finish more than a few scenes on first try, this app has made my “must do” list for the summer. My daughter starts kindergarten this fall as a young five year old, and I know the writing expectations will be somewhat difficult for her. My son may actually be able to win a prize for “Messiest 2nd Grade Handwriting,” and I hope this app will help him. I might even make my handwriting-challenged 10-year old try a few rounds, too.
Overall, this is a very strong app. The idea is innovative, and the execution is smooth, although a tad boring and without visual instruction. Even if parents have to use favorite games as a motivator to play, I recommended Chalk Walk to help get tech-savvy kids ready to write.
If you would like to download Chalk Walk ($3.99/iPad) please support Smart Apps for Kids by using this link button:
Heather Hetler looks forward to the development of her left-hand ability using Chalk Walk. Heather works as an elementary school SLP and is a full-time graduate student in Speech-Language Pathology. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review.