Bottom Line: This app should be the first choice for educators and parents of children learning letter sounds and beginning spelling (approximately 4-6 years old). Its solid research-based methodology and data collection make it the top of the class for learning.
External links to the App Store, to e-mail the developer and to export reports, all behind a protected wall.
Spellyfish is a great new spelling app from the makers of the Simplex Spelling apps, my favorite spelling apps for older kids. This app is designed for younger kids, approximately ages 4-6, to get a great start with a research-based methodology, and have fun doing it.
PyxWise Software has incorporated just the right options into this app. In the Settings section, the user can adjust the voice volume, sound effects volume, number of times correct in order to get mastery, keyboard sounds, keyboard layout, letter case, and whether scores are shown.
Upon opening the app, be prepared to help young children use it for the first time, to set up an account and get the settings correct. The app has an introduction level followed by eight different levels, all focusing on a different word family (and all with the short "a" sound).
Multiple user accounts can be set from the home screen (up to 40). Tap the arrow in the upper left corner, and a menu appears across the top. These options include adding another user, viewing user data for the currently loaded profile, changing the settings, and accessing the help menu.
On the home screen, this top menu also includes the only external links: to export reports (behind a protected wall, accessed by answering a math problem such as “8+14”) and one menu to email PyxWise, rate the app in the App Store, or get or view other PyxWise apps (both rating and emailing are also behind a protected wall). It also includes useful things like word lists, tips and a FAQ section.
The spelling lessons are narrated by “Spellyfish,” a cute octopus leading the user through the app. When the correct letter is selected, Spellyfish glows and gives positive verbal reinforcement. This tutorial/introduction is the best I’ve seen in awhile on a kids’ app. Spellyfish tells the user what to do, and a visual cue remains in the corner to help remember what to do. If needed, the visual cue picture can be tapped again to hear the verbal instruction.
These instructions remain accessible throughout play, too, through the in-game help menu accessed by tapping the arrow key in the upper left corner. This is great for those who need to try the app a little before they can fully understand the directions.
In the actual lessons, Spellyfish does a great job of explaining the task. Each word is then presented with a visual picture, clearly articulated, and used in a sentence that matches the picture scene. As the letters are tapped or dragged up to the spelling shells, the letter sound is clearly heard.
PyxWise also uses a unique hint system. If the hint button is tapped when the child is asked to spell “ham,” the system first breaks the word into three sounds, verbally stating the sounds for each letter (“hhh” “a” “mmm”). If still unsure, the child can tap each starfish hint for either an additional hint (such as when two letters make the same sound) or the letter to be revealed. This is called “reverse phonics,” and it’s a method used in the most solid phonics programs.
There were a few things I think could improve the app to five stars. I wanted to see either more words, or the ability to add words. Currently, there are 5 words to learn per word family, such as fan, van, ban, pan, and tan in the _an level. Some kids will need many more attempts to practice, such as including words like can, Dan, man, and ran.
I also would love to see the ability to play games with the words added, either as reinforcement fun or for more practice. Some kids need to practice with multiple presentations in order to truly master words, and simple games (except memory games — please no memory games!) can make it a little more fun, rather than just writing the words five times each. Perhaps a short story where the words can be spelled, then added to complete sentences, or a game where the letters are scrambled and have to be put together in words to label pictures.
I cannot wait until there are more Spellyfish apps, continuing the progressive spelling knowledge. This app is an absolute necessity for any teacher or parent of a kindergarten or first grade student (or students spelling at the early level.) It very effectively teaches letter sounds, basic spelling, and even vocabulary. I'll be using it a lot this year, both with my 6 year old daughter and my speech-language therapy students at school.
Heather H. was so entranced with Spellyfish, she forgot to upload this review online by her due date! But she knows how to spell all the 3-letter short /a/ sound words now. SmartAppsForKids.com was paid a priority review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.