Bottom Line: Reading and writing are the most important foundations in learning and this app does a lovely job introducing these skills to young learners in a way that keeps them on task and interested in the process for a reasonable price.
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This app has no ads, no in-app purchases and parent-protected external links to contact the developer and social media.
Philip got to play with this app for us, have a look below:
This is a cleanly designed app that parents and teachers are going to love when introducing the reading and writing basics to their students. What appears to be very simple is layered with options and introduces skills subtly in a way that isn't intimidating. The app opens to a home screen where parents or teachers can create users. During my review, I created 25 test users and after that I stopped counting so it looks like there is plenty of room for entire classrooms. The home screen is also where users can view more apps by the developer, One Tree Hill, a parent section, settings and help section.
The help section describes the app, offers help with common user questions and describes how this app blends both the phonics method of learning with the whole language method for a more robust learning experience. The settings section has the choice of six popular narration choices between male, female, US (United States English), UK (United Kingdom English), AUS (Australian English) and IND (Indian English) dialects. Voice settings also have the ability to optimize voice output with words per minute and pitch. Users can also block profanity and opt to have background music off or on. All settings except explanation of the app have parental blocks to keep busy fingers from straying.
Once settings are complete, gameplay begins. The app is designed for users that have little or no reading and writing experience. There are 20 lessons each consisting of six sections that blend learning how to write letters, letter sounds and letter combinations that increase difficulty with progression through the lessons and sections. Letters and letter sounds are introduced based on language usage and are not grouped strictly in alphabetical order. For instance, in Lesson 3, a grouping is "e, g, th" and in that particular section, users are given a sound to listen to, then choose from a list of letters and letter combinations.
The sections within each lesson are organized into different activities: letter tracing -shows how to create the letter then children are prompted to reproduce on a guide, choose the right word- users are given a letter sound and are then prompted to choose the correct letter or combination that produced it, listen and write -children listen to a word then spell that word from choices presented. There are also two other activities that push this app into the long-term usability arena. The interactive writing pad lets users create words and sentences that narrate as the spelling is produced. This kind of activity is a lot of fun when learning what happens when combinations are put together or when a word is spelled incorrectly and produces something unexpected. Stories and questions are just what it sounds like. Short stories are narrated, then questions are asked of the user. The beauty of this activity is seeing each word narrated and questions are phrased perfectly for early learners.
The developer was a gem when I contacted him about a bug with voice-output in iPad 2 devices. The problem was found and corrected quickly. I would like to see the option to pull up lessons without having to unlock each one, especially since each lesson has six sections. While that will work great in some circumstances, it would be a huge benefit for students that need work at the more advanced area of learning or when a teacher has students with differing needs and only limited amounts of device time to split between the children.
Overall, this app has a lot to offer to children learning to read and write, not just the very young students either. This app would also suit needs of special learning students and work well in a speech language pathologist's toolbox. All included in a very low price.
Cynthia has a lot of learning and family bonding planned for her three kids over the summer! Just kidding. She hopes they entertain themselves without getting into trouble. *Smart Apps for Kids was paid a priority review fee for this post.