Showing posts with label early learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label early learning. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What is the Best Starting Age for Schooling

I last wrote about this topic in August 2012 for readers in northern hemisphere nations like the USA and the United Kingdom. In Australia most of our schools are returning next week and many children will start school for the first time.  I can't remember my first day at school, but I can still remember the mix of emotions that my wife and I experienced when we sent our two daughters off for their first day of formal schooling (this was some time ago). This year we have a grandchild who will start in Kindergarten, which is the entry-level class for Primary schooling in our state of New South Wales. Evelyne (pictured opposite at her dance concert) was born with a rare genetic disorder which presents some physical challenges that require her to have additional support. So for her parents, the question isn't just is she ready for school but is the school going to be able to meet her quite specific physical needs?

Evelyne's Mum Louise on her 1st day
The starting age in Australia varies from state to state. In NSW any child may commence school if they are five years old or turn five prior to the 31st July in that year, but they must start no later than six years of age. In other states the ages and rules vary so it can be a bit confusing.

In other countries we see similar diversity. In Finland children start formal schooling in the year in which they turn seven. In Germany it is six, in Britain five and in the USA it varies (like Australia) from state to state.

So is there a best starting age? If there is, few education systems seem to agree on what it is. "Should my child start school at five even though... (fill the blank)?" is one of the most common questions I hear from parents when I've been interviewed on commercial radio several times about this topic. The short answer I give in radio interviews is the same one I give to parents - "it all depends". Yes, children need to have reached a certain minimum stage of physical, intellectual and emotional development to cope with school, but variations from four and a half to six years don’t seem to make huge differences to most children’s long term academic achievement. My granddaughter Evelyne has been ready for school intellectually for a year but in her case the physical demands of schooling need also to be considered when choosing a start time (as well as the school).

It would seem that there is little evidence for a universal perfect age for starting school. In reality, we need to make individual assessments for each child. Here are some things to consider if your child has reached an age at which he/she can officially commence formal schooling. Please note that these questions don't all apply to children with disabilities. In such cases parents have to consider many things when making a decision about the right time to start school.

Is my child physically ready? 
  • Do they have the motor skills typical of the average starting aged child? Can they walk, run, jump, throw things, dress themselves (few can tie shoelaces – that’s why we have Velcro! And Kindergarten teachers are good at it anyway). Can they tear paper, apply some stickers, hold crayons and pencils and use them (even if not that well)?
  • Can they feed themselves and will they cope with a new degree of independence?
  • How big is your child? Very tall children often struggle if held back when they eventually go to school. And very small children might struggle if they go early.
  • Are they toilet trained and independent?
Is my child emotionally ready?
  • Is your child able to cope with separation? Going to school should not be the first time the child has been out of the sight of parents or the primary caregivers.
  • Have they had at least some experience relating to other children? Can they share, communicate, show some control of anger and frustration?
  • If your child is keen to go to school there’s a strong chance that they are emotionally ready.
  • Can they communicate their emotions (frustration, fear, anger, affection etc)?
Is your child intellectually ready?

This is tougher, but in general you would expect that your child can:
  • Concentrate on activities for extended periods of time (say at least 10-15 minutes on one activity). This might include being able to listen to a story, watch some television, sustaining attention on a game or activity that they like.
  • Hold crayons and show some interest in making marks or scribble (the early stages of writing - see my post on this topic here), show some interest in print and symbols (e.g. “what does that say Mum?”), complete basic puzzles (maybe 30-50 pieces), try to write their name, count to five, recognise some letters.
  • Use language sufficient to communicate with other children and the teacher?
  • Show some interest in learning. This can show itself in many ways such as inquisitiveness, exploration, and observation of things around them.
Ultimately, parents need to make this decision based on what they know about their child. There are some other things worth considering:
  • What is the school like? Do you know the teachers and do you have confidence that they will be able to understand your child and help them to find their feet at school?
  • What are your family circumstances like? If you have another sibling just one year younger you might want to make sure that you don’t have them going off to school at the same time.
  • What was the experience that you had as parents? Did you go to school early or late and what was the impact on you? Given the common gene pool this is a useful consideration.
  • What are your personal circumstances? Is there major upheaval in the family or some major change coming in the next 12 months (e.g. moving to another area)? If so, holding your child back might be justified.
I find today that there is greater anxiety about starting age than ever before. Unfortunately, much of this is caused by parents worrying unduly about children being successful at school. I have parents who ask me (for example) is it okay that their child can't read yet, even though they are only four. This is ridiculous of course; most don't start reading until they get to school. Others ask if holding their child back a year will disadvantage them compared to others. Overall, if you consider the needs of your child and the broad range of capabilities I've outlined above, I think you'll make a good decision. If you get it wrong, the evidence is that generally children will cope and adapt over time, and that there are few long-term problems for most children.

