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Category: Phonics »

ABC Gurus Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Amy Solomon on March 20th, 2015
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: DECORATING LETTER FUN
ABC Gurus allows children to decorate letters while listening to their phonic sounds as well as including word associations.
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Gappy’s Mystery Letters Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Amy Solomon on October 4th, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: CHARMING LETTER PRACTICE
Gappy’s Mystery Letters is a charming letter drawing app with a fun mystery theme and coloring pages.
Read The Full Review »

Talking ABC... Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 25th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Talking ABC... is a delightful alphabet app which includes charming and impressive claymation animals that will engage adults and children alike.

I do love this kind of animation, so I was eager to see the claymation included within, and I can say that these bright and quirky animal creatures do not disappoint, as an estimated 770 pounds of clay was used to create the animals and letters - impressive to say the least.

As one may expect, there is a main section of this app which includes 26 letters, each with its own corresponding animal seen to the left of the screen.

I enjoy tapping these letters a great deal - first to see the letter formed in clay, then to morph back into a ball and then to form into a creature full of whimsy, also including mild yet wonderfully effective animation.

Another tap will again convert this animal back into a clay ball to be formed into the letter. Options include listening to the letter names or phonic sounds as well as being given a collection of animal choices instead of letter choices to select from.

These letters and animals can also be explored in Auto Play, turning this area into a sing-songy experience as one is introduced to these creatures along with music watched much like a video.

A collection of games is also included where one has a chance to explore four sections.

Letters is an activity where children are asked to identify with a tap the correct letter - be it by name or phonic sound - one of six letters to choose from. A wrong letter will squish the letter in question into a ball whereas the correct letter will convert to the related animal.

The Animal area is much the same, here asking children to choose the correct animal from a group of six seen on the screen, with wrong answers ending in the animals being squeezed into clay balls - an element I find highly satisfying.

Funny Words allows children to spell out a favorite word or name to then see it spelled out with clay letters for a nice effect.

A puzzle section also exists that includes a series of animals, each broken up into a series of squares that needs to be tapped to rotate until these pieces come together to make up a completed creature. Both Easy as well as a Normal difficulty are included - great for children who will find these puzzles interesting and a little challenging but without frustration.

There is much to appreciate within this app as the claymation animals are wonderful, with just the right amount of animated details that I am smitten with.

A few unique animals are included such as a newt playing with a pinwheel. There are also a vicuna, xiphias and yeti used to represent their related letters, avoiding the more common animals usually included in apps such as this.

I really appreciate that the raw moments of sculpting such as fingerprints are included, showing the process of turning a lump of clay into such wonderful silly creatures, each with its own unique movements.

I give a lot of credit to the use of lighting within this app, especially how the included letters are lit to make the most of being three-dimensional objects as opposed to being flat. Colorful backgrounds are also used among these pages that also include geometric shapes such as diamonds or triangles which float across the page behind the letter or animal in question, adding to the visual interest of this app.

It is also charming how one can record one's own voice within the main section of this app, making it seem as if any chosen animal is repeating what words or phrases that have been recorded by the user, and I do enjoy how the animals move their mouths during playback for a delightful lip-sync effect. Also interesting is how the pitch of the added narration is altered to make the child sound silly - a delightful touch.

I mention this function here as this app does not make note of this detail except as a setting where it can easily be missed. I read about this detail through iTunes as a recent update - a delightful inclusion that I fear many will miss without this element being mentioned within the app itself.

Even with this note, there is a great deal to enjoy with Talking ABC... . I would also love to see more claymation from the developers at Jutiful in the future.

Alphabet Animals: A Slide-and-Peek Adventure Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 5th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Alphabet Animals: A Slide-and-Peek Adventure is a very nice adaptation of the title by the same name, now developed for iPad by Auryn Apps.

Alphabet Animals: A Slide-and-Peek Adventure is a book we are familiar with from our local library, as each letter of the alphabet is represented by an animal posed to represent each letter corresponding to the first letter of its name.

In the book, a page can be slid out that labels the animal and the letter it is emulating - such as “A” for alligator or “B” for bird.

Such is the same here, yet in this app, a drag of a finger will pull out the tab, and with a tap clear, well-spoken children’s narration speaks the animal and letter names as well.

Interesting fantasy animals are included such as “Dragon” and “Unicorn” as well as Newt for “N” or Xenops, a small bird for letter X. They are interesting choices, yet I do wonder if babies completely green to the alphabet will mistake “X” for letter “B” for bird. Likewise, I was hard-pressed to see the “T” in the tiger illustration.

Also new to this title is how each animal includes minor animated elements, subtle but effective, as each “tab” is pulled - details not possible in the published book and which add extra richness to this experience.

I do think it would be a nice touch to have the names of these animals labeled with words as shown in the published book to allow parents to point to the word as the narration is heard, but this is a minor note in a bright and colorful children’s app.

Although I do not expect this app to take the place of children exploring unique flap books such as this, I do appreciate that these tabs can’t be torn when reading this book in digital form, as my son was really hard on books such as this as a toddler, making this a nice choice for other young children who may have difficulty with these slider pages.

