Bottom Line: Cute games to entice kids ages 4-7 to learn more about the alphabet, including sound/letter correspondence, letter writing, and spelling. The interface is very smooth, but there are some accuracy issues to consider.
Lola’s ABC Party from developer BeiZ Ltd features a very adorable panda named Lola. This same adorable panda is the star in several other apps from BeiZ, all of which really appeal to kids in the target range. The app is available in 10 languages, but this review covers only the English version.
This particular Lola game features little Lola planning for a party. The app features a very creative integration of storyline and learning activities, which is a real strength. There are four things to do to get ready for the party — inflate balloons, decorate a cake, make a party hat, and decorate a bowl of ice cream.
After choosing the desired activity, there is inevitably some delay (“The ice cream is still too hard!”). Instead of just twiddling our thumbs, though, Lola presents some letter games! The first letter game involves Lola making a letter sound, and the user choosing from among three to five options which letter matches the sound. The prompt is perfect (Which letter sounds like…), and it can be repeated with a tap.
The second ABC game instructs the user to draw the presented letter. Like many early writing apps, there are arrows and dots to guide the user. Inexplicably, however, the app presents several letters in ways that are contrary to how most kids are taught to write them. The letter H, for example, instructed the user to draw one line down, then the small line across before finishing with a second line down.
The third game is a simple memory game, with pictures of objects on cards. The object is named when a card is flipped (such as orange, sock, and umbrella). In higher levels, the game involves matching an image with the correct letter.
Another is a spelling game, where letter tiles are added to the grid beneath a picture. With a picture of a camel, there were 5 boxes, 4 empty and the final /l/ already filled in. On other pictures, the picture itself is covered up, and the first letter is shown before removing it. Sometimes a train with letters is presented, to put the missing letters in place in alphabetical order.
One of the best features of the game is how it paces itself based on accuracy. When I missed all of the letter sounds, I was presented with another set of letters. When it took longer to spell a word correctly, another card was given.
While Lola is cute and the game runs smoothly, there were multiple accuracy issues with the content:
- Several of the letter sounds are produced with an added schwa (“uh”) sound. This makes J say “juh”, M say “muh” and so on. This is a pet peeve of mine, as it interferes with solid phonics learning in some children. I noted it on the letters: B, D, G, J, M, P, T, W.
- The letter O sound was just entirely wrong. In phonics, vowels are taught first with the short vowel sound. In this case, O makes the sound “ah”, as in “hot.” However, this app teaches O as having the long sound, “oh.”
- As mentioned, the app teaches kids to write several of the letters in nonstandard ways. It’s hard to note how many of them were wrong, because I could only write the letters presented to me each game. However, at least M and H taught nonstandard strokes to form the letters.
- On the writing letters section, the app provides the feedback, “You wrote the letter ‘eh,’” using the letter sound instead of letter name.
- In the spelling game, the picture cards are not always the best choice for sounding out. For example, after correctly spelling the word “ship,” the app sounds it out. But a word like “ship” includes the digraph /sh/, which is not a combination of S+H in sounds. So sounding out “sss—hhhh—ih—puh” doesn’t really give the right feedback for the word ship. I also noted this difficulty on words with a silent “e” or any vowel pairs, like “oar.” It would have been better to stick with classic consonant-vowel-consonant words, or words with consonant blends but short vowels.
In addition to the accuracy issues, I was also disappointed that there was not a pause button or a mute button for the music. There is also no way to exit out to the home screen when playing the word games. And unfortunately, there is no way to limit play to one type of activity. I would prefer to select just a targeted skill.
The links to social media (Facebook and Twitter) as well as external links (website, YouTube, and the App Store) are easily accessible to younger users. Be sure to take appropriate security precations if this is a concern, like setting the device for guided access to "lock" the user into the app.
The real fun of the game is in the party preparation games. Filling balloons of different shapes was my favorite game, but making a decorated bowl of ice cream, or a creative cake or hat, were also really fun. I think the game is worth it for the fun games and alphabet learning. Parents and teachers do need to consider the accuracy errors with the alphabet teaching, but overall the game is fun and likely appealing to preschool and kindergarten users.
Heather loves the SLP joke to be like a schwa and never be stressed. But she really doesn't like when schwa is added to letter sounds. SmartAppsForKids.com was paid a priority review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.