Posts Tagged ‘learning to read’

Bob Books iPhone App: Experience Review

You may already be familiar with Bob Books, a reading series designed for the early stages of reading, when kids figure out letters together form words. The small books are leveled based on a child’s ability and include simple, short word sentences with line drawing illustrations to illustrate what’s being said. I actually picked up a few of these books for my 4-year old.

Now your child can enjoy a more interactive experience with the Bob Books Magic of Reading iPhone and iPad app ($1.99). Like the original book series, the app is designed in with built-in levels, enabling kids to progress at their own pace :

  • Level 1 – When you tap the picture, there’s audio to tell you what word your child is working on. The word appears below the image you’ll see letter hints, gravity helps you drop letters in the right place, and you can play letters in any order.
  • Level 2 – Now you have to place letters in left-to-right order. If you try to play a letter out of order it will just bounce out.
  • Level 3 – The letter hints are gone [in the space below each image] and so is gravity. You’ll also have to spell some words from the caption.
  • Level 4 – Now there are extra letters [that appear on-screen] that aren’t actually used in the word. You’ll need to remember how to spell the word to finish the game.

When you start the app, the first story plays. Each story processes to a little harder, adding more words to the caption and more words you have to spell. Each story opens with a black and white line drawing and a caption underneath. Elements in the picture shake inviting the kids to touch. When you touch on one of the pictures you enter into one of the interactive spelling screens. Only the image of what word they are working on appears on-screen and the letter titles used to spell the word are spread over the screen. If the child touches the image, the word is said again as a reminder. Like wise, if they touch the titles, the letter sound is made. In level 1, touching the letter spaces under the picture also makes the letter sound plus it will shake the corresponding tile to help kids find the letter needed. My daughter never touched the spaces under the picture so she never discovered this trick; she went right for the letter tiles and tried working on building the word.

Once a word is spelled out, the word is sounded out, given a visual emphasis on each letter sound. The image then transitions into colour and reappears within the original story. Images not yet in colour will shake to encourage kids to click and spell those words too. Once all the words are done and the whole picture is in colour, a background scene transitions in and a small animation plays supporting the caption below. As this happens, the caption is read out loud, highlighting the words as they are said. This is a great way to reinforce them as the child follows along.

During each story subtle navigational elements appear on the screen allowing you to skip a story to move on to the next story or to go to the story menu. The story menu is like a long film strip with pictures of each story so your child can easily revisit a story they enjoy or move forward if a particular story isn’t challenging enough (the stories increase in difficulty by adding more words, longer words, new words). The story menu also shows what level your child has completed for each story. As I mentioned above, there are 4 levels with each story. You can go through all the stories in level 1 and then repeat them again for the subsequent levels or you can keep repeating a particular story, moving up a level each time. The app remembers what level your child is on and will automatically progress him or her. There is an option of resetting the app to clear any progress you have saved. This is good if you want to start from level 1 again or if you want to share the experience with another child. There are some set-up options to that enable you to determine when music plays during the app, set levels automatically or to a specific level and use letter name or phonics for spelling tiles.

You can see my 4-year old as she experiments with the Bob Books Magic Reading app:

It’s no surprise my daughter was able to figure out how the program worked, without any assistance from me; many kids today have already been exposed to various forms of technology and are quick learners. The Bob Books Magic Reading app is designed to work with your child’s natural inquisitive nature, interacting as they click on things.

Although we do enjoy the Bob Books, the Bob Books Reading Magic app is much more engaging and keeps my daughter interested longer. She still gets excited and proud when she reads a screen on her own. The fact that the app remembers my daughter’s progress and that it’s portability makes it great for the Dr.’s office waiting room, grocery shopping or any other time when my daughter is with me, these elements are things I enjoy about the app as a parent. However there are a few things I’d love to see added to any updates (another great feature of an app, the ability to make updates for those who already own a copy). I would love the option of setting profiles so I don’t have to erase one child’s history so another can use it. Another great feature would be the option to replay the caption again after the audio has played it. Right now it just plays once and it happens at the same time as the animation on the screen. I found my daughter was distracted by the animation and would end up missing the words being highlighted as the narrator read it. To be able to play the caption again and see the highlights would be great, especially if the sentence has a few words and the child is getting muddled; they could play the caption over and over, seeing each word highlighted as it was read.

The Bob Books Reading Magic app was created by Learning Touch, the makers of the best-selling First Words series of learning-to-read apps. It marries First Words’ breakthrough learning-to-read interface with the beloved characters and stores of Bob Books. The app includes twelve scenes for a total of 32 words. For game levels provide increasing challenges to children as they play.

