Public disclaimer: I will acknowledge up front that I am a devoted Apple fanboi (did I use that word right?). I cringe at work every day when I have to touch my Windows machine (okay, mainly I hate being forced to use IE). That said, I welcome any other suggestions about the below that do not involve Apple products.
About two months ago, C was having real trouble with his spelling. He just didn’t like it. He could do it, but his lack of interest led to a lack of effort and some rather poor spelling tests. I began searching for ways to make studying more fun. After several failed attempts to make it fun and get him involved, I had a brainstorm. I went to the Apps store on iTunes and started looking for learning apps. I found This Week’s Words that was perfect, I could load C’s weekly words and it turned them into a game. I won’t credit his resulting great spelling tests on the iPad game itself, but I think it has helped.
Following that successful test I started looking for other ways to get the boys having fun while learning and also in learning to use the iPad. They both have computer class at school, but from what we can tell from their descriptions, they’re not actually learning to use the computer, just draw on it and play some games. They don’t do anything, the programs are already open for them, etc. I think Apple, et al. have shown that tablets are the future of computing and I have no illusions that they’re going to make their way into the boys’ school any time soon.
I started looking for some other ways to bolster what they’re learning in school. I found some apps that dealt with math, some with science, etc. There are a fair amount out there for older kids, but a handful that address the learning levels for first graders and below. We’ll keep testing to see what works.
At about the same time I heard a story on NPR by Omar Gallaga that talked about story books on the iPad and some creative ways the publishers were working with app developers to blend technology with the bedtime story. The story mentioned ‘Jack in the Beanstock,’ so I downloaded it to see if the boys liked it. It’s a great version of the book and has plenty of interactive features for the kids to add to the story. You can touch items on screen for more parts of the story, make the golden harp play, etc. We found ‘The Monster at the End of This Book,’ which does the same and is one of the boys’ favorites. I recently found ‘Cozmo’s Day Off‘ which has a cute little story, includes games in the story and has the added benefit of allowing you to turn off the reading voice so you can read the book yourself. These haven’t replaced our need for actual books at bedtime, but they’re another fun way to get them interested.
Now, I won’t deny that the iPad I have outfitted for them (I’m recently stood in line for the new iPad2 and so they inherited my earlier model) isn’t all about school. Angry Birds, Bejeweled and Lego Harry Potter are there too. A cute little game called ‘My Underwear‘ has been a big hit (of course) and combines memory games with coloring, etc. We haven’t quite mastered pinball, but we’ll get there.
We’ve rounded out the iPad experience with an atlas, a basic anatomy app, the etch-a-sketch app and have some favorite TV shows and movies. The beauty of it, of course, is that all of these books, games, etc. weigh less than 2 pounds and can be quickly and easily packed into a bag for trips. I was sure to disable the in-app purchasing abilities, my iTunes password means nothing to the boys and remembered to remove my work email account from the device.
It’s kind of amazing (and maybe a little frightening) to see how quickly they’ve mastered the iPad. Multitasking, position lock, etc. are all part of their vocabulary. They sit next to each other on the couch and hand the iPad back and forth to take turns.