I would also like to point out to readers that to celebrate National Reading Month, Auryn's National Reading Month Giveaway will be making an app for each day in March free to download.

This is a huge boon to families, schools and other practitioners who will benefit from adding to their digital library.

From what I have seen, Auryn’s apps, although varied in terms of style, are uniformly high in terms of quality and are each quite desirable to share with children. Please checkout their library of apps in iTunes.

Word Grab Phonetics Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 15th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Word Grab Phonetics is a delightful early phonics app for toddlers and preschool-aged children from the developers at Bellamon, known for their wonderfully stylized educational apps.

This app contains two section, ABC Words and Rhyme Time, each revolving around a friendly white abominable snowman-like monster who lives at the bottom of the screen.

In ABC Words, the monster holds an image of an object in question, such as a picture of a train, ice or van. Then look center screen to choose the letter that corresponds to the picture word, and then the picture word is used in a sentence.

Rhyme Time is similar, but instead of the use of single letters, one is looking to find the first letter of a short word, as the last letters are offered, along with a shaded hint of the letter one is looking for.

I find it charming that there are so many different ways of delivering the letter choices found center screen, such as floating through space, found on a moving train, being held up by prairie dogs, or found in birds' nests as letter eggs, which are now being warmed by a variety of birds.

It is also cute and fun how after three words are complete, players are given the treat of interacting with a fun, animated scene involving the monster and a treat that he pulls out of his hat as well as seeing how this monster feeds himself the correct letter choices.

I do love all of the artful touches found in Bellamon apps, as here textures are used throughout along with paper art-inspired objects or animals that here move around the screen to add richness to this colorful phonics application. Also included is appealing music that parents will not mind listening to as they explore letters with their children.

Word Grab Phonics contains a nice selection of options one will find in the setting section of their device including whether or not to include things like letter case choices, word order, or word difficulty such as simple words, blending constants or the use of a silent E, as well as all the different letter variations available - great for families or teachers who want to just focus on a few letters at a time.

I am happy to have found an app that can be made more advanced for children truly on the verge of reading, as the most basic phonics sounds have already been mastered by my five year old, yet it is mainly the beginner sounds that are the focus of most apps like this.

It would be nice, however, to include an image of the word one is trying to complete in the Rhyme Time section as well as to be able to tap the last letters of the word one is trying to finish to hear these sounds if needed as well. Without access to these types of hints is too easy to just copy the shaded letter hint that one is looking for instead of focusing on the word one is trying to complete.

It also would be appreciated if I could turn off the celebratory cheering of children after every word game is complete as this sound becomes grating very quickly. It is possible to fully turn off the sound effects to this app, but I adore the monster noises and other sounds found in the app and don’t want to mute them, so it would be great if there were a separate option to silence the cheering which I can personally do without.

Even with these notes, I am happy point out how quickly my son took to Word Grab Phonics, making this a great application for toddlers through preschool-aged children.

Word Wizard - Talking Movable Alphabet & Spelling Tests for Kids Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 29th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Word Wizard is an engaging way to work on phonics and study spelling with children.

Many parents will remember the toy Speak & Spell from their childhood, which, among other things, would ask players to spell a specific word by typing the correct letters into the built-in keyboard.

Although this was a favorite toy for many during the 1980’s, I never had much interest in the Speak & Spell as anything doing with spelling seemed like the opposite of fun to me.

I do not want my son, however, to have the same negative feelings towards spelling and spelling games as I do, so I was interested to see if Word Wizard would make this kind of activity intriguing to children at an age before they start school and possibly acquire the baggage of being a “bad speller.”

For parents who would also like to introduce an app that works on both spelling and phonics, Word Wizard may be of great interest.

This app contains an area where children are provided a moving alphabet where a drag of a finger will move letters together which will then be read out loud phonetically, allowing them to practice building simple words, sounds or even complex phrases or sentences.

A few nice options are included, allowing one to choose phonic sounds or letter names to be announced as one builds words as well as the use of upper or lower case letters or setting the keyboard up Qwerty style or alphabetically. It also includes a grid to fill in these these letters - a function I appreciate as the spacing of these letters can be difficult without.

There are also a few voices to choose from, such as male, female U.S. or Australian accents as well as being able to alter the speed and tone of these voices - nice touches for these computer generated voices which may take some getting use to.

A colorful background can be chosen as well as a simple paper one with subtle texture and distressing which I am always fond of.

One can also change the pronunciation to words like family names which may not sound correct without changes made.

Other settings include an interesting “profanity remover” which when turned on will read and display “oops” when certain four letter words are selected, making this utterly family-friendly, even though I must admit I did have fun with the mode turned off as would older children who may benefit from this app, even if they feel the need to spell salty words to make it fun.

I can see lots of uses for Word Wizard, and although I appreciate that the word is spoken at the end of the word, I would love an option to not hear the different phonic sounds as they tie together forming the word, as these fragments can sound much different from the completed word and therefore be a distraction.