An interesting postscript to this matter is that Finland that does well in OECD international school assessments as measured by PISA surveys. And in Finland, the starting age is seven!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Growing Preschool Writers & Learners: 12 Basics

Many parents ask me what they need to do to help their preschool children to become writers. They see this as one of the keys to success in school. Most start by asking some specific questions. Should I:
"Make sure they know their sounds before schools?"
"Teach them the letter names?"
"Teach them to write their name?"
"Make sure they can write neatly?"
"Teach them to read some simple words?"
"Teach them about numbers?"
These are all legitimate questions, but they side step the real writing 'basics' in the preschool years. If you want your child to succeed at school and in the workplace, and be able to use writing as creative people who solve problems, adapt to varied situations, feed varied life interests and become lifelong learners, then here are the things you want them to be able to do by the time they are five and head off to school. Ask yourself about the following areas of learning.

Enjoying playing with language - Do they know unusual words, enjoy finding out new ones, and play with rhyme and rhythm in language? Do they love telling stories, jokes and generally talking with other people?

Enjoying new stories with others in all their forms - Do they enjoy stories you tell them of your life, stories read to them, or even stories watched with others in the form of film and on television? Can they sustain concentration across a story?

Interest in numbers, letters and words - Do they want to learn about numbers, letters and words (e.g. "Show me what a thousand is Mum")? Do they try to write symbols and even include them in their creative play and drawing?

Creative story making with skills established early
Staying on task and sitting still for up to 30 minutes - Are they able to play alone or with others, complete a task they're interested in, listen to stories, engage in a play situation etc?

An expanding vocabulary - Are they learning new words, trying to invent their own, asking you about words and what they mean?
Learning from experience & support

Enjoying knowledge and the gaining of it - Are they curious about some area of interest (e.g. insects, dragons, horses, pets), and do they have a desire to know more and share it ("Did you know Mum that a stick insect is called a Phasmid, and there are lots of types")?

Possessing a love of books - Are books amongst your child's most special possessions because of the knowledge, stories and wonder that they hold?

Having an emerging knowledge of words, letters and the sounds associated with them - Does your child have some knowledge of letter names, some concepts of print and an interest in knowing how to read and write?

An interest in technology - Do they have a desire to explore their world with computers, and an interest in the knowledge and learning that technology can deliver and how it can expand our world?

An ability to be creative and inventive - Do they draw and make things inspired by a story, TV show, movie or experience? Do they want to dress up and act out characters and experiences, making shops, cubbies under the table, giving names and characters to their dolls and toys, using toys and other objects for creative story telling or re-creation?

Creative play in action, the foundation of imagination & problem solving

An interest in problem solving - Do they try to see how things work, try fixing things that are broken? Do they try to come up with ideas for how the problems of his or her world can be solved ("Mum, if we could knock off three palings on the fence I could make a gate to Cheryl's house")?


The ability to listen to, learn and comprehend - Do they listen to and learn from stories, lifestyle programs, movies, television shows, stories you tell them, recipes and instructions (spoken or pictorial)? 

The above are the real basics that children need to know to become greater writers and learners at school. The problem with them is that you can't just cram in the year before school. These basics are things that take time and effort by parents and preschool teachers. Each requires knowledge of the child, an interest in their learning and interests and the ability to observe our children in order to scaffold their learning. It takes years to create a writer and a learner.

Friday, July 26, 2013

'So Many Sounds' - Why do Kids Love Sounds?

Claire Chadwick has just publisher her first book titled 'So Many Sounds' (Rydell Books, 2013). Trevor Salter has been illustrated it. This post is part of a blog tour that features Claire and her book. From birth children are interested in sound. Indeed, there is evidence that suggests that they first listen to sound from the womb. Anyone who has children, or has spent time with children, will understand the power of sound to gain children's interest.

