Bottom Line: Creative take on early language development, good for fun and adaptable to many speech therapy goals.
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Seasoned app developer Tribal Nova has a new iLearn With app release, this time with a language focus. The previous apps are solid, so my speech-language pathologist senses perked up at the opportunity to look at iLearn with Boing: Ocean Adventures. There are three games in this app aimed at kids aged 3-6, each with a different language development focus.
The first game targets Vocabulary with a juggling octopus. The user searches behind sea anemones or in sunken ships to find four different objects hidden inside bubbles on the ocean floor. The octopus then juggles the objects - if he used more than two of his arms, he could juggle more than four balll. Level one starts with common nouns, while levels two and three both target categories (things in the sky, things in the kitchen, etc. which was nice. Most of the words were useful enough for young children, though the inclusion of "eggplant" did surprise me. Maybe it's just in my household, but eggplant is pretty low on the list of frequently-discussed foods.
The second game is Listening Comprehension with the clownfish. This game involves correctly placing lots of dancing, costumed clownfish on the ocean floor. The user follows the verbal direction to touch the screen in the correct location, such as "next to the rock" and "in the cave." After four clownfish are placed, they all dance.
The most fun part about the game is the different costumes the clownfish wear on each round (in my opening round, they were clowns) Otherwise, it's a bit repetitive, and more of a quiz than a teaching game. There are 26 different possible placements in level one, and if the child taps incorrectly, the counter at the bottom flashes with a noise. Unfortunately, it doesn't tell the child why a choice is wrong or give a visual example of what "next to" means.
Still, following directions with prepositions and spatial concepts is a frequently targeted speech-language therapy goal for preschoolers and kindergarteners, making playtime with Nemo a very useful game. The parent, teacher or SLP can interact with the child and teach the concept, if necessary. Levels two and three first add color, then size descriptors (in front of the big black shell), which make the exercise even better for following directions and understanding concepts.
My favorite game is the third, Sentence Formation with the crabs. This game has a one or two player option, a rarity in iPad games and huge bonus for use in therapy. To play, the user places crabs with pictures onto color-coded spots in front of a theater curtain. This creates a silly sentence, like "The lamp laughs with the shovel," or "The broccoli kisses the fork." Each sentence is then acted out as the highlighted text under the scene is read. As play progresses, only the crabs are colored (red for nouns and objects, blue for verbs)and more are added. If the child places the sentence in the wrong order, the color reappears on the spots to help correct the sentence. Level two adds a prepositional phrase with a pink crab, and additional descriptors for the nouns—the potato in skates, the fir tree with checks. In level three, the descriptors can be added individually, allowing either the lamp or the fir tree to be checked.
This game works on sentence structure in a very visual and creative way. My therapy kids, all the way through second grade, had a lot of fun with this game. My biggest wish to make it even better would be a pause button—it's hard to talk about each scene in depth, because it disappears. With a pause button, I could more easily target descriptive words, answering questions, and absurdities. The addition of a record feature would also be nice.
It is difficult in Ocean Adventures to switch levels or repeat a level, which might be more of an issue for therapy use than for the individual child. Once level three is reached, the user can choose any of the levels when starting each game. I found it easiest to create and use just one profile in therapy, and had my five year old daughter help me complete the first two levels in that profile.
The app does not continue to run in the background when it is exited. This is not a major drawback unless you wanted to use it in therapy along with other apps or wish to switch between the reward app and back. When I tried to switch back and forth between two apps, it took more time than I wanted to give to load the whole opening sequence and choose the correct game and level.
Overall, this is a great app for SLPs to focus on very common language development goals and for parents to increase their young children's language comprehension. As with all of the iLearn With apps, parents can choose to track their children's progress in each area. The child can also earn rewards to play with in the separate, free app Planet Boing if a parent has registered with an email address.
Heather Hetler is an SLP in an elementary school. Her three kids are glad she doesn't talk about eggplant very often. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.