I want to thank the folks at Bob Books and Hopscotch Consulting for providing me with the app so we could experience it and share it with you.

LeapFrog Event

I’ll admit it, I love tech gadgets. My love doesn’t end at just me. Gadgets for kids are just as cool, sometimes cooler. And when they sneak in a little learning, even better. That’s probably one reason we own a number of LeapFrog products. The kids love the products and I love that they’re playing games to help their reading or math.

Recently we were invited to a LeapFrog event, giving the kids a chance to play with some of their new products. My kids could hardly contain themselves when we entered the room. The room was set-up in three areas: the infant and preschool toys, Tag reading tools, and the new Leapster Explorer.

My youngest loved LeapFrog‘s My Own Laptop (age 24 months to 4 years). She played alphabet games, helping her not only recognize the letters but also the placement on a keyboard. The laptop also has other features once you hook it up to the Internet but she was just playing with it on its own. It’s a nice compact size too, with a built-in handle making it easy to carry around.

At the reading table the kids played with the Tag and the Tag Junior. We own both of these and the kids love them (see our review on the Tag and the Tag Junior). My son and youngest daughter were interested in some of the new books, like Star Wars: Clone WarsSponge Bob and Toy Story 3.

LeapFrog makes great early education products but most of them lean toward the younger toddler/preschooler aged child. My oldest, now 8, loves the Tag system and still enjoys using it though it’s really designed to aid early readers. She loves the interactive aspect of the reading system, with games and activities built into a story. So when we saw the new Tag Map System, both my daughter and I were intrigued. This is a fold out, double-sided map that works with the Tag pen and helps kids with geography. There’s a United States map as well as a World map.

Another great learning toy coming from LeapFrog this summer is the Leapster Explorer. This looks similar to the original Leapster 2 but offers a larger screen, new titles and the ability to connect and interact within a new online world. All 3 of my kids were mesmerized by this, but especially my older two. With my kids’ increasing interest in handheld gaming devices (and they are great for road trips), it’s nice to see one that offers educational fun.

I’m looking forward to trying out some of these new LeapFrog items first hand (well, actually my kids are looking forward to it) and sharing our thoughts and reviews right here.

Leapfrog Tag or Tag Junior

So maybe you’ve read my review on the Leapfrog Tag Junior and the Leapfrog Tag, but you’re unsure which is the best to get for your child. To try and make things easier I’ve put together this little side-by-side comparison chart:

Leapfrog Tag Junior Leapfrog Tag 
age range 2 to 4 yrs 4 to 8 yrs
books small sized board books, only a few words per page hard cover, paper paged books, more words per page like an early reader book, some game pages
reading tool larger ‘buddy’ that is easy for small hands to grasp and hold on to, the reading base is wider making it easier to come in contact with areas on the page a thick pen design, tip enables point to specific words in a story or selecting smaller interactive elements on the page
interactivity introduces kids to basic concepts like colours and size, single or small word count per page increases child’s vocabulary, touching elements on the page provides surprises like sounds or dialog and encourages kids to explore flexible with your child’s reading skills (can have whole story read or child can read and use the pen to get help with tricky words, games are included to help guage child’s understanding of the story, increases the child’s vocabulary, touching different parts of the page reveals more dialog or sounds and encourages kids to explore.
compatibility Can NOT read Tag books Can use the Tag pen to read Tag Junior books also (need to download the audio and the pen will read the book just like the Junior does – whole page at a time, versus word by word), there are also learning cards and interactive boards that are designed to work with the Tag too
Learning Path connect with Leapfrog’s Learning Path to discover your child’s favourite books and pages and what they are learning connect with Leapfrog’s Learning Path to discover what activities you child enjoys most, how long they’ve spent with a book, what they are learning and how that compares to where they should be at
cost Tag Junior:$39.99 Cdn
Tag Junior book:$9.97 Cdn
Tag:$59.99 Cdn
Tag book:$14.97 Cdn
Includes USB cable, Tag Junior reader, Learning Path connect software CD-Rom, one pre-loaded book USB cable, Tag reader, Learning Path connect software CD-Rom, one pre-loaded book
Review Tag Junior Tag

I hope you find this chart helpful. We’ve tried both the Tag Junior and the Tag. My kids love the interactivity and fun involved with them; I love that they are learning while having fun. And with the Learning Path program I can see just what they are learning.

Review: PenPal Notes (and giveaway)

The love of books and the love of reading is big in our house. I think that’s one reason I love doing my weekly Write a Review Wednesday post. I love discovering and sharing new books with my kids. And now that my oldest daughter has discovered the joy of reading on her own, I love to find ways to expand on her love. Books is a given but then I stumbled upon a new product called PenPal Notes.