I can see children enjoy this app at different levels of their education, as my son has more of an ability to read then he is able to write these days, so he can tinker with this keyboard with my help as we make words such as our names or favorite animals, but the full usefulness of this app, specifically the Movable Alphabet section which will be dependent on the ability of the adult working with this app to bring out its full benefits, although I can imagine the bright child interested in language working with this area of this app by himself.

The other section of this app involving spelling tests would be a wonderful section for children to practice their lists on.

Parents can easily add weekly spelling lists to this app for children to study with, typing in these letters after being prompted by narration, as well as other numerous lists included within, such as Dolch Sight words, other commonly used words as well as themes such as sports, nature or shapes.

Hints can be accessed, giving users the first letters in the word in question, all the way to spelling the complete word for children for them to copy - still a valuable learning tool for those who need extra help.

When the word is correctly typed, a fun animation of colorful confetti - be it butterflies, stars or from another source appears.

When the series of words one is working on is finished, one has a chance to interact with the animation, drawing with the confetti for a nice effect.

One of my favorite parts of this app is the ability to type in any number or amount for the voice to narrate, a terrific tool to teach large numbers to my pre-k son, even for helping older children write large sums as words as they practice writing checks.

Although I can imagine some children not finding this app all that engaging, the right child will be captivated by Word Wizard for many hours.

Recently, my husband has a severe, prolonged case of laryngitis and was asked by his doctor to stop speaking as much as possible - a difficult task when parenting a young child.

In situations like this, Word Wizard could been a fun, helpful tool to use as an accessible text to speech apps instead of one’s own voice.

I can also see having a lot of fun typing for my son's babies and stuffed animals to make them speak as well, adding a new creative dimension to this literacy builder.

Cartoon ABC Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 16th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Cartoon ABC is an interactive app designed to teach letters, phonic sounds and common words to children with the use of simple and fun, animated moments.

Children can either choose a specific letter from a main page or work their way back and forth within the alphabet. Each page contains the letter in question and a correlating object which one can tap to hear the name of this word and letter narrated as well as trigger fun cartoon moments that engage as well as often re-enforce the meaning of the included word, such as “inch” or “up” and fun animals or objects that children will enjoy, including a nightingale or robot.

Part hidden picture game, do look closely at the background to find other related objects which blend into an interesting gray urban landscape of buildings and other details which vary between these pages.

I like the stylized muted background, but I do think children may have a hard time seeing what they are looking for as well as become confused as to why some related objects such as the Zoo sign for the letter Z or the buildings seen during the letter B are included yet not chosen for animation. It is nice, however, that young children who need help finding some of these hidden objects as the items in question become highlighted, aiding in their discovery.

Players will also enjoy re-tapping these word choices to see their animations play out indefinitely as well - always a nice touch.

I enjoy the use of both a man's as well as a woman’s voice to narrate the word and phonic choices, and this app also contains nice background music that children will enjoy and adults will have an easy time listening to.

Adults may also appreciate how one can track what letters their children have spent time learning as well as creating new profiles for multiple children.

The only note I have to add is that before children have explored this app, the pages are not titled with specific letters until after these pages have been checked out and then labeled in the menu appropriately. It would be nice to add a setting that labels these pages with their corresponding letters from the start, to aid children who are used to this style of interactive letter application in finding their alphabet favorite.

I also notice that this app opens up to a title page where one taps on the alligator holding onto a letter “A” - an image that is rather small, taking up little space as part of a larger bookcase that also contains some other objects of the same small size as the main link that are mildly interactive, much less so than the included cute and fun cartoony animation of the alphabet. This makes me feel that this charming alphabet app could use a more dynamic opening page to draw children in.

Having said this, Cartoon ABC is a fun interactive choice to teach about letters, phonic sounds and common words that children will have fun learning about.

Wood Puzzler Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 6th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Wood Puzzler is a charming universal application which nicely re-creates the look and feel of playing with a traditional wood alphabet puzzle as well as including letter based jigsaw puzzles and an open-ended letter board.

There is a lot that I enjoy about this app. I love the wood grain and natural wood colors used along the backgrounds of these puzzles as well as the wooden hole these puzzle pieces need to fill, complete with a nice use of effective shading to create depth within these empty puzzle areas. I also appreciate the wonderful wood sound of these pieces when first being tossed from their rightful places as well as the easy-to-listen-to background music.

Three sections are included within this app, specifically an Alphabet Puzzle section that thoughtfully includes both upper and lower case letters that need to be placed into their correct spaces much like a chunky puzzle.

A series of 26 jigsaw-styled puzzles are also included - one per letter. Intuitive to use, simply tap on an picture icon that will take players to the next page where this icon becomes a wood jigsaw puzzle that one must put back together as well as filling in the letters of the word in question - also part of this puzzle. A very nice inclusion is the letter’s phonic sound delivered by narration as well as the reinforcement of letter awareness as the word is spelled out for children at the completion of the puzzle.

I really enjoy how these pieces can be moved around the puzzle as one looks for the correct space without too much help from this application, yet still including a nice sense of “grab,” drawing these pieces within when players drag a puzzle piece close to the correct space of these puzzles - all adding up for a satisfying experience.