My 6th grandchild taught me not that long ago just how much I used sound to communicate with young children. One day while exploring the back yard together with my granddaughter Lydia - who at the time was just 15 month old - I suddenly realised that she was mimicking the sounds I made almost instinctively as we spent time together. As I lifted her up, tickled her belly, washed her hands, swung her around, or bounced her up and down, I would use a type of sound accompaniment to parallel our action. 'Squelch, shlopp, woosh...' as I washed her hands for lunch. 'Jkooo' as I tickled her belly. 'Whoosh' as I swung her through the air and 'Per-lop' as I placed her in the high chair. As we wandered around the yard, I noticed that Lydia was copying every one of my sounds. Her attention had not only been gained by my use of sounds, she had turned the 'game' back on me to get my attention.

In her first children's book Claire Chadwick has taken this natural love of sounds and tried to do what many other authors have tried to do before her. Authors like Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl and Pamela Allen have all made good use of sound, rhyme and the rhythm of language to good effect. Claire has used sound in association with a simple story structure to keep a basic narrative idea moving forward. Each day a little girl - the central character in this simple narrative - has a new experience associated with rich sounds, but always there is a promise that on Saturday something even more special will happen.

On Sunday we had a barbeque at 
Uncle Mike's house.
Sizzle-Sizzle
hissed the sausages
as they fried on the grill.
Swish-Swoosh
flapped the cotton tablecloth
as it fluttered in the air.
Sizzz-Sizzz
snored Granpa's nose
as he dozed under the gum tree.
Sunday was sensational.
So many sounds singing in my ears.
"Yes, but wait till you hear what happens
on Saturday," said Uncle Mike.

When Saturday comes the little girl is NOT disappointed. Congratulations to Claire on this first book that will delight children and 0-5 years. If you visit her website you will also find a number of free activities that relate to the book.

If you'd like a free electronic version of the book I have two copies to give away thanks to Claire.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Using Board Games To Teach

I have written previously on this blog about the importance of play for children (here and here), but structured games can also have a significant impact on learning and development. Cognitive psychologists at the University of Maryland, Professor Robert S. Siegler and Geetha B. Ramani, found that games can help preschool children learn mathematics and other things (here).  This was especially the case for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. They found that there were multiple benefits from structured games for learning as well as for literacy and language.



The general usefulness of games

There are literally hundreds of games that have been designed for children and adults today. When I was a child the choice was much more limited (e.g. snakes and ladders, ludo, scrabble, monopoly, draughts) but the enjoyment and benefits were fairly similar. Some of the general benefits include learning:
  • That you can't always win
  • How to take turns
  • Team work
  • To be more patient
  • Risk taking
  • The importance of persistence
  • Anticipation skills
  • Memory gains
  • Colour and shape recognition
  • Pattern recognition
  • Vocabulary growth


But as well as these general benefits, there can be more specific benefits for learning that are related to other forms of learning, including:
  • Basic counting and mathematics
  • Word recognition
  • Problem solving
  • General knowledge
  • Writing (numbers and words)
Board games as learning aids

Schools have long used games in recognition that they can be a beneficial way to learn many things, especially for young children and those with learning difficulties.

The use of board games as part of school literacy and mathematics is motivated by the perceived benefits of:
  • repetition and over-learning (i.e. the repetition of something until it becomes second nature and increases the speed of recall);
  • incorporating some forms of repetitive learning into game situations to increase enjoyment and help concentration and time on task;
  • providing foundational knowledge for other more complex learning.
Some simple board game applications for literacy

The application of games to literacy has taken many forms. Here is just one example. It relies on board games that traditionally use a dice to determine the pace of the game. You can take existing games and simply replace the dice with a set of cards that require some simple reading task; each with the number 1 to 6 in small print that dictates the number of spaces moved. There are endless variations. For example:

a) You can choose basic sight words (i.e. words like 'were', 'said', 'there') - that is, words that can't easily be sounded out and are more easily recognised as whole words based on their shape and some partial letter clues. There are a number of these lists available such as the Dolch List that has been in use since 1948. Write the words in print at least 2 cm high and then write a number between 1 and 6 on the top right-hand corner (in much smaller print). You can use existing games like snakes and ladders, but instead of using the dice you have a pile of cards face down that players turn over one at a time and read. If successful, they move a counter the appropriate number of squares to progress the game.

b) Sound cards - Do the same as the above but use sound cards as appropriate for the child's age.

c) Phrase reading - You can use phrase cards instead of single word cards.

d) Teaching colours or numbers - Use colour or number words.

Image courtesy of 'Heart of the Matter'
As a teacher I often used games with children who were struggling with reading. In fact one of the things we did for struggling readers was to create our own simple board games that had a theme that matched the interests of the child (e.g. car racing, football, space, dinosaurs, cartoon characters, super heroes etc).

