UK developer Key Stage Fun must have read my recent reviews or read my mind when they created Spelling: Squeebles Words because they managed to avoid most of the pitfalls found in the dozens of other spelling apps I've seen. This universal app makes weekly spelling menus sent home from school a cinch for those with an iDevice. The developer forgoes preprogrammed lists of sight words that don't usually match up with school lists, and puts parents in control of creating lists and otherwise totally customizing the experience for each child using the app.
Getting started requires a trip to the Parents Zone where friendly Squeeble Ozzie guides you through setup. From here, parents can create player profiles and spelling lists. Options for each player profile include: choosing directions in UK or US English, recording a personalized congratulatory message for getting 100% on a test, selecting the length of time a visual preview of the word is shown on-screen from 0, 2 or 5 seconds, and assigning an upper or lowercase keyboard. The interface is intuitive and these steps take just a few minutes per child. I especially like the hints offered by visual preview and find this option far superior to placeholders, shadowed letters or letter banks seen in other learn to spell apps.
Step two for parents involves inputting words for the spelling lists. Each list gets a title which can be by date if tied to school homework or by type of words like short vowels. The number of lists is unlimited as is number of player profiles. Multiple players can be assigned the same list thereby saving time for teachers using the app. Each word gets typed in and then the parent is prompted to record the word. The word can be said in isolation or used in a sentence which is useful for homophones or parents with less than perfect diction. Most important is the ability to specify if a word is case sensitive. I can't speak for the UK but in US schools, the word English always takes a capital E.
Once the parent or teacher has completed the setup, kids get their turn. Players can choose from three test options which include an assigned list, tricky words compiled from those previously missed or a random list generated from all the words available for that player. I love the random words option for two main reasons. First of all, maintenance is critical for a child to learn the spelling for life. Secondly, if the entire original list ended in an "e" or all words rhymed, beginners may not quite remember how to spell them without the rule being obvious.
The actual spelling screen is easy to follow with buttons to Listen Again and Okay to submit a spelling. The keyboard is not the one native to the iPad, but it is qwerty (hallelujah) and ample sized. Each letter touched makes a sound for excellent aural feedback. Correct spellings get cheers and a big green check. An X and oops mark misspellings and the proper spelling is shown. Periodic words of encouragement appear as players earn stars and power-ups for an extended run of correct responses.
The Player Zone has a comprehensive set of instructions because spelling is only part of the fun with Squeebles. Everything is part of a game called Squeeberang. The more a child spells, the more Squeebles he frees from the spelling snake. The app includes 15 different Squeebles (cute monster blobs) with names like Whizz, Raino, Mud and Bebe. Three of them are based on winning designs submitted by fans of Key Stage Fun. The credit page of the app shows the original drawings and their transformation into Squeebles.
In addition to collecting Squeebles, spellers can trade stars for Squeeberangs. Both have color forces and ratings for various attributes like speed and power. Stronger Squeeberangs require more stars.
The game reminds me of Bakugan except it doesn't require a trip to Target and shelling out $10 for a new plastic ball. layers choose a Squeeble and Squeeberang and throw them across a field using a swipe. The goal is to throw the boomerang-riding blob as far as possible. Power-ups for rotation and bounce add to the distance if used correctly. The game is actually fun and much more motivating than a trophy, sticker or coin reward system. It also involves a good deal of strategy to maximize the power ups and calculate the best height to achieve the longest distance. I know one developer with a Ph.D. in physics that would have a blast analyzing all the variables.
Key Stage Fun has thought of just about everything in this app. My only wishes would be support for text to speech as I don't like recording and perhaps bonus stars for properly spelling those extra credit words teachers love to assign. Spelling: Squeebles Words looks to be our new go-to app for weekly spelling homework and test prep.
Jill Goodman, who wrote this review, wonders if Weebles wobble, do Squeebles squabble? smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.