Bottom Line: Cute graphics with a good mix of early literacy skills and some fun in the sun but may not pose much of a challenge for its target audience of pre-readers and writers. CCSS aligned.
If you would like to purchase Crabby Writer: Phonics Read and Write ($2.99 iPad/iPhone) please use the following link which supports Smart Apps for Kids:
Crabby Writer, the latest title from Mrs. Judd's Games, a division of KBooM! Games, refers to the app's crustacean star and its focus on tracing letters and not James Caan after he got his ankle smashed by Kathy Bates in Stephen King's Misery. Mrs. Judd is a retired early childhood educator, and obviously knows her stuff, as evidenced by the lengthy "For Parents and Teachers" section available on the home screen (much of which is repeated in the App Store description as well). And in theory, all the things she says there are correct. But in practice? My five-year-old, who is a budding reader and exactly the right audience for this app, deemed it boring.
On the up side, the graphics are adorable. In the opening scene, a cute little hermit crab gets washed out by an ocean wave and asks for the user's help in rebuilding his sandcastle home. Rebuilding, as it turns out, involves choosing one of three passing sailboats, which are offering three-letter words, four-letter words, or words grouped by theme. The child chooses a boat, and then waits while a tugboat tugs a word into view. A voice pronounces each letter and the word slowly, and offers individual letter sounds as the kid traces each letter in the sand on the beach.
The tracing is actually accomplished through a thumb-and-forefinger pinching motion, and is sort of a combination of tracing and bubble-popping — according to the developer, this helps kids develop the proper grip for a pencil. The hermit crab is there to help if the child needs help with tracing, and the reward for getting it right is some pretty seashells in a bucket. The touchscreen registers the pressure of two fingertips, so a stylus is of no use in this exercise.
In each segment of play, the tugboat offers a total of five words that rhyme or are related by theme. Once the user has traced all five words in the sand, there's a new reward: the little reader can decorate one of fifteen sandcastles and place a picture of her work in a virtual scrapbook. (This, apparently, is how the letter-tracing and such is related to helping the little crab rebuild his home. Or something.) The five-year-old LOVED this part.
The more letters kids trace, the more "multicultural" sandcastles they unlock. Kids can decorate with shells, feathers, gold pieces, bottle caps and a variety of other stuff the developer calls "sea treasure," more of which is unlocked as the game progresses. My daughter wanted to decorate sandcastles all night, but she quickly tired of having to trace letters in the sand in order to get to what she wanted. When she discovered that she couldn't bypass the words and go straight to the decorating, she gave up and moved on to something else.
The idea here is a good one. The "For Parents and Teachers" section says the app is meant to reinforce phonics and rhyming structure, and little readers DO need exposure to rhyming words and others they can sound out for themselves as they begin the reading journey. But they need something to do with those words besides trace the letters in the sand. Maybe a game of "what rhymes with this?" or "fill in the letter to make a word." My daughter knows her letters, and she knows how to write them. There's no challenge for her in tracing them. At first I thought maybe she was too old for the app — perhaps it was aimed at preschool kids who have not yet started phonics and other pre-reading skills, or don't yet know how to write their letters. But after re-reading the info for parents and teachers, I came to the conclusion that she's exactly the age the developer had in mind — there's just not enough to hold her interest.
The music and other sound effects are good and not annoying, which is probably more important to me than to my daughter. The digital scrapbook gets filled with photos of objects from the completed word families, and they make sounds when pressed. The dog barks, the hog grunts, the foghorn blasts, and feet slap the pavement for jog. This feature is really clever and should be highlighted in some fashion as it may get lost among the other activities.
Crabby Writer has the signature textured look and feel of Mrs. Judd's other apps which have gotten generally positive reviews from my SAFK colleagues. There's a great deal of potential here, I think, but it needs work — and perhaps a lower price point — if the developer wants to increase the possibility of repeat play and sustained retention of the literacy concepts presented. My daughter gives it a thumb up for the sandcastles, but obviously that isn't the point of the app.
Emilie Davis is a crabby writer. She enjoys virtual beaches more than real ones, because there are some parts of one's person where sand should never be. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.