Other small details exist that add to this experience, such as the piece one is currently dragging being high-lighted purple, or how a subtle yet effective use of yellow stars is used to demonstrate when players drop a puzzle piece in its correct space, as well as other fun details like the vintage rotary telephone used for letter “T” ringing when the puzzle is complete, the Robot from “R” adding some cute commentary and sound effects, or letter recognition during the completion of a colorful umbrella for “U”.

A nice level of difficulty within these picture puzzles will keep preschoolers entertained without frustration or boredom, and a puzzle for each of the 26 letters makes this puzzle app a content-rich experience. Children can either go through these letter puzzles in sequence or choose specific letters from the main page.

Another nice section included is the Spelling Board area where children and adults can spell their own words by dragging and dropping letters into this open-ended section, complete with shapes one can also add - much like stickers of the Picture Puzzles children will already be familiar with.

I think children and adults will really enjoy this bright and colorful wood puzzle app. This app reminds me of the wood sound puzzle my son really enjoyed when he was learning his letters - without the worry of missing puzzle pieces.

I don’t expect this app to take the place of a classic wood letters puzzle, but this app can be used within one’s bed with ease - a place I was never fond of bringing puzzles, especially before sleeping or when traveling near or far, as the car is another place we do not bring puzzles for fear of losing pieces.

Because of these reasons, parents who are puzzle fans, especially those who have young children, should check out Wood Puzzler.

Dr. Seuss Beginner Book Collection #2 Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 23rd, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Dr. Seuss Beginner Book Collection #2, as the name suggests, is a wonderful collection of Dr. Seuss interactive storybook apps, including some of my personal favorite Dr. Seuss stories of all time.

This application may be of most interest to readers who are new to the Dr. Seuss series of applications developed by Oceanhouse Media. These storybooks, as do the other stand-alone Dr. Seuss apps and the other Oceanhouse Media storybook applications in general, include professional narration as well as the ability to read these books to oneself. Auto play is also included that, along with the included narration, turns these pages automatically - great for the youngest children to enjoy these stories on their own.

The original illustrations from each of these stories are included, with the use of panning and zooming to allow one to see the details of each wonderfully Seussian drawing up close, guiding the eye of readers to specific points of interest within the page as the text is displayed. The words within these stories are highlighted when read, a nice touch children trying to follow along will enjoy. Do tap on individual words to hear them again, even when the narration is not in use - a wonderful inclusion that enables young readers to pronounce words they may have trouble with. Whole paragraphs can also be tapped to be heard, as well as the objects and characters on every page which are labeled with both a written word and a spoken one, yet never talking over the included narration - a nice touch. Lovely sound effects are also included that bring a lot of richness to these stories without distraction.

I am a fan of Dr. Seuss stories, but I have to admit that I find them sometimes hard to read out loud with ease as I am not great with tongue-twisters in general, as are some of these popular books. Therefore, I love having the chance to sit back and listen to these stories with my child, as the included professional narrators do a better job than I.

Five stories within this collection are included - specifically Hop on Pop, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, Green Eggs and Ham, There’s a Wocket in my Pocket, and Dr. Seuss's ABC.

Readers may know about each of these classic stories, but I am happy to go over each one for parents who may not know some of these titles.

Hop on Pop is my favorite Dr. Seuss book to read out loud and a real classic book in our house. Published in 1963, this book was originally subtitled “The Simplest Seuss for Youngest Use,” and really rolls off the tongue as children listen to and later read this simple rhyming story - a series of short whimsical phrases really, that introduce phonic sounds in a charming way that one would expect from Dr. Seuss, brilliant at keeping the attention of children and never in a way that is at all condescending - often a criticism I have of other phonics-based books or early readers for younger children.

I love Hop on Pop because here, kids learn not only about phonics but about the deconstruction of languages as wonderful Seuss illustrations depict lines such as “Mouse House.” This is further described as “Mouse on a House,” very different from “House Mouse” and also more fully explained as “House on a Mouse” complete with wonderful illustrations that fill in the context of these nonsensical lines from this story. Children will love the various characters met within these pages, as well as how every few pages or so a new story element to this phonics book is introduced - wonderful for the attention span of toddlers as well as for children of any age.

There has been a lot of hopping on pop at our house when this book has been read as a classic book or via this application as my son loves to act out this passage from this book. I look forward to my son reading this book out loud, and some day to his own family.

The Cat in the Hat Comes Back - all things considered - may be the most memorable Seuss story from my childhood. Here, Sally and her brother, characters from the first The Cat in the Hat, are busy shoveling snow at their house as the Cat in the Hat lets himself into their home, eats cake in their bathtub, and leaves a huge pink stain that needs to be cleaned. When the Cat chooses to use inappropriate household objects to clean the pink stain, he transfers the stain all over the house, confounding this pink stain problem as it grows and grows, introducing other little characters, cats A to Z as well, for an epic ending that I really enjoy.

The narration within this section is crafted by the wonderful John Bell, my all-time favorite narrator who does an amazing job reading Seuss, in a delivery most wonderful, conversational and adding so very much to this story, expressing the brother’s frustration over the Cat’s antics, as well as the drama that insures better than any other person I have heard read Dr. Seuss - much like a Shakespearean actor reading Shakespeare in a way that greatly boosts the comprehension of the audience.

