Friday, April 10

Favorite Apps for Early Readers

Whether you're a parent looking to further your child's literacy skills or a librarian looking to add some educational variety to a program, apps can be a really useful resource. If, that is, you know what to look for!

A lot of what I'm about to share comes from a movement towards integrating new media into the children's library. My coworker went to a whole conference about it, and then discussed it with us librarians. I think it's great stuff for anyone who works with kids. You can learn more about this movement on Little eLit.

Basically, with the right apps and adult interaction, new media can be supremely beneficial to a young child's education. Adult/parent interaction is key, however. Just like leaving a young child with a picture book isn't nearly as beneficial as reading the book with the child. The idea is to talk, sing, read, write, and play with them. Each of the apps I've chosen caters to one of those actions.


But first: how to find the best apps for early learners. Much in the way you would examine whether a book is appropriate for you child, you can translate that framework for digital content. For example, the book has beautiful illustrations or the app has beautiful graphics. Some key successful attributes would include:
  • clear navigation and uncluttered display
  • sound effects that enhance experience (but can be turned off if they're unnecessary)
  • gives clear cues for developmentally appropriate interactivity
  • added parental tips and encourages joint media engagement 
  • can customize its settings to fit your child
  • some hidden surprises (Easter Eggs!)
Attributes to beware:
  • glitches
  • links, whether they be in-app purchases, ads, or social media/internet 
  • the push for monetization (non-profits are best)
  • constant updates
  • app rot (it develops problems or stops working after time)
There's a lot out there, but here's some of my top choices. This list is based on my coworker's recommendations (after the conference), success in my own storytime, my personal appreciation, or the enjoyment of certain young family members.

Red in Bed by Daniel Logeman 

($0.99, iOS & Android)
A reading-based app

The colors of the rainbow wake up and get out of bed to color the world, except for Red who feels sick. The other colors decide to help Red out and color the normally red objects themselves. Orange strawberries? Green roosters? Red better feel better soon!

Children can help the colors color the world and help Red restore everything to normality in the end. Each color has a note and they can be played like an instrument, which is great for the tap-happy toddler. Look for the hidden color/note, too. No narrator here, so the adult interaction is key! Like it should be! I really enjoyed this one. Learn more here.

Endless Alphabet by Originator

($6.99 on iOS & free for Android)
A writing-based app

This is learning your ABC’s and building vocabulary like nothing you've seen before! Especially thanks to the adorable Endless monsters. Each word features an interactive puzzle game with talking letters and a short animation illustrating the definition. But we're not just talking "dog" and "cat." No, your child is going to learn words like "gargantuan." Yep, it's pretty awesome. Plus, there's other "endless" apps, including counting and wordplay. They're all amazing. Learn more here.

ACPL Family by Allen County Public Library

(Free on iOS)
A singing-based app

I actually had this one downloaded on my phone ages ago because it's so useful for storytime songs and booklists. But it's great in the home, too. It's like having a librarian in your back pocket! Genius! It's the whole tool belt for parents. Learn all its uses here.\

Sock Puppets by Smith Micro Software

(Free on iOS)
A talking-based app

Sock Puppets lets you create your own puppet shows in seconds. Just add puppets, props, scenery, and backgrounds to start creating. Hit the record button and the puppets will automatically lip-synch to your voice. It does allow sharing over social media, so you may want to keep an eye on that. But for storytime? Do you know how much more attentive the kids are when its a bunch of animated sock puppets telling them the rules and giving the opening spiel than the boring, old librarian? Yeah. It's a great tool to have. Learn more here.

Animal Sounds - Fun Toddler Game by Innovative Mobile Apps

(Free on iOS, but has in-app purchases)
Playing-based app

This is a really simple app: click on the picture of an animal, hear the sound that animal makes. But kids love it. I know, because I've used it in storytime twice already, in the last two weeks. The kids love to guess each animal sound and then I have a corresponding puppet to reveal when they get it right. This is the rhyme I say with it: "There's something in my garden/Whatever could it be?/There's something in my garden/Let's listen and see!" and then I play the sounds. It's just plain, old simple fun! Learn more here.

Felt Board by Software Smoothie

($2.99 on iOS)
Playing-based app

It's a digital felt board! If I ever didn't want to go to the effort of cutting felt, this is a great substitute. But it's also great at home since kids can design and tell whatever stories they please. If you want some more structure to your stories, try Felt Board-Mother Goose on the Loose, which has rhymes and songs for you and your kids. Learn more about Felt Board here.

So these may be some good ideas to get your started. But what about finding even more apps? While App Stores can provide some ideas, try using non-profit organization websites or even traditional book review sites. Some good ones include:
Or find your own preferred trusted/respected review site. There's a lot out there, but with the right tools, you can find some great resources for your early readers!

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