While there are some electronic games that attempt to use repetition and over-learning in similar ways, many of the other general benefits of games seem to be achieved more readily with board games. For a start, there is an added social dimension as children interact with other children as well as adults as they play and learn together.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

8 Ways Reading Helps Writing

The desire to write appears early
In the late 1970s and early 1980s academics began to talk a lot about the relationship between reading and writing. The first paper I ever presented to an Australian national literacy conference in 1983 was on this topic. Those of us who were writing about the key relationship between reading and writing back then, eventually moved on to talk more about the vast range of text types and modes of delivery (multimodality), and the relationship between a person's experience of varied texts, including image, film, video, experience, story, anecdote etc (intertextuality). Great terms that I've researched, used and written about elsewhere. But I thought in this post I'd narrow my focus back to one question, how does reading help writing? My motivation for this has been my granddaughter Elsie, who also inspired a post by my daughter recently as well (here). She is a prolific writer in just her first year of school. She couldn't read just 6 months ago, and yet now she is reading chapter books and writing varied texts on a daily basis.

After 30+ years reading the research of others and doing my own research as well, I can conclude that if a child is read to, and eventually begins to read themselves, that there will be an influence on writing. So what does this mean for teachers and parents of young children? In simple terms, it means that reading to and with your children is critical, as is talk, word play and use of language in all its forms. It has an impact on writing and also learning. Here are eight ways it does this.

Photo from TTALL Literacy Project
1. Being read to and reading oneself offers us a rich experience of story - I've written in other posts about the importance of story to life and learning (e.g. here). Harold Rosen once suggested that 'Narratives...make up the fabric of our lives...'.  Jerome Bruner and others have gone further to suggest that story is 'a fundamental mode of thought through which we construct our world or worlds.'

2. Reading offers models for writing - But reading also introduces us to varied ways to share a story, and how to start a story and end it. It helps us to learn how to develop a character, the art of description, humour, rhyme and rhythm. Dr Seuss is a master at such lessons.

3.  Reading teaches us about 'readership' -When children begin to have books read to them and later to read them for themselves, they begin to realize that these stories have been written for them, the reader. Good writing requires a sense of audience, and stories read teach this. When my granddaughter Elsie began receiving letters from family she suddenly wanted to write letters herself. She learned that you write for readers and that this is enjoyable and strengthens relationships.


4. Reading enriches language - There is no doubt that reading feeds children's writing. It introduces children to new words, novel use for old words, and the ever so important need to 'play' with language if you are to be a successful writer. Robert Ingpen's book 'The Idle Bear' demonstrates this well. It is essentially a conversation between two bears. He starts this way:

"What kind of bear are you?" asked Ted
"I'm an idle Bear."
"But don't you have a name like me?"
"Yes, but my name is Teddy. All bears like us are called Teddy." 
Later in the story a very confused bear asks:

"Where do you come from, Ted?"
"From an idea," said Ted definitely.
"But ideas are not real, they are only made-up," said Teddy. "You have to come from somewhere real to have realitives."
"Not realitives, relatives!" said Ted trying to hide his confusion.

Elsie's TV instructions
5. Reading introduces us to varied written genres - While children experience story from a very young age, reading also introduces them to the fact that language can be represented in different genres. Through reading at home and within their immediate world, children quickly discover that people write and read lists, notes, labels on objects, poems, jokes, instructions, maps and so on. Parents read and point out these varied text forms and eventually children try to use them.

Elsie's 'TV Instructions' (left) is a priceless set of instructions that she wrote for her Nanna just before she went to bed, so that Nanna could watch her favourite programs while babysitting.

6. Reading helps us to understand the power of words - Stories and other texts quickly teach children that words can have power. Signs give clear instructions in powerful ways - STOP, BEWARE OF THE DOG, CHILDREN CROSSING, KEEP OUT. But well-chosen words express emotions too - "I love you", "It was dark and scary". Children also discover that words can do other things. With help they will enjoy discovering language forms like onomatopoeia, e.g. atishoo, croak, woof, miaow, sizzle, rustle etc.


7. Reading offers us knowledge - But reading also offers us knowledge that can feed writing. Without content there won't be writing. Books can captivate children and offer new areas of learning and interest. As they are read books, they also learn about their world. For example, they might discover that trees don't just have green leaves, but sometimes these leaves change colour, fall off and create a habitat for many creatures. Trees drop seeds which animals eat, offer shelter for animals, material to build homes and so on. But they are also homes for elves and animals that talk, places where strange lands appear regularly, and where a lost dragon might rest. Reading feeds writing with knowledge as raw material for writing.