I also admire the use of sounds here for a great effect as a “voom” is needed to finally clear the pink stain from the house, and the added sound effects used here to further illustrate this moment for me are perfectly realized.

It is worth noting that the ABC cats try to use guns to “kill” the pink stain during this story - something that has bothered some parents in the past - is an issue that personally does not concern me as the guns seen in the illustrations are obviously cork-guns, and John Bell does a great job keeping these moments light and silly.

Looking back, I think this pink stain actually scared me, but as I far as I can remember, I mean this in a very good way.

Green Eggs and Ham is a delightful story about Sam I am who will not take “no" for an answer as he hounds a grumpy character to try Green Eggs and Ham, although this character has no interest in doing so. Sam I am is quite thorough in his trying to get his friend to try them in a variety of creative and whimsical ways, such as with a mouse, in a house, in a box, or with a fox. The answer is a resounding “no” until this other character is broken down and is willing to try the dish and actually likes them. The additional sounds used in Green Eggs and Ham are yet another example of how sound effects can bring so much to these stories, as Sam I am and the friend travel near and far, braving the elements as well as various means of transportation, with effective sound effects to match.

There’s a Wocket in my Pocket is a fun way to introduce children to all the objects found in their homes with the use of fun rhyming creatures that children will enjoy. I especially liked the included creature noises used, really bringing these nonsensical characters to life.

Dr Seuss’s ABC’s is a delightful way to teach children their letters as well as other words that start with the same letter in question, getting to know classic oddball Seussian characters along the way. Although not found in the original book of the same name, the individual app contains an extra last page full of interactive letters that is missing from this collection - an odd omission as this last page brings more interactive elements for children to enjoy. I hope this last page can be added to this collection in the future.

I highly recommend this app to families who have not yet built a library of these individual Dr. Seuss applications. Readers may have sticker shock when first looking at the price of this app, but it is a great deal for a compilation of five wonderfully written, illustrated and now digitally adapted for iPad and iPhone.

ABC for the Little Scientist for the iPad Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 22nd, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

ABC for the Little Scientist for the iPad is a nice, interactive letters app with a science theme. Like other apps such as this, ABC for the Little Scientist consists of letters a to z, each illustrated with its own interactive page where one can tap the letter or word in question to listen to narration, here of either a male or female voice as well as to look for interactive hotspots. I like the fact that this app uses unique words not typically found in apps like this but instead tackles more complex ideas such as “connection” as in internet connection, this page including a roaming satellite and the earth from a view in space. A version for iPhone is also available.

This is a fun app with a good use of animations and bright colors. I like that the phonic sounds are also offered here as many times these letter sounds are not included within apps such as this and the addition of lower-case letters is nice as well, but be aware that the narrators, although speaking clearly, do not sound like native speakers of United Sates English; “z” is also pronounced “zed” within this application. Such issues did not overly throw me but may be a concern of some parents looking to use this app based on the inclusion of phonics sounds.

Although each page contains some nice animated images, I think the interactions used here could have gone a step further, as I would have liked to spin the globe used in the “connection” page with a finger as well as to move the kaleidoscope image instead of simply watching the details morph on their own. Also, some of the word choices are a bit of a stretch for this science theme, but are still interesting choices for kids to learn about.

Well-done moments do exist here as well, as I enjoy tapping the “temperature” page to raise the temperature of a snowman, ultimately melting him as one can watch the level rise on a thermometer or the intriguing view of “universe” as one can use a finger to move the planets around the sun to a very nice effect. There is also a nice moment where children can tap characters used to demonstrate “occupation,” changing their skin tones to varies races and ethnicities - a nice touch.

I do think kids will enjoy this app, especially those fond of this genre of alphabet application, as will those parents looking for slightly different words than normally found among this style of app, possibly creating some interesting conversations about science-related topics as well.

ABC Aliens Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 13th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

When it comes to the ABCs and apps, you can find almost every form of alphabet game and educational lesson possible. Most likely this is because these alphabet apps are easy to develop from a technical standpoint and because all developers know that parents are going to want to teach kids their ABCs. So, ABC Aliens is another variation on the theme, except that instead of humans or animals at a zoo or farm, colorful illustrated beings from outer space are teaching the letters.

The app is developed by Cambridge English Online, which states it has a decade of experience in creating cutting-edge online and mobile resources by online and mobile education specialists. With that much experience and supposed “cutting-edge” creativity, I would expect something more advanced than this. There is nothing wrong with the concept; it just is nothing new and will not retain a child’s interest for very long.

The app is geared toward either American or British English and has four different activities—purposely, I’m not calling them “games.” The first is on phonetics or the sound of the letters. The second is just hearing the alphabet as it is typically said. You have a choice of hearing the letters said in a cartoonish alien voice or with a child’s voice. You can also record a voice saying the letters and then play it back. Your children can also hear the letters when they are in the upper or lower case form.

