Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tech Tips Tuesday

iPad for Preschoolers #2 Alphabet apps

I was a little nervous about putting my iPad into the sticky hands of a two year old, particularly one who seems to hack into things with natural ability! I bought a Fisher Price cover which has proven goop resistant so far and the hard plastic case seems to have done the trick in protection from everyday kid use. While not cheap, it has made me a lot more relaxed and so has been worth the investment. There are far too many things for mothers to stress over when living with a two year old!

I also adjusted the restrictions settings to prevent in app purchases and to request a password every time for new purchases. I have put all my apps (email etc) into folders for Mummy on the last page of apps. There is enough of interest to my little one that he doesn't bother with mine.

So today I thought I would share some of the Alphabet apps that are available and which I have found useful and worthwhile. It is worth noting here, however, that my little one has been more interested in numbers than the alphabet so far, so I am yet to see how his enthusiasm for these will develop.

Elmo Loves ABCs
This app is very large with great content for each letter of the alphabet and thus takes up quite a bit of space on the iPad. Activities are provided to support children with letter id, letter sounds and letter tracing. Children are rewarded with more content. My little guy loves the videos with the ABC songs that are included in this app. Parents can also track their child's progress.

Bugsy Pre-K
This app covers numbers, colours, shapes and the alphabet. The nice thing with this one is that it includes both the text and the audio for the questions, so my little one has some clues to help him answer the questions! He loves the Bugsy games and I am able to see his progress in this and other Peapod lab apps with an account. If you are interested further, you could check out the other ABC apps Peapod lab produces as they are similar to topic dictionaries and may enhance vocabulary and letter id.

Alien Buddies
This is another general preschool app that builds learning around colours, shapes, letters and numbers. The cute alien characters add to the appeal of this app, and the matching game is attractive to littlies. I got it for free when it came on sale recently, and my little guy was enjoying it today. There is an info page for parents, but no customizable features or progress reports.

This app includes an interactive activity for each letter of the alphabet. My little guy enjoys this app, and has his favourite activities. It is a good introduction to the alphabet and sure beats the alphabet frieze or basic ABC book of yesteryear!

Goodnight ABC
This is one of my little guy's favourites. He frequently comes back to it and enjoys the music on the panda page in particular. It is VERY interactive and each page has loads of learning opportunities for children. To extend further, they can change to vocabulary mode and the label for each picture comes up so that they can hear and see the name of the item. My only gripe with this app is that, unlike Animalia, the pages include items beginning with different letters of the alphabet.

This beautiful book is the work of Graeme Base, made interactive for iPad. Each page contains objects beginning with the relevant letter of the alphabet. Children search each page for the hidden items and can discuss the many other items starting with that letter/sound. My little one hasn't explored this yet, but I feel it will be more relevant to him as he gains a greater understanding of the alphabet - particularly for extending his vocabulary. I have only purchased the iPhone version so far and upsized it to fit the iPad, as I am waiting for the iPad HD version to come on sale.

rEd Writing
We only purchased this app in the last week, but so far it has been a big hit with my little one. We have the iPhone version, upsized on the iPad, but he has mainly played it on my phone. This is an Australian app, complete with accent and appropriate fonts for Australian schools. Children are rewarded stickers for tracing letters and numbers correctly. The monsters make it very cute! I was amazed by how interested my little guy was in this one given his usual disinterest in the alphabet.

Little Writer
This is another cute app for writing letters, numbers, shapes and words. I'm not sure of the font for this words, but if that's not a concern for you, than it's definitely worth looking into (and free at time of writing). I like the way that it shows the order of the pencil strokes and that it includes some words. I haven't looked into it much yet, but there are customizable options as well. My gripe: it is not very forgiving when you go off the pathway - which is good when you are trying to promote neat letter formation, but not great for very little ones just starting out.

Other posts that might interest you:
Tech Tips Tuesday - iPad for Preschoolers #1 Mathematics Concepts

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tech Tips Tuesday

iPad for Preschoolers #1 Mathematics Concepts

We went on a trip to the USA this year. It was the first time we had really done the west coast and we had a great time. We flew into San Francisco and then drove up the coast seeing Napa/Sonoma, the Redwoods, Portland and Seattle. Needless to say, the trip involved a lot of travel - both in the plane and on the road.

In preparation for this journey, we bought an iPad and loaded it up with games for our almost two year old. There were many times that we were VERY grateful for having done so. Had it not been for this trip, I doubt I would have seen the value in buying and 'sharing' an iPad with a toddler. He would have missed out on a huge range of learning experiences that are available and easily accessible. We continue to use the iPad when going on a long drive, and also at home. I use AppShopper to watch the price drops of apps and to watch items on my wish list. this way I don't have to pay the full price unless I want an app immediately. While I still look for quality free apps, I've learnt the value in paying for good apps. I am not a fan of in-app advertisements or lite versions when it comes to apps for kids. I would rather pay for the whole service up-front than have to buy additions to make it enjoyable.