8. Reading helps us to imagine and think - As children are introduced to varied literary genres and traditions, imaginations are awakened to the realms of fantasy, time travel, recreation of life in other times, the perils of travel through space. But at a more realistic level, reading can help young writers to imagine childhood in other places and times, 'within' the bodies of other people and with varied life roles. Through reading, children are given the examples and the fuel to imagine and write about themselves in the shoes of others, sharing their life circumstances as well as their challenges, fears and hopes.

I'd be keen to hear of your experiences with young writers and the way reading has been related to the writing of children you have taught.

  You can read my other posts on writing HERE

(i) Cairney, T.H. (1983) Reading and writing: Making connections, paper presented to the 9th Australian Reading Association Conference, Launceston (Tas), September 10-14.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Is There a Best Age to Start School? It all depends.

My daughter Nicole on her first day of school
I wrote about this topic in January for readers 'Down Under', but in northern hemisphere nations like the USA and the United Kingdom, many children will start school for the first time in the next two weeks.  I can't remember my first day at school, but I can still remember the mix of emotions that my wife and I experienced when we sent our two daughters off for their first day of formal schooling (this was some time ago). This year we had two grandchildren who started in Kindergarten (the entry class for Primary schooling in our state of New South Wales). One had just turned 5 and the other turned 6 one month into the school year. Both sets of parents made different decisions for equally good reasons, and I'm sure that in each case, they have made the right decisions for each child. In the seven months since they started, both have coped well with school. They've made friends, enjoyed their teachers, have learned to read and write, grown in mathematical understanding, won award cards, received good report cards and generally had a great time.

Two cousins starting school, one 5 and one 6

The starting age in Australia varies from state to state. In NSW any child may commence school if they are five years old or turn five prior to the 31st July in that year, but they must start no later than 6. In South Australia children can start in the school term after they turn five. In Queensland there is a non-compulsory Prep year (like preschool) followed by formal school entry if the child turns six before the 30th June in that year. It’s all a bit confusing and the Federal government has been discussing a standard starting age for some time.

My daughter Louise on her 1st day
In other countries we see similar diversity. In Finland children start formal schooling in the year in which they turn seven. In Germany it is six, in Britain five and in the USA it varies (like Australia) from state to state.

So is there a best starting age? If there is, few education systems seem to agree on what it is. "Should my child start school at five even though....(fill the blank)?" is one of the most common questions I hear from parents. Earlier in the year I was interviewed on commercial radio on exactly this topic, and have done this a few times over the years. The short answer I give in radio interviews is the same one I give to parents - "it all depends". Yes, children need to have reached a certain minimum stage of physical, intellectual and emotional development to cope with school, but variations from four and a half to six years don’t seem to make huge differences to most children’s long term academic achievement.

It would seem that there is little evidence for a universal perfect age for starting school, so there isn't much pointing asking anyone what it is. In reality, we need to make individual assessments for each child. Here are some things to consider if your child has reached an age at which he/she can officially commence formal schooling. Please note that these questions don't all apply to children with disabilities. In such cases parents have to consider many things when making a decision about the right time to start school.

Is my child physically ready
  • Are they toilet trained?
  • Do they have the motor skills typical of the average starting aged child? Can they walk, run, jump, throw things, dress themselves (few can tie shoelaces – that’s why we have Velcro! And Kindergarten teachers are good at it anyway). Can they tear paper, apply some stickers, hold crayons and pencils and use them (even if not that well)?
  • Can they feed themselves and will they cope with a new degree of independence?
  • How big is your child? Very tall children often struggle if held back when they eventually go to school. And very small children might struggle if they go early.
Is my child emotionally ready?
  • Is your child able to cope with separation? Going to school should not be the first time the child has been out of the sight of parents or the primary caregivers.
  • Have they had at least some experience relating to other children? Can they share, communicate, show some control of anger and frustration?
  • If your child is keen to go to school there’s a strong chance that they are emotionally ready.
  • Can they communicate their emotions (frustration, fear, anger, affection etc)?
Is your child intellectually ready?