The other two activities are for fun and learning. I played these on my iPod Touch, so the characters are quite small and it is difficult to see the letters on the aliens’ chests. This is one of those apps that is much better suited for the iPad, which has a considerably larger screen area. In these two activities, children are timed on how quickly they can tap each of the aliens in the order of their ABCs either forward or backward. Doing this in the given 30 seconds is quite a feat, especially for young learners. It was not easy, by any means, even for me. Again, this had to do with the size, but also in some cases the colors of the letters and the background; the “e,” for example is a light blue on the chest of a little bit darker blue alien. The differentiation between the two colors is slight.

That’s it. There are no spelling games, no find the hidden letter games, no think of some words that start with a certain letter game. The app says this gives kids a head start on the road to literacy success: I would say that this is an overstatement. There are also some bugs, such as losing the sound and having to signoff and back in again to get it back. I also don’t notice too much of a difference between the British and American pronunciation, since they are only saying letters. There are some tips for additional learning, such as asking the child to spell his or her name with the letters. However, since the letters are only pronounced and not actually written in word form, this does not provide much learning. Overall, I’d say that you could find many other ABC apps that are equivalent or better than this one.

PBS KIDS Videos for iPad Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 22nd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

PBS KIDS Videos for iPad is full of fun and a highly educational collection of segments from favorite PBS Kids television shows.

These video clips are all nicely arranged with a simple interface that I am sure kids will have no problems navigating. To the right of the screen is a vertical scroll bar containing many of kids' and parents' favorite PBS kids shows. Tap to select, and one can slide out a menu as well giving the child a choice of many video clips from this TV show. The bottom left hand corner contains parents' information about the specific show and clip being watched as well as other info. The rest of the center screen is where these videos will play; tapping will fill the iPad with a larger letter-boxed version of these clips, removing the other menus.

Kids have the option of selecting many varied choices in video clips, but it also nice that they can relax and watch all the selections from a specific show as they play in order from the menu; the choice is theirs.

I am very pleased with the wonderful shows offered in this app, including our family's favorite show, Sesame Street, as well as other shows my son is familiar with such as Martha Speaks and Super Why, plus many others new to us. I appreciate that there is something for every age of grade school child, including the health- based show Fizzy’s Lunch Lab whose target age range is 6-10, geared to children older than the preschool set whom I commonly think of when PBS kid shows come to mind, primarily, no doubt, because this is my son’s age. Having watched many of these clips, I am sure that older kids will enjoy this app as well, and it can certainly be shared between different-aged children.

There will always be people who think TV is bad for children, and I am sure that the idea of handing your child a portable television per the iPad seems like an even worse idea to some. As a parent, I find that these shows from PBS are undeniably educational, smart, age-appropriate and very socially aware, so I have no issues with my son watching small amounts of his favorite show Sesame Street, unlike unspecific cartoons from a random cable channel, something I would not allow.

This is a wonderful resource for parents, especially when traveling and wanting to keep their children distracted in places like an airport or the airplane itself is of the utmost importance. For at-home use, I do prefer my son to spend his screen time working on puzzles, playing games, creating artwork or listening to a story, much of this time being spend with a parent who is equally involved with the app at hand.

This time with our son is precious family time, but when traveling, I don’t really want to have to entertain my child with “together time” the entire length of the trip, and I think this app would honestly keep him quiet and distracted, keeping my boy happy and not bothering others with the banter that comes along with many of his favorite apps.

We have not traveled a lot as a family yet, one reason being not knowing how good a traveler my sometimes wild child would be, but I think this video player may just be the trick to keep my boy as well as the other passengers sane over a long flight or delay at the airport, as long as I don’t forget to purchase a set of kid-friendly headsets.

Having an older model iPad, I do not know how these videos play on 3G. For us, the use of this app is only in areas that offer WiFi, but I am happy to report that these video clips play effortlessly, which is nice because I do have problems loading clips from other apps that take the viewer directly to youtube.

In all honesty, this is an application that I have not asked my son to test for me, because if I did, I would never hear the end of his asking for this app and I really want his iPad experience to be as varied as possible. We went through this when we first go the “Netflix” app which I had to finally bury in a file, telling my son it stopped working. I know this app would be an even huger hit, which is wonderful in some ways and problematic in others.

I really appreciate the info provided in the parents' section. Here, the name of the show and specific clip are listed, as well as a basic premise of the show, its goals, and age range. If you like a specific clip, you can email yourself a link or post it to Facebook or Twitter. Options for buying the video associated with specific shows as well as info and links to their PBS Kids Apps are included. I am not a fan of in app purchases, but nicely tucked away in a parent's info section is acceptable to me, as well as something many parents may find helpful. You can “favorite’ a show, bringing them higher on the list of shows available, but it would be nice to have a section on the app of previously watched and chosen clips as well. I would also love to see all the names of celebrity guests from Sesame Street as part of the info given about these clips, as not all of them have this information. I know most of these faces but when I can’t place one, I would really like to be able to reference the clip’s info to see who it is. I also like that one can look up local listings for favorite shows as well, very helpful to those staying in hotels away from home.

