June 21, 2013

Ever learning

Today is National Summer Learning Day. School is out, and many kids just want to play. It's important to let them relax and have some fun. But the great thing is, one of the best ways for kids to learn is through play. Our children can and do learn year round, and there is a lot we as parents can do to facilitate that.

We have an iPad dedicated for SB's use, with only kid-appropriate content. She is able to earn limited screen time through demonstrating certain behaviors each week and the iPad is one of the ways she can utilize it, under supervision.

In honor of National Summer Learning Day, I wanted to share some of our favorite mobile apps. We have a quite a few, but below are a few of the newest and most loved - by all of us!

Endless Alphabet from Callaway - FREE

SB has just started reading at a very basic level. We've been using the BOB Books series for that, which are fabulous. And they have great iPad apps as well. But hubby found Callaway Digital's Endless Alphabet doing a search and decided to upload to increase her learning opportunities. SB enjoys it, and I have been very impressed. It has greatly expanded her vocabulary.

Each letter of the alphabet is turned into a character, which makes the sound of the letter when the child touches and moves it into place. The child uses cues to spell out words. The words used are quite advanced. Examples include gargantuan, hilarious, journey, pester, quarrel, ruckus, and timid.

We all giggle as we watch SB spell the words out. The letter characters are very silly. Once a word is completed, the letter characters in the word all applaud. Then a group of monsters appear on screen and act out the meaning of the word, while a narrator explains the definition.

After the first day of having this app, SB said to me, "Mommy, some of the letters make different sounds in different words, but others make the same sound in every word." That led to a great conversation about vowels and consonants. Which of course is helping her in her early reading efforts.

PBS Parents Play and Learn - FREE

This app is designed specifically for parents, and I have it on my iPhone. The app includes games, ideas and suggestions for parents to help turn everyday experiences into fun learning opportunities. Categories include (as they appear on the app): bath time, at the zoo, playground, at a party, playtime, grocery store, library, at the park, on a bus or train, kitchen, in the car, in town, and restaurant.

Each category has game and activity ideas for engaging your child(ren) in that environment. In addition, you receive regular messages through the app with even more ideas. I wrote recently about how my local grocery store had set up learning stations. This app helps you do so everywhere you may spend time in a traditional day. It's not about sitting looking at a screen; it's about using your everyday experiences as learning ones. I love it.

Here are some things I plan to try out w/SB. Shadow Play: At what time of day is your shadow the longest? Measure and find out! Car Counting: Your child can build math skills in the car by making a mark on paper each time she sees a specific object. Count the marks with her at the end of the trip. What If?: What if your child's favorite book ended differently? Next time you read it with her, stop at a certain point in the action and brainstorm alternative endings.

The games and activities have three levels in each category: baby, toddler and preschooler. There are a few games kids can actually play on your device but to be honest, I have found them to be too basic for SB, even at the highest level. She likes them, but doesn't really learn from them. So I focus on using this app as a resource for ME, as intended.

Wild Kratts Creature Math - $1.99

If you're a regular here, you know we love the show Wild Kratts and have met its creators. SB recently asked if we could download the app Creature Math. In looking at it, I felt it would be too advanced for her, but as she continued to beg, I decided to download it with the intention that it would be something she would play with the assistance of hubby or myself.

We always love finding free apps, but have no problem spending a little money when we feel it is worth it. And this is definitely one of those times. The value we are getting out of this app goes far beyond the minimal cost. That cannot be said of all the apps we have purchased, though we do carefully preview and read the reviews in advance.

We had been searching for ways to help SB develop her math skills. There are some great Curious George computer games on PBSKids.org that use math, but we wanted to focus on taking her skills further this summer. SB LOVES the Wild Kratts app. And after sitting down once with me for about an hour to play, and once with hubby for the same amount of time, she can now play by herself with ease.

Kids create a habitat adding animals and their food sources by solving math problems using addition and subtraction. They have to keep all the animals in the habitat happy by making sure they have enough food. And by keeping the environment clean. They are able to earn creature power disks along the way.

Everything revolves around solving math problems. They start out basic (2 + ? = 3) and become more advanced (17 - ? = 9). Chris and Martin offer guidance as your child works to solve the equation. Example - "Oops, looks like you've added too many." The app does a wonderful job of engaging SB, and is so much fun she doesn't even realize she is learning. I think she would play all day if I let her.

For the record, I don't. We limit her screen time and, as mentioned, she has to earn it. But since I have been dealing with pneumonia the past several weeks, I will admit I've been leaning a little more than usual on technology. I am grateful I can combine screen time with quality learning opportunities that engage my child and enable me to get the rest I need to heal.

So there are a few of our current favorite apps, as SB prepares to enter voluntary pre-kindergarten in the fall. And speaking of iPads and kids, hubby recently sent me a link to this article from MacWorld about setting up the device in a safe, kid-friendly manner. It's important information for parents, as our kids are growing up more engaged with technology than ever.

The pros and cons continue to be debated, but the fact is our kids will become more engaged with technology. It behooves parents to stay ahead of the curve, monitor their child's engagement and understand the benefits and drawbacks.

This is not a sponsored post. None of the companies or organizations named above have compensated me in any way for sharing these opinions, which are my own.

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