Bottom line: A straightforward, easy to use app that encourages language development in younger children in a myriad different ways. I really hope we see more "You're The Storyteller" apps from this developer.
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Home edition, $5.99, iPad only:
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You're The Storyteller: The Surprise, by Hamaguchi Apps, is a hard app to describe in a concise way because it has the potential for so many different uses.
I reviewed the Home edition of the app - in this version a parent can record and save one profile for their child. There is also a professional edition for teachers and therapists which allows up to 30 profiles to be saved. The parent and child watch a short animated video about a boy who brings a puppy home and tries in vain to keep the contraband hidden from his mother. The video is broken up into eight chapters and is completely wordless. There are sound effects and lots of non-verbal language, but no speech from the characters, narration or written words.
Your child's job is to tell a story about what they see. Younger children who can't yet read can record their story, while older kids can both narrate and write - there is a box on the page in which they can type. Once finished the child can play their story and re-record or make changes to the written text as they feel appropriate. The written version of the story can be printed and both the written and narrated versions can be emailed to share with teachers or therapists.
Each chapter has a separate screen and in addition to record and playback options, the child can tap on a button to see three 'Challenge' words for them to incorporate in their story, if they can. There is also a 'Question' button which, when pressed, shows three questions designed to get the child thinking about information they can infer from what they have seen. The 'Info' section of the app suggests both possible ways in which the challenge words can be used and potential answers to the questions asked.
There are so many ways that this app can be utilized I think it would probably be counter-productive (i.e. boring) for me to list them all. Instead, I think they all fall into three broad categories:
This one is pretty obvious - the app after all is called 'You're the Storyteller' - but this simple concept has so many facets to it once you start to pick it apart. Here are just a handful to get you started:
- Understanding and creation of narrative language.
- Writing practice.
- Comprehension skills. Wordless books teach and reinforce how to use visual cues and pay attention to details in order to 'fill-in-the-blanks' in understanding. The ability to draw conclusions and inferences from contextual information is a crucial skill for reading.
- Creativity. The story is completely non-verbal so in addition to enabling your child to make up their own version of what they see happening, complete with back-story, they can also practice writing dialogue.
- Syntax and grammar. Having a child construct sentences and fit them together to form a narrative structure is a great way to teach and reinforce these concepts in a way that is far more natural and powerful than teaching 'rules'. Particularly impactful from this perspective is having the child read their story aloud. This is an excellent habit to encourage and, if reinforced and continued, will enable children to write and speak with more fluency as well as accuracy.
- Articulation practice - getting the child to record themselves speaking and playing it back so they can hear themselves is not only great fun for them but it's a wonderful way to target sounds that a child may have challenges pronouncing.
- I used this app with my son, Oliver, whose speech consists almost entirely of echolalia. We watched the video first and then I recorded him watching it. I was surprised that I got a couple of spontaneous phrases from him, one was even unprompted. These included 'the puppy is hiding under the blanket' and 'he's looking out of the window'. Oliver loved using the app and I plan to go back to it with him often, to see if we can expand on his use of non-scripted and non-prompted speech.
Social skills. The animated characters don't speak during the video but they use a plethora of facial expressions and gestures. For children who have difficulty interpreting non-verbals, having characters model them in context helps them learn to pay attention to these details and begin to interpret them.
The home page does contain a direct link to all the developer's apps in iTunes, a feature that I would prefer either wasn't there or was in a section solely for parents. In this case it's a minor quibble as kids probably won't be playing with the app alone - not that it isn't easy and intuitive to use - but the child would gain most from the app if they go through it with an adult. Given the excellence of the animation and the many, many different ways the app can be used the price represents excellent value.
Highly recommended, both for younger typical children and for those with special needs.
This review was written by Deanne Shoyer who, at the age of 13, won a prize in a Town and Country Arts Festival for a fictionalized story about the Tsar Nicholas II's son, Alexei. Likely to be the most important literary award she will receive in her lifetime. smartappsforkids was paid a priority review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.