In the end, it will be the parents' decision regarding when and how much access their children will have to this app. Having said this, this free app is a simply wonderful collection of very special video clips from children’s shows. I think that this would be my son’s new favorite app, something I will keep in mind when I am looking for the ultimate distraction.

Word Wagon Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 9th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Word Wagon is a wonderful application from the developers at Duck Duck Moose that teaches letters, phonics and two levels of spelling in this very well done educational app. Recently an iPad version of this app has been released, which includes seven letter words as well.

I enjoy this application very much, as does my son, now three. We are not new to the world of letters and phonics apps, and I believe they have helped my son know all his letters by two. My son has also learned all of his phonics sounds from various applications.

It is not uncommon for these letters apps to work in a similar way to Word Wagon, as one must match the letters of a specific word, dragging corresponding letters to the letter boxes that make up the word in question. This is an effective way to teach letters, phonic sounds, and object names and is surely more engaging than learning a rote spelling lesson, but they often lack the fun factor of many other apps.

Word Wagon stands out among this style of apps as it possesses a quirkiness and charm that these apps, excluding some notable exceptions, don’t typically have. Here, you get to meet Mozerella the mouse and his little bird friend Coco. The introduction of this app is simply darling, and I love that this app takes place near the Eiffel Tower.

The word puzzles are as described above, in the letters and phonics section, one matches the letters of a word, dragging these letters into the letter boxes that make up the word in question. Later, in the spelling modes, these letter boxes are empty and need to be filled; copying the letters is not an option. When the word is finished, the phonic sounds which make up this word are also spoken and each letter or letter combination is highlighted.

I also like that in the letter section, the letter names are the focus without the phonic sounds, being a nice primer for those who are new to basic letters, as this app grows nicely with the child’s ability. I like that both upper as well as lower case letters can be chosen, a nice touch and a thoughtful inclusion missed in many letters games. In the future, it may be interesting to add a mode where letters in harder sections need to be put into their boxes from left to right the way words are spelled in English.

It is very charming how Moz the mouse jumps over these objects as they move past him on a conveyer belt, giving the player a choice of what word to tap and learn about, an element my son really enjoys. The object can be tapped to hear the name being narrated and the letters can be tapped for their names as well. There are six sections such as colors and numbers, animals, or transportation. My favorite mode is “Moz and Coco,” which is a more personal section regarding these two characters. This section can have more of a puzzle element as sometimes arrows will point to Moz’s ears or tail to explain “ears” or “tail” as key words, with other varied words included such as “love.”

No matter what section or level one chooses to play, the best aspect of this app may be being able to tap Moz or Coco to hear their delightful banter full of whimsy, keeping this game light and fun. Moz may dress up like a ghost, they may play a simple game of “hide and seek,” or it may even rain pickles. This lets the player take a break when desired, keeping this app light and fun, encouraging continued game play.

It is nice that one can re-visit the words already mastered, and that one earns stars along the way for finished word puzzles, as these stars can create constellations in the night sky in the shape of animals as a reward for a job well done, this area of the app is both very lovely to look at and fun to play with.

What impresses me the most about this app is that these developers have included words past the simple “Cat” and “Dog” words found in most phonics games in later sections of this app. Words are included with group letters and sounds together, such as “st,” “ch” and also mixing vowel sounds as well, such as “ea” in “ears” as well as silent letters, such as “e” at the end of a word, like “love,” and it is great that this silent letter is highlighted like the rest of the letters but left silent when the phonic narration begins, really explaining how the "e" in this word is special. I have never seen these more advanced phonic sounds tackled in an app before and it is impressive.

My son has known for quite some time all the sounds the letters make and has been able to sound out the simplest of words by himself, but until now I was at a loss as to how to teach him these more advanced phonics that will make the difference between truly reading and merely being able to pick a few easy words from a page.

This app allows a child the chance to learn how to decode words for himself, and I think this will go a very long way to actual understanding of language. Although my boy is not ready to play the new spelling level recently added to the HD version of Word Wagon on his own, I like to play this section with him, as I think it is great just for him to see what different letter combinations look like and sound like together with words such as "cheese." involving "ch" sound, the double vowel combination and silent letter at the end.

English is a difficult language to learn and I am very happy to have this app, which I think will make things a little easier for my son. Best of all, this app will not feel like work, something very important as some do not want to turn a child off from reading by taxing him with activities that are boring or simply not a lot of fun. I think this would also be an excellent app for English-as-a-second-language students, young and old alike, as well as special needs students who may not only benefit from the language aspect of this app, but from Moz and Coco’s social interaction as well as well as the exposure to the nuances of the English language.

Although this app will entertain and teach kids on their own, I do think children will get the most out of this app if played with an adult who can further explain what they are learning, especially regarding the more advanced phonic sounds.

Alphabytes Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 13th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Alphabytes is a fun and educational iPad app that teaches letters with a nice theme of alphabet cereal and milk. There are four sections included, such as an alphabet section where every letter is depicted with a word, illustration and an interactive aspect that kids will enjoy. One can also learn basic spelling of words as a player taps alphabet letters scattered across the screen, with the correct letters will popping into corresponding letter boxes that make up the word in question. Letters not part of this word will be gobbled up by the player when tapped. There is a matching game where one makes pairs of words and their letter partners, and a tracing game is also included.

