In the world of fashion white is the new black, and in kids’ apps handwriting is the new math. My own collection of writing and tracing apps has grown to nine. There are options to write in shaving cream, write on a foggy window, trace over train tracks and use chalk. With so many gimmicks, it's actually refreshing to see developer emamia keep the format simple and to the point with ABC 123 iLearn Writing.
This app works off a single screen so navigation is not an issue and there is less opportunity for kids to get distracted. A letter line runs across the top and a number line anchors the bottom of the screen. A slider similar to that on computers lets users move from the beginning of the alphabet to the end. Along the left hand side are four colored pencils to trace with. Down the right are a recycle bin, the buttons to select letters or words to trace and a speaker icon for controlling sound. The recycle bin is used to clear the screen. Also found on the left hand side is a quite prominent Facebook share icon.
The center of the screen is reserved for writing practice. Letters, numbers and words are made of dashes. The font is vaguely D'Nealian with small curves at the end of the letters. Four samples of each number and letter (two uppercase and two lowercase) are shown. The size is closer to notebook paper than most beginning apps, so ABC 123 better prepares students for mature printing. Also, the writing surface allows ample space for freehand practice using the dashed letters as a model. I find this option quite useful.
Each letter has a flash card which shows an object starting with the respective letter. These comprise the words which children get to trace once they master their individual letters. Some of the words are common and mainstays of kids’ picture dictionaries like an apple for letter A. Others are more obscure like a jellyfish for J. Jam might be a better choice as a nine letter word is a bit much for a kindergartner learning to write. I even had difficulty staying in the lines for jellyfish without using a stylus.
Those in the US should be aware that the alphabet doesn't sound like it does on Sesame Street. When users choose a letter or word, it is spoken aloud and the voice used is slightly accented and some of the pronunciations are decidedly British. The letter H sounds like "haych" and Z comes out as "zed." My son cracked up when he heard the woman say zebra with a short e rather than "zeebra." Hopefully an alternate choice for American English can be addressed in a quick update.
Overall I like the stripped down approach emamia has taken. That is perhaps why I find the Facebook link so bothersome. I enjoy seeing photos of my friends' and relatives' children and pets, but even grandparents would be hard pressed to get excited about seeing their grand-babies' handwriting practice. An email link to share samples with a teacher or selected others would be a much better option than the public display Facebook provides and some parents aren't buying any apps with social media links of any kind. It's particularly tacky that the screen shot on Facebook comes complete with the iTunes link for the app. Use of this feature does require logging in to Facebook and allowing the app to be installed, so at least kids are not able to access it by accident.
The one thing missing from ABC 123 and virtually every other handwriting app for that matter is a systematic approach to learning to write letters. At school, kids start with all the straight letters like T and L. Then they move to rounded letters. Offering a step by step approach rather than presenting the whole alphabet at once might be beneficial and distinguish the app from the many handwriting apps now available. With the vaunted Handwriting Without Tears program now available in iOS all developers in this crowded market need to step up their game.
Jill Goodman is grateful there are only three more months of summer in Florida. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.