This is tougher, but in general you would expect that your child can:
  • Concentrate on activities for extended periods of time (say at least 10-15 minutes on one activity). This might include being able to listen to a story, watch some television, sustaining attention on a game or activity that they like.
  • Hold crayons and show some interest in making marks or scribble (the early stages of writing - see my post on this topic here), show some interest in print and symbols (e.g. “what does that say Mum?”), complete basic puzzles (maybe 30-50 pieces), try to write their name, count to five, recognise some letters.
  • Use language sufficient to communicate with other children and the teacher?
  • Show some interest in learning. This can show itself in many ways such as inquisitiveness, exploration, and observation of things around them.
Ultimately, parents need to make this decision based on what they know about their child. There are some other things worth considering:
  • What is the school like? Do you know the teachers and do you have confidence that they will be able to understand your child and help them to find their feet at school?
  • What are your family circumstances like? If you have another sibling just one year younger you might want to make sure that you don’t have them going off to school at the same time.
  • What was the experience that you had as parents? Did you go to school early or late and what was the impact on you? Given the common gene pool this is a useful consideration.
  • What are your personal circumstances? Is there major upheaval in the family or some major change coming in the next 12 months (e.g. moving to another area)? If so, holding your child back might be justified.
I find today that there is greater anxiety about starting age than ever before. Unfortunately, much of this is caused by parents worrying unduly about children being successful at school. I have parents who ask me (for example) is it okay that their child can't read yet, even though they are only four. This is ridiculous of course; most don't start till they get to school. Others ask if holding their child back a year will disadvantage them compared to others. Overall, if you consider the needs of your child and the broad range of capabilities I've outlined above, I think you'll make a good decision. If you get it wrong, the evidence is that generally children will cope and adapt over time, and that there are few long-term problems for most children.

An interesting postscript to this matter is that the country in the OECD that regularly has the highest school literacy levels as measured by PISA surveys is Finland, where the starting age is seven!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

14 Great Educational Apps for Children

Regular readers of this blog will know that I've reviewed apps for iPad and android devices a number of times. My posts have included reviews of picture book apps (here), story apps of varied kinds (here) and apps that stimulate literacy, learning and creativity (here). In this post I review a number of educational apps that support children's learning in varied ways. I have grouped them into 5 categories for convenience. Some could well fit into more than one of these categories. Because the apps are so varied I have used a simpler rating scale than I typically use. In this post I attribute a single score from 1 (Poor) to 10 (Outstanding) to indicate the extent to which they meet these simple criteria:

  • The app is enjoyable to use
  • Children learn new things because of the app
  • The app makes it easier for children to learn
  • The app interactive elements don't distract from the key learning goals
  • The app is well designed, attractive and engaging
  • The app represents good value for money

1. Word & letter recognition, vocabulary & sounds

Purpose: Apps in this category help children to learn to read words, letters, understand sounds and improve memory.

Giraffe’s Matching Zoo for iPad
Tomato Interactive LLC
Price: Free, the deluxe version costs $0.99
Rating: 6

In this app the traditional game of memory has been adapted for the iPad using animals as the topic of interest. It requires the user to match pairs of cartoon animals. Each animal makes a unique noise when tapped. It has 25 different animals and a selection of backgrounds; it's fun for kids aged 3-6.

Peekaboo Barn
By Night and Day Studios
Price: $1.99
Rating: 6

This is a very cute word and sound app for preschoolers (1-4) who are just starting to learn to read words or for children with special needs. A toddler speaks the words. It teaches them the names of animals, the sounds they make and shows the word. The child taps the doors of the barn that open to reveal an animal. A voice tells you what it is; you hear the animal's sound and the name is displayed. You can also buy Peekaboo Wild and Peekaboo Forest that have a similar format.



iWriteWords
By gdiplus
Price: $2.99
Rating: 7

This is primarily an app to help children learn to write letters, but in the process it teaches letters and simple words. The app is quite intuitive and easy to use. It encourages the child to form the script letters using the accepted order of stroke making (this varies from one educational system to another). Each letter sounds is given and the word when it is completed. A child drawing then appears to illustrate the word.  The letters can also be drawn automatically with the surrounding screen acting as a type of simple xylophone. This reinforces the child's attempts.

3. Writing apps

Purpose: These apps encourage the development of writing (as opposed to simply handwriting as for the last app).  

Scary Story Kit
By Comicorp
Price: $1.99
Rating: 7

The 'Scary Story Kit' is an aid to enable you to add special effects to oral storytelling and assist any scary storyteller, giving them some tools to make their scary story truly come to life. It includes visual and audio effects. The tools include a reactive light which responds to sound, and adds to any torchlight storytelling. There is also an image creation, editing and manipulation suite. This has paintbrush, a camera function, filters and effects to create scary images. There is also a soundboard that allows you to develop customised sounds. While it is designed to support oral storyelling this can be extended by requiring the creation of a written story to be presented to an audience. Suitable for children aged 6-15 years.