You’re probably familiar with the idea of pen pals. I know when I was in school we had a pen pal program with kids from different countries. I still have some of those letters, including a letter from Iran which caused a big stir with CSIS (also know as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service), but that’s another post. The point is I loved having pen pals.

Lunchtime pen pals

The idea behind PenPal Notes is a combination of lunch time notes and letters from friends. Instead of writing notes in your child’s lunch why not include a postcard from Tej, a panda who goes on adventures. There are seven different series, from dinosaurs to proverbs to world food, and each series includes 20 or 40 illustrated postcards and sticker stamps. The front of the post card is a message to your child based on whatever series you have. On the back there’s space for you to write your own personal note to your child.

My daughter is a foodaholic. She loves food, from everywhere. The folks at PenPal Notes were kind enough to send the Traveling Taste Buds set for us to review. My daughter loves, loves, LOVES food so these cards were ideal for her. The Traveling Taste Buds series has Tej visiting seven different countries. The first postcard from each country gives a little information on the country and subsequent postcards talk about a specific food from the country.

My daughter loves these cards. She shows them to her friends and keeps all of them to reference later. She loves the idea of getting these notes and discovering new foods. Sometimes I’ve been able to tie food choices to the postcards too. When she was visiting France one card talked about croissants and I included one for her snack. She thought that was the best. One day I forgot to include a postcard (we agreed that Monday, Tuesday and Thursday would be postcard days) and I heard about it all that night. From that moment on my daughter reminds me the night before to include a postcard in her lunch.

I love the postcards. They’re easy to read. I have learned different types of food and I absolutely love food. I liked the messages that my mom wrote on the back too. I share the notes with my class. My teacher things they are neat. I still have all my postcards. I like to go back and read them again. I only get them on Monday, Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I’d love to get them every day. I get really excited on a postcard day. I usually remind my mom to put one in my lunch.

I love how the PenPal Notes get my daughter excited about reading and learning. It shows that reading is more than just for books. Plus she now has developed an interest in starting some real pen pals (she even created a mock postcard and sent it to me).

PenPal Notes for you

The amazing folks at PenPal Notes wants to get your child excited about reading too. They’re offering one set of postcards (winners choice) absolutely FREE. Isn’t that great! Checkout the sets they have available. So if you’re in Canada or the United States all you need to do is comment below and tell me if you have ever sent notes to your child or received lunch time notes as a child yourself. I’ll receive entries until midnight (EST), Sunday October 25, 2009 at which time I will randomly draw a name. Good luck!

Update: We have a winner. has selected and the winner has been emailed. Thanks for your interest.

Review: Leapfrog Tag Junior reading system

Last year, as a testing family for Today’s Parent magazine, we had a chance to review the original Tag reading system by Leapfrog (for 4 to 8 year olds). My oldest two loved it. So when I heard that Leapfrog had brought out a version for the toddler/preschool group (age 2 to 4) I was eager to give it a try with my youngest.

Leapfrog‘s Canadian public relations agency very generously sent us a Tag Junior along with two additional books to review. And the timing was perfect, arriving just before school started. My daughter was so excited when she saw the box. Most things we’ve reviewed have been for her brother and sister; this was just for her and she made everyone aware of that. Now my daughter had a fun learning tool to use while her siblings were at school.

Easy to use

After a little struggle with the batteries, the Tag Junior was ready for use. And since it comes with a book already loaded, If I Were…, my youngest was able to sit and use the Tag Junior right away. And she did. I was expecting to have to demonstrate how to use the reader to my daughter, but she discovered how to use it all on her own. There are only two buttons on Junior (what we started calling the Tag Junior), volume high/low and on/off. It didn’t take my daughter long to figure it out.

Encourages interactivity and exploration

My daughter loved all three books, If I Were…, The Backyardigans Opposites, and Dr. Suess’s Mr Brown can Moo! Can you?, but her favourite was Mr Brown. We own this book, but the interactivity of the Tag Junior adds a whole new level of fun and learning to the book. My daughter loved mimicking the sounds and answering the questions. Using the Tag Junior, we could listen to the story, but the books are designed to do so much more; each area of the page offer some interactivity either in the form of a song, question, or just hearing the characters talk. And there were multiple responses making each time with a book a new and exciting experience.

But don’t just take my word for it, take a peek at my daughter using the Tag Junior:

The books are sturdy board books that can also be enjoyed without the Tag Junior reading system. I love that my daughter can use this on her own. It’s not uncommon to hear my daughter laughing and talking and singing along to one of the books all on her own in the living room. I love the independence the Tag Junior has given her. And when my daughter is old enough to transition to the older Tag reading system, the Tag Junior books she enjoys now can also be enjoyed with the Tag pen.