So, over the next few weeks I thought I would share some of our favorite apps. This week we start with apps to build early Maths concepts including number and shape.

Bugs and Bubbles
I love the beautiful graphics in this game. It is great for building vocabulary (more/less, size, colour, etc) for practicing counting and number recognition, and for identifying simple patterns. It's not free, but I waited until it came on sale, and will do the same for the partner app - Bugs and Buttons.

Bugsy K Math
My little guy keeps coming back to this one. I'm not sure what the appeal is for him, but he seems to like the hamster! This app has counting, adding and number tracing as well as subitising ( seeing a number of items as they flash by - like knowing the amount shown on dice.) If I got my act together I could set up an account and track his progress with this and other Peabody apps, but at this stage, he seems to be taking delight in showing me how wrong he can be! That or he likes the way the hamster says huh-uh when he gets the answer wrong!

Team Umizoomi Math
This one appealed to us because we had previously watched the television program. We haven't got past the first two levels yet, which consist of touching objects to 'count' them and matching numerals 1-6. This one is more costly as it is part of the Nickelodeon family, but it has more appeal as such. I like that this is one that will grow with us over the years.

Tally Tots
This app has not been the huge success I'd hoped for yet, but I'm still waiting to see if it becomes more enjoyable for the little guy. I like that it works with numbers 1-20 and that it has an activity for each number.

I'm sure there are many that I have missed. Please let me know the great ones you have found.

Update 17/12/2012
After not playing with it for a while, my little guy returned to Counting with the Very Hungry Caterpillar yesterday. It held his interest and he busied himself following the instructions on level 5. While not his favourite, it was great to see him trying it out and being successful.

We also came across Hickory Dickory Dock which both my husband and I struggled to figure out, but sure enough my son was on top of within 10 minutes! This is a clock game that also reinforces number recognition and familiarity with an analogue clock face. Just be warned, the first time you play, you are hit with an ad straight away - ugh! I hate the ads!

Other posts that might interest you:
Tech Tips Tuesday - iPad for Preschoolers #2 Alphabet Apps 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Those Tricky Conversations

As a parent, I now realise more than ever before, how much a parent wants to hear that their child is doing well with their education. And also, how very much they fear hearing that their child is NOT doing well. Parents generally don't know what is considered 'normal' for their child's age, and thus rely on their child's educator to inform them of any concerns. While I'm sure we all recognise our children's individuality, we still want to ensure that we are providing them with a good start to life and the opportunities that will lead to their success. 

I have been aware of this with my own little boy. He has now turned two and seems to be doing fairly well for his age. How do I know this? Through comparisons! I look at other children of a similar age to gauge his development and I monitor his progress by looking at Early Childhood Development resources such as these:
That said, however, I'm still thrown when my Family Day Care Provider mentions that my little one confused sinking and floating when talking about some objects during water play. My logical side tells me: "She is telling me this as it is an area that she has discovered that he is interested in, and that she can work on with him. Besides, sinking and floating is something that will come up continually through both life experience and education. There is no need to be concerned." But my not-so-logical side tells me: "Aaaah! There's something my little boy doesn't already know that has come to his educator's attention. She must think he should know this already! What else have I failed to teach him." RIDICULOUS!

Which brings me back to the title for this post - those tricky conversations. Unfortunately, part of a teacher's responsibility is to inform parents of the areas their child is struggling with, and to provide some suggestions for how to improve. And, whilst we try to do this throughout the year, as the issues come to light, the bulk of this information becomes evident when we collate the assessment results for the term/semester to write reports and allocate grades. 

At my school, Semester 2 reports go home during the last week of the school year. Given the process, it would be difficult to send them out any earlier. Final assessments are made in the first five weeks of term. Reports are then written and proof-read a number of times before printing and signing by the class teacher and principal. This then allows parents to read through the reports and contact the school about any questions they may have. In order to prevent issues after the reports have been sent out, teachers are encouraged to contact parents in advance so that there are 'no surprises'. This generally translates to: Contact any parent whose child will be receiving a D grade. But this year I also included students who had dropped a grade in two or more subjects. I dread these phone calls. 

This year I have worked quite closely with the students receiving D grades, and I know that they have been trying really hard, and also that they have made progress. But then, when I look at the whole year cohort, it is quite clear that they are not all performing at the same level. How do you explain to a parent, that despite their child's best efforts, they still don't understand the concepts well enough? They still struggle to perform at the standard for their grade level. What is worse is that for some of these students, their lag is such that they may be chasing the tail of the rest of the cohort for the whole of their schooling. And then, how do you explain that holding them back a year may not actually be in their best interest either. Parents just want to know the answers. They blame themselves for their child's struggles and just want to make it right. But there are no easy answers. I hate those tricky conversations.