Jan 14, 2019

Tech as a Tool: iPad Apps for Early Communicators and Readers

Child and Dad read with iPad

Many families with young children have access to movies, smartphones, tablets, television, and caregivers are very away that there are pros and cons to having access to technology.

How do you give children exposure to apps and tech to in a way that enhances their development and doesn’t hinder their growth?

Make a Plan
Start by developing a family plan for limited screen time while your child is still young.The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 2 hours or less per day, and that includes time on tablets, phones, and television. (Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, www.aap.org). According to a recent study, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with a variety of different media. Monitoring the use of technology- especially in young children who are still developing communication and social skills- can be important to prevent delays in social-emotional development, sustained attention, and other cognitive processes and skills.

Screen Time Shouldn't Be Solitary
Children learn best simply through talking, playing, conversing and reading. Think about technology as a way to reinforce and practice skills that your child is developing. Technology can even be turned into a group activity, such as while playing a tablet game or reading a digital book.

App Suggestions
The good news is that app developers have grown increasingly savvy about ways to heighten the educational components of their tools. The apps listed below can engage your child in a way that provides a learning experience as well.

Some of these iPad apps are currently available through the App Store (although some Toca Boca apps are available on Android through the Google Play marketplace). Remember, talking, listening and practicing the following speech-language skills are a fun way to engage with your child while he/she uses these apps.

My PlayHome Lite. (free, paid version $3.99. Available for iOS and Android products). Developer: PlayHome Software. This developer also has apps that include a school, stores, and a hospital for more pretend play options!

Why we like it
The characters in this app provide a perfect way to practice pronouns. Narrate your child’s play by saying things like, “She is pouring milk”, “He is playing with the blocks”, etc.

Vocabulary: We expect a child’s vocabulary skills and use to grow from simple words to using more complex, advanced words. Pay attention to the vocabulary your child already uses and model a few new words (Example: Instead of “That looks like good food”, you could say something like “Wow, what a delicious/scrumptious treat!”, etc.

WH-questions: You can easily practice WH-questions (“what” and “where” are especially great targets in this app) by asking where you would find certain household items or where you could complete a certain task (Examples: “Where can you brush your teeth?” “Where can we find the swing?”). Ask a question and then move to that portion of the house to model the answer or give a hint.

Easy-Bake Treats! (free, iOS only). Developer: Hasbro, Inc.

Why we like it
Pretending to make things, especially foods, is a great way to practice sequencing. Talk about what you do while you’re doing it using words like “first”, “next”, “then”, and “last”, along with location words (prepositions). For example, “Next, I need to put on more gold sprinkles”, etc.

Expanding Utterances/sentences: Children should generally speak in sentences that contain words that are equal to their age. A four-year-old child should use four-word spoken sentences (on average), and a three-year-old should use three-word spoken sentences (on average). To help expand your child’s average spoken sentence length, add one word to what they say. For example, if your child says “more frosting”, you could say, “more chocolate frosting!”

Directions/orders: Practicing taking orders and following multi-step directions is an important skill. You could have your child pretend to take your order using a notepad/pencil and guide them through the baking process/additional requests (“I’d like a rainbow cupcake with blue frosting and pink sprinkles”, etc.). Making complex/elaborate requests will help your child learn new vocabulary as well as listening for details/important information.

Endless Alphabet ($8.99 for iOS and free for Android). Developer: Originator Inc. WiFi access is necessary to run the app for the first time and so that all words are downloaded and can be played.

Why we like it
This app includes at least 100 interactive letter puzzles to help children learn letter sounds in the context of vocabulary words. After the word is completed, a short video clip illustrating the definition of the word plays. This app routinely uploads new vocabulary to learn and explore, so it’s a great way to work on sound-symbol relationships, print awareness, vocabulary, and spelling. Take turns with your child choosing a word to “build”, imitate the sound of the individual letters as you and your child complete the word, and comment on the video clip using the vocabulary word in a grammatically correct sentence (Example: “Look, they are celebrating a special event.”).

Bamba Ice Cream (Free, iOS only). Developer: Mezmedia. This app is great for imaginative play! Users choose ice cream flavors and toppings for their ice cream shop, and then can make creative ice cream creations.

Why we like it
Sequencing: Pretending to cook is a great way to practice sequencing. Talk about what you do while you’re doing it using words like “first”, “next”, “then”, and “last”.

Counting: Count the coins as you “pay” for the ice cream in the app. You can use vocabulary like “That costs more than the last order”, etc.

Following Directions (taking orders, etc.): Practice following 1-2 step directions by taking turns giving your child ice cream orders for them to fill. Choose the amount and kind of ice cream and the toppings using descriptions including the color/shape/quality of toppings (chewy, bright gummy worms, crunchy candy canes, etc.).

Toca Pet Doctor $2.99, available iOS and Android). Developer: Toca Boca AB.

Why we like it
Labeling: Use the animal names, names of the snacks/objects in the game while you narrate what is happening/your child’s actions during play.

WH-questions: You can use WH-questions to help guide learning new vocabulary (Examples: What animal are we helping next? What is wrong? Why do you think they feel better? When do you go to the doctor? What does this pet like to eat?). Model grammatically correct answers if your child is unable to answer/gives a response that doesn’t answer the question (“Oh, I think the bunny is on the couch”, etc.).

Prepositions: Use the following location words to narrate your actions while you play with your child (examples: put in the jar, wrap the bandages around, put on more band-aids/medicine, pull it down, take off/out, turn/flip over, etc.).

Cause-Effect/ Problem Solving: Your child will use the app to heal sick pets at the vet clinic. When your child opens one of these activities by choosing an animal to help, think about the level of prompting you are providing. Try to let them try new tasks independently before giving a verbal prompt or instruction (Example: “I think we need to put the bugs in the jar”, “The worm needs help getting untangled”, etc.). If they still need help, show a model of how to complete the task to help the animal. You can also talk about what might have caused the problem with the pet. If the beaver needs help brushing his teeth, what might have caused that? You can also talk about how receiving the help/care made the pet feel (building empathy, social-emotional awareness, etc.).

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