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.
Reading 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.
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…
I don’t think it’s an either or when it comes to ebooks – I think they can be a great addition to our usual storytelling although I would never use them at bedtime – that’s the best time for snuggling up with a ‘proper’ book! I agree the use if US English/accents can be irritating though.
I like the Nosy Crow audio recordings which support their picture books (they’re great to listen to in the car) but I haven’t really exposed my five year old to ebooks and story apps. She has so many questions when we read together and likes to talk about what we’re reading so I would rather read, have the human interaction and be there to answer her questions.
I do like the free Oxford Owl ebooks but I still prefer to read an ebook that I also know has a picture book version, for example Babette Cole’s The Trouble with…….. ebooks. Or the ebooks from Me books.
I realise that technology is here to stay but for very young children I don’t think you can beat the magic of snuggling up and sharing a book, especially at bedtime 🙂
Thanks for your comments! I agree both can work alongside each other, but it is interesting that comments here and on Twitter so far have focused on when and how apps are used (if at all) – it seems the trend is for during the day rather than bedtime, and a question I would like to ask is are they replacing other activities like TV, video games or free play rather than books themselves? Do they represent an alternative to reading books, or an extra sneaky reading experience disguised as play?
Good question! For me I think it replaces other activities such as TV rather than a ‘real’ book.
Me too! I wrote that in the second post today – I guess because it is on a screen we count it as screen not book time. I wonder if that sort of distinction will exist when our kids grow up.
I’ve just remembered that at one point we started recording our kids’ Italian grandmother reading their Italian storybooks. As they only see her once every couple of months, they could listen to her read via their ipod while they followed in the book.
what a lovely idea!
If apps or ebooks are used in our house (which is rarely) they aren’t a substitute for books. They’re a very special treat!
Simon, I love the idea of Grandma reading a storybook that children can listen to on their iPod. Maybe Grandma or Grandpa could read to us via Skype 🙂
Ebooks are no substitute for a real book but they do have a place and yes, they are here to stay. I monitor my son’s screen time overall and that includes tv, movies, apps and ebooks.