Developing early literacy skills: evaluating apps for kids
A lot of my discussion thus far has focused on avoiding potential negatives in apps and ebooks, but today I want to talk about how quality apps and ebooks can help develop children’s early literacy skills, enhancing, among other things, their interest and motivation for reading.
As a parent and a librarian, my goal with my sons is not that they be able to read at a 6th grade level by the time they are 5 years old, but mainly to develop in them a love for books so they have a foundation of a positive experience of reading to build on as they learn and grow. I don’t believe that’s something that can be forced, but it can certainly be modeled and fostered, and digital media can be helpful tools in that process. In a future post I’ll be talking in more detail about some helpful skills and techniques for parents who want to use digital media with kids in a positive way, but today I’m focusing on the features of the apps and ebooks themselves.
There are some common ebook features that do a nice job of fostering early literacy skills. Most ebooks have a “read-to-me” feature, where a recorded voice reads the story aloud and the words are highlighted as they are read. Children can then touch any word to have it repeated. This is an aid to developing print awareness in children. It helps them to become aware that a story is made up of individual words, and how to begin to decode the reading process. (NOTE: I’m not advocating using the device as a babysitter here – parent involvement is still recommended.) I like to read the book myself sometimes, and sometimes use the read-to-me feature just to vary the experience for my older son and emphasize different things at different times.
Word and letter games can also be great for developing letter knowledge, vocabulary, and phonological awareness. There are some excellent letter-matching apps available. We’ve had good success with the First Words apps which allow you to switch between letters and phonetic sounds, but there are others available as well. Books and apps with rhymes or songs can also help with phonological awareness. Matching words or letters with pictures can help a child develop vocabulary as well as letter knowledge. Tacky the Penguin is a nice book-based app where touching the pictures brings up a word that relates to the text of the story – very nice integration of skills, interactivity and story.
The great thing about apps and ebooks for kids is that there are wonderful and engaging stories and games available that do a nice job of educating and helping develop skills in children while keeping the experience fun. Look for apps that support one or more early literacy skills and you’ve given your staff and the parents in your community another fun tool to use to help children become lifelong readers.