There are hundreds of apps out there and trying to decide which ones are appropriate for use in an Early Childhood classroom can be a daunting task. From my brief experience, when there are a few pages of apps to scroll through the children have too many choices and suffer from indecisionitis. My approach in the last two years has been to limit myself to 20 apps on the “home” page of the iPad, with the remainder of the apps that I need for use in the classroom organized as folders in the second page. Basically I only have two folders, one called iApps which holds all the “native” iStuff that I can’t get rid of or use infrequently (such as Safari, Videos, etc) and then another folder titled “Mr Alex” that holds all the apps that I need to use but are not appropriate for children (YouTube, Doceri, Find iPad, etc).
The 20 apps that make my cut is constantly changing. The analogy is akin to picking stocks for a financial portfolio. I want the best bang for my buck! These are some of the questions I ask myself. Do I have apps that appeal to a broad range of interests? Can I track student progress? Can I save/share/export student work? For the record, I never consider the price of an app in deciding whether it is “worth it.” I get re-reimbursed by my school (a good bonus) but really because in the grand scheme of things when you reflect on how much money is poorly spent money in many educational institutions an app costing $0.99 or $2.99 or even $9.99 seems like a super good deal if it helps our students to learn more and better!
Which brings me to my last point. What purpose does my iPad serve in the classroom? In my opinion, iPads should be used to extend learning, to further explore concepts, to create digital artifacts, and to gain knowledge and make connections with the world around us. The iPads in my classroom are tools not toys. Every minute spent interacting with an iPad is one less minute spent interacting with a real person. I am all about technology but I am also all about kids being kids and if I am going to have my students be on iPads I better have a clear purpose and outcome in mind. So after much ado, and with nothing further to say, here are my top 8 iPad apps that every early children classroom should have!
1) Pocket Phonics ($2.99, lite version free)
My favorite app for learning letter recognition, formation, sounds using the synthetic phonics approach. In this app, students trace the letters, match sounds, and blend to make words by working on a group of letters at a time. As they play earn stars. Earn three and students move on to the next group of letters. With more levels than can be completed in one year, this app is based on current research “best-practices” and syncs seamlessly with a web-based classroom account where you can track the progress of your whole class. A great advantage of the syncing feature is that students can play using their account irrespective of the iPad used. Customizable for different preferences, such as how to progress to the next level, left or right handed players, and the type of font used. Recently, a new feature was introduced where students gain certificates for completion of certain levels; for example learning the sounds for groups of letters such as s, t, I, a, p, n. My students love this and try to earn their stars so they can get a printed certificate to take home!
An all around app that focuses on students learning numbers, letters, shapes, colors, phonics, and counting. Students play the app to gain sticker rewards. The app progresses through various levels based on a student’s answers and the progress of the child is neatly summarized in a “learning screen” which shows, among other things, the number of items answered correctly in each learning category for the last 5 questions. Useful for when you want to get a snapshot of how students are doing. Your higher achievers will move through all the levels by February. I “upgrade” these students on to Teach Me Kindergarten. Good graphics, engaging, and useful for re-enforcing the basics (such as colors and shapes) in a one-to-one fashion, especially for your English language learners, this is an app that I use on a daily basis.
Want an app that is a bit more social? Futaba is the answer. This app is styled like a “beat the buzzer” game-show, with up to four players using one iPad simultaneously. There is a data bank of appropriate questions that you can choose from for each grade level, or you can even create your own. Lots of fun and very addictive!
Adapted from their highly rated website, Starfall is an engaging app that builds important pre-reading skills. The app is totally stand alone, with no internet connection required after download. According to Starfall Education, the makers of the app, “each numbered section features a vowel sound and its related spelling. Your child will hear, touch, read, and eventually master this sound-spelling through a variety of engaging activities, movies, and songs.”
5) Nick Jr. Draw & Play ($6.99)
This full featured “graphic design” app is loaded with features. Tons of brushes, colors, and even color-in templates to choose from. What makes this app really stand-out though is the ease of use. Students are easily able to navigate the app choosing the tools they need to create their artistic masterpieces. Another highlight of this app is the ability to share creations via email and other social media. I like to use this app in conjunction with Book Creator as the “drawing” behind a student’s story.
Used in conjunction with Nick Jr. Drawn & Play this app allows students to make ebooks in an epub format. With a fairly simple interface students are able to make their own books by importing pictures from the camera roll (where Nick Jr. Draw & Play saved pictures live), or using the camera feature directly. A feature that I really like is the sound recording option so that students call “tell” their own story without the teacher having to transcribe it for them. Initially takes a bit of student guidance for them to independently use this app but it is possible. The books created in this app are easily shareable digitally, which is a feature that has been much appreciated by parents of my students who often spend time working away from home.
7) Toontastic Jr. (basic version free – $6.99 in-app purchase to unlock all features)
Work on the basic of story-telling through this easy to use app. Students choose their characters, then choose their plot line by selecting a beginning, middle, and end scene. Finally, they voice over and move their characters and “publish” their work as a movie trailer. This app is a class favorite, and also very good for cooperative work by allowing two or three kids to work on one movie together.
Hands down the favorite Math app I have found. Patterns, shapes, less/more, order number, add/subtract, number pop, connect the dots, and number writing are the skills this app focuses on. With a “knack” feature that adjusts the difficulty based on a students level of correct answers and highly stimulating music and graphics my students love this app. One drawback is that it only allows 3 players to be registered, so really not very useful for tracking a whole class but as a whole the pluses to this app outweigh this shortfall.
What about your classroom? Are there any apps that you use that you would like to recommend? Leave me a comment. I am always happy to learn from what others around the world are doing!