StoryLines
BY Root-One Inc
Price: FREE
Rating: 7

StoryLines is an award-winning game of 'telephone' with pictures. You can begin a StoryLine in lots of ways. For example, you can start with a common saying that is then added to. Or it could start with an opening line "One dark, dreary night in Detroit..." (no offence intended to friends in Detroit!). You can then pass the device around your friends, use Facebook, send it by email or open it in a browser to share with others. There is an option for a friend to illustrate it, give it a title and so on until completed.  You can save your favourite completed StoryLines in your Gallery, and share them on Facebook.

3. Animation & Art Apps

Purpose: Apps in this category introduce children to some basic fundamentals of animation. In some ways they could be classified as art apps as well. I have written a post on animation apps previously (here) that has some more sophisticated apps.


PlayTime Theater
By Make Believe Worlds, LLC
Price: $2.99
Rating: 9

This has to be one of the best animation apps around for children aged 3-6 years. It is so easy to use and enables children to feel successful almost immediately as animators. The app allows kids to create, record and playback their original puppet shows. It offers a castle as the puppet theatre setting and everything you need to put on and record your own shows. The stage has moving parts, its own set of customizable cast, costumes, action props, sound effects and a library of original cinematic music. Every child I've introduced this app to can use it within minutes and love it.

Elmo's Monster Maker HD
By Sesame Street
Price: $4.49
Rating: 8



This is a fun app that children aged 2-6 years will find easy to use and will love. This delightful animation features the Sesame Street character Elmo who wants you to make a monster friend! You get to choose a monster body and then touch its face to give it eyes, nose and a hat. There are lots of options. When you finish, Elmo dances and plays with your monster. The app encourages artistic interest, creativity and in its own way might raise interest in other more sophisticated animation or art apps. 

Kid Art for iPad
By GP Apps
Price: $0.99
Rating: 8

There are lots of art apps for kids on the App Store, but 'Kid Art' stands out from the crowd. With its engaging backgrounds, bright colours and ability three different themes, it offers plenty of opportunities for your child to explore their artistic side. It enables them to create great images by dropping in images, painting etc.

Play School Art Maker ABC
By Australian Broadcasting Commission
Price: Free
Rating: 10

The Play School Art Maker app is a fun way for kids to freely create pictures, animated movies and story slideshows using their favourite 'Play School' toys and craft items. They can add their own audio narration, upload their own photos as backgrounds, and save photos of their art.
 Children can select Big Ted, Little Ted, Humpty, Jemima and their friends and choose from 6 backgrounds to create an animation with up to 8 slides. It is perfect for children aged 2-6 years and will encourage creativity and artistic ability.


ClickySticky
By Invocore
Price: $1.99
Rating: 7

This is an app that makes it easy for children aged 2-6 years to create images using an animated sticker book. Children can interact with a variety of characters while learning about fish, airplanes and many animals. Each sticker character can be scaled, rotated and dragged onto each imaginary scene. It includes scenes and stickers covering varied themes like the ocean, aviation, space, dolls, and safari scenes. Kids as young as two will love this app.

4. Games

Purpose: Apps in this category use a game format to develop varied skills including memory, perspective, fine and gross motor skills, maths and language.

Pirate Puzzles
By Ayars Animation
Price: $0.99
Rating: 9

This has to be one of my favourite non-story apps. Kids get to enjoy completing nine pirate puzzles. But there's more. When completed, the puzzle is followed by an animated interactive surprise. Complete all puzzles and enjoy a fully animated, fully interactive mystery pirate song. The catch is that you must complete the puzzles to see the fantastic animations. This motivates the users to complete each puzzle.


How to Train Your Dragon
By Glu Games Inc.
Price:  $ 0.99
Rating: 9

This app is based on the movie of the same name. The user can take to the sky as Toothless, the sleek, stealthy, fire-breathing dragon, with his new friend, Hiccup, the Viking teenager. The child manipulates the iPad to fly Toothless through an expanded world from the Viking home Island of Berk to the sea and the beautiful but forbidding lands beyond. The game has unlockable extras such as film stills and cheat codes. Children aged 4-8 will love this app. It is beautifully animated and is easy to use. A feast of imaginative exploration of the world of Toothless.


5. Knowledge Apps

Purpose: Apps in this category focus on specialised knowledge in some field of study.

