Parents and educators can easily become overwhelmed by the number of apps available for children. How can you tell which are the best to support pre-literacy skills? Let Tech Goes Home help take the guesswork out of the educational apps selection for you.
At Tech Goes Home, we have developed and are piloting an early childhood program to help families support their child’s development of pre-literacy skills. We are assisting families as they engage their children in reading activities and collaborative play that will help the children be better prepared for kindergarten. As part of this effort, we are supplying families with training, an iPad, and support to get low cost Internet access. Each iPad comes preloaded with interactive books and our Tech Goes Home app aggregator — an app that connects to the apps we have selected.
In preparation, our team dug into the Android and iTunes app stores to find the best available pre-literacy apps for pre-schoolers. We created a rubric that consisted of the following categories:
- Common Sense Media and Graphite Scoring
- Parent comments regarding their child’s experience (online research)
- Early Childhood Educator responses to the app (online and personal inquiry)
- Consumerism (does the app try to sell something either by product placement or intentional asks?)
- Daddy/child approval (our in-house parent and child experts)
A few of our discoveries were surprising. First, the best pre-literacy apps currently live in the iTunes store. While we wished there were better options within the Android marketplace (particularly because the devices are less expensive), we did not find that to be the case. Second, we discovered that most of the free apps were not nearly as educationally sound as the paid apps. Perhaps we should not have been surprised by this, but there are so many apps that we thought we would find suitable free alternatives.
As part of this effort, we spent some time with adults and four-year-old children using some of the apps. For example, we observed the use of Alpha Tots, which helps children learn their letters and letter sounds. The adult encouraged the child to say the letter names out loud and to then replicate the action defined. On this app, we absolutely encourage adult interaction since the letter and action are not easily connected for non-readers. The student needs to know that A = ADD the candles to the cake and B = BUILD the robot. We liked it because it involved both adult/child interaction and the opportunity for the student to engage in an activity.
During another observation, we watched an adult/child pair using Letter School. We enjoyed the animated way the children were talking along with the app. We heard children exclaim “Zebra” and “The letter B!” as they interacted with the app. The app helps children learn the letters by first tracing the letter and then fading assistance until the child can create the letter independently. Children can repeat the action until they are successful. Students loved the app’s celebration of their success.
Our conclusion? The following apps are among the collection we chose for use with our early childhood program. We know there are many other wonderful apps out there, but given our parameters, these five apps rose to the top of the list:
- Alpha Tots – learn ABCs, phonetic pronunciations – $2.99
- Draw and Tell – making and telling stories, encourages the use of imagination and open ended play- $1.99
- Writing Wizard – early words, letter tracing, fun rewards when children are successful- $2.99
- Word Wagon– letters, phonics, spelling, based on Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teaches 100 words, including 44 from the Dolch list – $1.99
- Letter School – letter and sound recognition, letter writing – $2.99