My son enjoys this app and asks for it by name. He likes the spelling game very much, having fun tapping both the correct letters for these word puzzles as well as eating up random letters also on the screen which are not part of the word, but has had some difficulty finding specific letters in a sea of unneeded ones, something that he now rectifies by tapping and eating the ones that are in the way and not useful.

My boy also spends time going through each interaction in the alphabet section; they have a lot to offer, including some of his favorite things such as taking bites of a doughnut with the tap of a finger, hammering nails into wood or moving gears with the slide of a finger for the letter “G.” I also like the way the main page of this section looks, as one can choose any letter, represented by alphabet cereal letters floating in a bowl of milk.

The tracing section is nice as the letters are big and chunky, ideal for little fingers, and it is nice that one can choose upper or lower case letters. The strokes commonly used to make up these letters are numbered, and an arrow is included pointing in the direction one should be making these strokes, ultimately fully tracing the chosen letter. I like these extra hints which are helpful in explaining the correct way to print these letters, but like many tracing apps, one can “cheat” and just randomly drag a finger over this template until it is filled in enough that it registers as correct. I do wish this app was capable of recognizing correctly printed letters as well, not just congratulating the player for filling in the template any way they see fit.

The matching game is very good as it does something most matching games do not do: it gives one the option of needing to flip over cards in the interest of making pairs - here letter and word combinations, but you also have the option of playing this game face up as well, seeing what there is to be paired without memorizing anything. The best part about this section is that one can let the child see the answer side for a few seconds if you wish and then play the memory game face down, even flipping everything back over again for another when the child is feeling stuck. I really like how this is done here, as my son over the age of three still has a hard time with these memory games. We can play this game without the concentration aspect that he struggles with or play this game the traditional way, also looking at
hints from time to time, making this game much more enjoyable for us to play.

The interface to these games is easy and child-friendly as my son plays with this app both alone as well as with me, and we both think the cereal-in-milk theme is a lot of fun. In each of these games, the letters tapped are narrated by a child and although the voice is cute, I do think some kids may have a hard time understanding these letters being pronounced this way, but aside from that, this is a very nice letters app.

Bob Books #1 - Reading Magic Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 27th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Bob Books #1 - Reading Magic brings the Bob Books series to life as a fun, engaging and very educational interactive application that helps pre-readers become early readers as they practice letter recognition, phonic sounds and beginner spelling. As with other Learning Touch apps, do check out the options as many thoughtful choices are included, personalizing the experience. Versions for both iPhone and iPad are available.

I really enjoy using this application with my three year old son. In a creative and fun way, this app uses short and simple words as well as sight words that make up easy sentences which become animated scenes acting out what is being described, such as “Mat sat” or “Sam has a cat.”

The various objects or persons used in these sentences also become the focus of a very nice word game where one matches up the letters that make up the spelling of the word in question, dragging and dropping these letters to their rightful places in letter boxes that together make up this specific word.

I think it is especially nice how the illustrations used in these word games are black and white but turn to color when the word puzzle is solved, and I appreciate how an animated scene which follows the puzzle completion also turns from black and white to color, as this scene nicely follows through on what has been learned.

This delivery would make this app not only a nice learning letters-and-phonics exercise, but also an exercise for learning basic vocabulary, object as well as verb comprehension, and as a useful as a tool for kids learning English as a second language, as well as for kids with special needs as it teaches not only the principles of reading and spelling, but also the basics of how to communicate with words.

I am happy that one gets to choose either letters or phonics to be used during these word games, as either the letter names or phonic sounds are spoken when a letter is tapped during these exercises and again when the game is complete to emphasize what has been learned. These options make this app appropriate for kids new to letter recognition as well as for early readers familiar with phonics, and it is great that this app will grow with a child taking them through many levels of literacy development. This app is content-rich, with 12 scenes and 32 words - just the right length for my son who showed signs of not being 100 percent focused only as the last scene was finishing up. Until then, he was very engaged and eager to play this game.

This app includes four levels of difficulty, ranging from being able to copy the letters as one drags and drops letters to their rightful places, as one it able to match the spelling seen in the letter boxes. Later, one can still copy the spelling, but the words must be completed from left to right in correct spelling order. The difficulty progresses to where one cannot copy the spelling, and finally, one must choose the correct letters as well as extra letters that are mixed in, adding difficulty to these puzzles. I also really like that these last two levels use other words from these sentences as puzzle words as well, including the use of sight words. These levels can change automatically, or one can choose a specific level for all 12 scenes, adding many options for game play and much newness each time this app is used.

It is also very nice to see that even when this app was closed, it re-opened to the scene last played, and one can also scroll through a section of this app to choose a specific scene to start from as well.

I am very impressed with this creative learning app, and I am very impressed with Bob Books in general after playing with this application. I will be on the lookout for a set of Bob Books for my son, as I want him to experience these types of educational activities as apps, but in their classic form as well. For more information, please look at bobbooks.com, and iTunes for more info about this app, as well as the other very good learning apps from Learning Touch.