Star Walk for iPad
Vito Technology Inc.
Price: $5.49
Rating:10

This is a stunning app for anyone interested in astronomy. You can encourage your children to discover the wonders of the stars with the high definition version of Star Walk. By using the camera in the iPad 2 or iPad3, you can point the tablet at the sky to view the constellations, discovering their names and history. It identifies satellites, lets you search for specific planets or stars and offers amazing images from deep space, to satisfy the astronomer in every child. The app also offers new photos each day and other features. But without a doubt the main attraction is the Augmented Reality mode, which lets you find constellations by pointing your iPad at the sky. Great for children aged 5-adults.




Frog Dissection
By Emantras Inc.
Price: $4.49
Rating: 10

This is an amazing app. As the name suggest it leads you through a virtual dissection of a frog. It is a 'greener alternative' for teaching dissection in the classroom and many children will find it a much easier experience to handle (no blood!). It offers an amazing introduction to anatomy and is suitable for children aged 8-16 years. It is ideal for children already learning about organs and organ systems as part of their life science curriculum. As well, younger gifted children interested in animals will find it fascinating. It allows children to dissect the specimen with clear step-by-step visual instructions and audio commentary. It allows 360 degree rotatable close ups of organs, additional information on every part of the body and the frogs’ life cycle. It also offers an anatomical comparison of frogs with humans, an interactive quiz and detailed descriptions of the organs. Brilliant!

Friday, February 10, 2012

What are the 'basics' in the preschool years?

Creative water play
I am asked constantly by parents of preschool children should they be doing various things. Parents ask, should I:

"Make sure they know their sounds before schools?"
"Teach them the letter names?"
"Teach them to write their name?"
"Make sure they can write neatly?"
"Teach them to read some simple words?"
"Teach them about numbers?"
While the above are genuine questions about knowledge children will eventually need, most overlook the real 'basics' in the preschool years that will have a big impact on school success and later learning. If you want your child to succeed at school and in the workplace, become lifelong learners, be creative people able to solve problems and adapt to varied situations, who have varied life interests and a love of knowledge, then here are the things you want them to be able to do when they are five.
Enjoy playing with language - know unusual words, enjoy finding out new ones, play with rhyme and rhythm in language, love telling stories, jokes and talking with other people.

Creative story making with skills established early
Enjoy new stories with others in all their forms - stories you tell them of your life, stories read to them, stories watched together with others in the form of film and on television.

Have an interest in numbers, letters and words - wanting to learn about them (e.g. "Show me what a thousand is Mum"), trying to write them, including them in their creative play and drawing.

Be able to sit still for up to 30 minutes - being able to play alone or with others, complete a task they're interested in, listen to stories, engage in a play situation etc.

Have an expanding vocabulary - learning new words, trying to invent their own, asking you about words and what they mean.
Learning from experience

Enjoy knowledge and the gaining of it - being curious about some area of interest (e.g. insects, dragons, horses, pets) and having a desire to know more and share it ("Did you know Mum that a stick insect is called a Phasmid, and there are lots of types").

Have a love of books - while I've already mentioned stories above, there is a particular place for the love of books, I'd want my children to see books as some of their most special possessions because of the knowledge, stories and wonder that they hold.

Have an emerging knowledge of words, letters and the sounds associated with them - a five-year-old doesn't need to be able to read before school, but I'd want them to have some knowledge of letter names, some concepts of print and an interest in knowing how to read and write.

Show an interest in technology - not just to play games, or sit for hours transfixed in front of a TV, but a desire to explore their world with computers, an interest in the knowledge and learning that technology can deliver and how it can expand our world.

An ability to be creative and inventive - drawing and making things inspired by a story, TV show, movie or experience. Wanting to dress up and act out characters and experiences. Making shops, cubbies under the table, giving names and characters to their dolls and toys, using toys and other objects for creative story telling or recreation.

Creative play in action, the foundation of imagination & problem solving

Have an interest in problem solving - working out a way to spread the sheet over the table and hold it there for the cubby, trying to see how things work, trying to fix things that are broken, coming up with ideas for how the problems of his or her world can be solved ("Mum, if we could knock off three palings on the fence I could make a gate to Cheryl's house").

Have the ability to listen to, learn and comprehend - stories, lifestyle programs, movies, television shows, stories you tell them, recipes and how they are structured, instructions (spoken or pictorial). 

The above are the real basics that children need to know to succeed at school. The problem with them is that you can't cram in the year before school to develop them. These basics are things that take time and effort by parents and preschool teachers. Each requires knowledge of the child, an interest in their learning and interests and the ability to observe our children to scaffold their learning.