By Fiona Passantino
Good educational apps for our expat kids
The Fall Edition: Special Needs
Summer is over and it’s time to gear up for a return to school for our little and not-so-little ones.
This edition focuses on our visual learners and children with special needs. As a parent of an autistic child, this is a particularly personal issue to me, and these little folks need more support in their daily lives than others. I do find that a visual approach to learning is good for all children; our digitally savvy kids are used to more audio-visual presentations than “old school” blackboard-and-chalk talk and have a harder time focusing and remembering material presented in an audio or written form only. As a mother and developer of digital learning material, this is what I stand by and believe in with all my heart.
So, to the apps…
The classis “Time Timer”; making that visual link between the time left to do an activity and a graphic stimulation. I have used this method in its old school, analogue form, and this was my son’s first watch, his bathroom reminder and on and on. I find the app lacking visually – perhaps TOO much of a utility and not as much fun as it could be but still a useful tool.
Ages 3 - 7
Visually compelling and, of course, adorable; we all love our bouncy Alien Buddies for early learning fundamentals. There are four basic learning activities: matching, puzzles, dot to dot and stickers, all of which my kids enjoy, and have varied difficulty levels. Visual and audio modes reinforce colours, shapes, numbers, which is always good. A winner.
Ages 3 - 5
Logic makes the link between colors and numbers, and the interface is a feast for the eyes. It makes the basic learning of colors and shapes easy, and it helps them find similar shapes and colours in a challenging yet fun format. What I like about this is the language support: they can get the gist of it all in English and then mean mummy can switch the settings over to Spanish, French and even Russian or Ukrainian (that would be a very mean mummy indeed). Nice.
Pictograms! But not on paper; for the iPad. With simple drag and drop functionality and a visual timer to allow children to see how much longer they have for a particular activity, this app sets up a morning or afternoon visually and lays down the rules. I use it to get my small ones to clean up, wash hands and so on, as long as I weave reward activities through the lineup. Non-subjective! And it is just as effective with my non-autistic child, too. I could imagine a classroom with this beaming on the wall for group activities. A good, solid app with room for 2.0 improvements.
Fiona Passantino is the founder of The App Train (www.theapptrain.com), a small, app development company with a dual focus: building commercial apps, iPad magazines, folios and mobile websites for small to medium-sized companies and building own apps for commercial release. The in-house titles are largely children’s educational material with a special needs slant for the English market. Fiona lives in The Hague with her husband and two small but highly competent app testers-and-debuggers aged four and nine.