Reading to Your Child? There’s An App for That Part 1

I’ve been thinking about asking Phil from ReadItDaddy for a guest post for a while, as he really knows his stuff when it comes to kids’ apps (ably assisted – or should that be led! – by his lovely daughter). So when he kindly wrote this post for me, I wasn’t a bit surprised that it turned into a really interesting discussion about how parents are using apps today, and whether they really do have a role to play in children’s reading – or should we all be sticking to print?

Here’s Phil’s first post – I’ll be posting Part 2 (from me) tomorrow and Part 3 (from Phil) on Friday. I hope that if you use book apps with your children, or indeed  have decided not to, you might like to join in the discussion in the comments section.

 readitdaddyheader4Reading to your child? There’s an app for that – but WAIT…!

My wife and I are self-confessed gadget freaks and for a long time we discussed the merits and downfalls of picking up a tablet PC. After checking out just about every Android tablet on the market, and (at the time) wondering why they always felt like a bit of a poor cousin, we opted to buy an iPad.

“Ridiculously expensive” you say. “Crazy indulgence” you say, but Apple – for all their sins – have a habit of producing kit that just plain works, and is also extremely well supported when it comes to educational software and electronic books (how old-fashioned does the term “Electronic Book” sound by the way?)

Shortly after we bought one, it became apparent that “App Distraction” offset the imagined benefits of such a device, used as an aid to our daughter’s education and development. Though many teachers and educators (and parents of course) extol the virtues of these devices, they miss a trick. They remove the human element.

For example, when it comes to phonics or literacy apps, time and time again we’ve hit a brick wall with an app that doesn’t use the UK phonics standards, sounds or methods of decoding – opting for the US equivalents instead. “Haitch” instead of “Huh”, “Aye” instead of “I” and so on.

It’s not such a problem with numeracy apps, but again with storytelling apps we’ve often encountered problems with a US English setting being the default for a story app, leading to words being pronounced and spelled differently, something that can become a core problem as a child starts to take on spelling and writing challenges in school (you would not believe the trouble a simple word like “colour” can cause, even in my day job where the HTML standard code for setting the colour of something uses “color” instead!)

Many parents have described how useful storytelling apps are. When they don’t have time to read to their child, they can download the i-book version and have someone else’s expert narration take up the slack. I timed how long it takes to get from a cold start to the first page in an average app, and it’s just short of 6 minutes – which ironically is enough time to open the cover of a book like “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” and get most of the way through.

Me Books

Me Books

We’ve seen some fantastic ideas like the “Me Books” app, which allows parents and their children to record snippets of dialogue from their favourite stories to be read back, making the whole process more personalised and interactive. As great an idea as this is though, it still can’t really compete with a bedtime reading of your favourite story with your children cuddled up close, chirping in at their favourite bits.

We do like Nosy Crow’s approach of featuring a QR coded audio accompaniment to their print books so parents do at least have the option to have a story read out if they’re not confident enough to read aloud themselves.

At risk of sounding like a techno-luddite, apps aren’t going to go away overnight (there’s a whole blog post purely in the bizarre ‘drawing up of sides’ that seems to be going on between print and electronic books – surely any method for getting children into books is a good method, despite my gripes and grumbles about apps) but I’ve personally lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen a brilliant app-only story that I truly wish would make it into print instead.

Thanks for your very interesting opener, Phil! Come back tomorrow for my reply to Phil’s post…