Leapfrog’s Learning Path: discover what your child is learning

A new feature Leapfrog has been incorporating into some of it’s newer toys, is the ability to connect to an online version of the Leapfrog Learning Path. The Tag Junior is one of these toys. By connecting the Tag Junior to my computer with the provided USB cable, I’m able to see what books and sections my daughter enjoys most; it even tells me what questions and activities she’s done. I’ll also get an idea what skills my daughter is working on along the Learning Path designed for her age group. Connecting regularly allows me to see how she’s improving or changing, plus I’m able to unlock some printables related to the book she’s using.

Get online updates on your child's learning.

Get online updates on your child's learning.

Connecting the Tag Junior to your computer also enables you to download the audio for additional books you purchase as well as personalize the Tag Junior with your child’s name. I was surprised to find my daughter’s name in their database and downloaded it onto the Tag Junior. The next time my daughter turned Junior on to use it, it greeted her with her name. She thought this was great. She actually spent five minutes turning Junior on and off just to here it say Hi and Bye to her. If your child’s name isn’t in the database or you plan to use the reader with more than one child, they do have a list of generic nicknames like Princess and Champ that could be used instead.

Personalize your Tag Junior, plus unlock fun printables

Personalize your Tag Junior, plus unlock fun printables

A great interactive learning tool for instilling a love of books with young kids

We’re big fans of interactive learning in our house and Leapfrog has developed a number of products we enjoy. The Tag Junior is another great addition. It’s easy for my young daughter to learn and use on her own, which is important for continued use. It’s a fun way to promote the love of books and independent learning. The personalization and online updates are an added benefit too.

Manufacturer: Leapfrog
Age: 2 to 4
MSRP ($Cdn): $39.99, includes reader, USB connection cable and one pre-loaded book
Additional Books ($Cdn): $9.97

Unsure if you should get the Leapfrog Tag or Leapfrog Tag Junior? Maybe my handy comparison chart will help.

Some Fun with Children’s Literacy

I love children’s books. Love to read them. Love to write them. Love to review them. Books and reading are such a big part of my family’s life. All my kids love to ‘read’ and it’s the one activity that can occupy all three of my kids quietly for a couple of hours (even my two year old). But I don’t think my family is unique with their love of books.  What parent doesn’t love reading a good book with their kids or listening to their budding reader take turns reading to them. That’s why I thought you might be interestested in the following two things:

Literacy Lava 2

I blogged recently about a FREE online magazine produced by Susan at the Book Chook and other writers, parents and children’s literacy advocates. Well the second issue is now live. Be sure to hop over to check out Literacy Lava 2, where you’ll find ideas: for motivating reluctant readers, for literacy on the go, for developing the imagination muscle, for linking math and literacy, for having a pirate party and a book picnic, for rhymes, games, activities and more.

Literacy Lava 2 final-sml

Itty Bitty Bookworms Party

I’ve only recently discovered Tara and her blog Raising Itty Bitty Bookworms, another great site promoting literacy and the love of books with young kids. Raising Itty Bitty Bookworms is having an anniversary party until September 9, 2009. You’ll  find some great book giveaway’s and other literacy surprises. Be sure to jump over and celebrate a site that celebrates the love of reading.

Literacy Lava: promoting literacy with children

Books are big in our house. We love to read them and review them, and in my case, try  to write them. I’ve encountered a number of great book blogs online supporting children’s literature. One of my favourite’s is Susan at  The Book Chook.

Beyond her insightful and entertaining blog, The Book Chook has teamed up with other writers and bloggers with a passion for children’s literature and created Literacy Lava, a digital magazine (in pdf format) full of great tips and literacy activities for parents and their kids. Oh and the best part…it’s absolutely FREE!

The second issue, Literacy Lava 2, is scheduled to go live September 1. Here’s what you can expect:

LitLava_2Making literacy part of our everyday family life is often just a matter of remembering. We need to make sure our kids see that reading, writing, and communicating are important to us, and give them lots of opportunities to participate too.

Literacy Lava 2 is a free magazine that will bring you ideas: for motivating reluctant readers, for literacy on the go, for developing the imagination muscle, for linking math and literacy, for having a pirate party and a book picnic, for rhymes, games, activities and more!

 Brought to you by bloggers and writers who are passionate about children’s literature and literacy, Literacy Lava 2 is erupting with no- or low-cost activities parents can do with kids to promote literacy.

Be sure to visit The Book Chook September 1 to get your copy, just in time for back to school. You can also get your copy of Literacy Lava 1 there too if you missed it.