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Dr. Seuss is looking a little different these days. Words and letters come to life in the latest learn-to-read apps. There are hundreds of new educational apps for children that can help promote early reading skills and give your child a head start. Most are inexpensive and target specific pre-reading skill sets like letter recognition, early phonics and reading comprehension.
Adults today read across a variety of platforms—iPads, smartphones, eReaders, as well as books. As a parent, the building blocks of reading success start with you. You should be reading with your child every day—and that can mean going digital. Should you be worried?
Not at all, says children's librarian and early reading specialist Kiera Parrott. "Parents of children need not worry about exposing their children to smartphones, iPads, and apps. As long as they understand that technology is just another tool. With the right tool—the right app in this case—a child can explore reading, early learning concepts, and sensory-rich play."
Several recent research studies support Parrott's statement. A 2009 study in the journal "Computers and Education" found that interactive digital reading instruction had lasting positive effects on children's literacy skills.
Choose the right reading apps that will engage both you and your child for maximum fun and learning. Here are some of the best reading development apps for preschool through kindergarten to help put your child on the path to reading success (all are available from iTunes):
- Pocket ABC: Letters & Sounds ($1.99; ages 2-4) This app boasts a series of digital alphabet flash cards, complete with bright graphics and sound effects. The super simple interface and clear letters make this app ideal for the preschool set—kindergarteners might get bored at the limited options. Download the "lite" version of the app for free, or splurge for the real deal. Reinforce letter recognition, and letter/sound association with your little learner, and she'll be rattling off sight words in no time.
- Fish School ($1.99; ages 2-4) School is in session! This app focuses on early literacy skills like letter and shape recognition—a necessary first step for reading. Basic repetition coupled with colorful schools of fish swimming into letters makes learning the ABCs fun for your tiny tot. The occasional "playtime" helps hold your child's attention by allowing her to control the aquatic creatures, making them shrink or swim. Beloved nursery rhymes and supplemental music, puzzle and math games promote fine motor skills and make this a must-have for your app library.
- Intro to Letters; Montessorium ($4.99; ages 2-4) Teach letters and shapes with this interactive introduction to the alphabet for early readers. The "trace feature" lets little fingers trace letters while simultaneously hearing the sound the letter makes, creating a multi-sensory learning experience to reinforce beginning reading concepts. The lack of pop-ups and sound effects helps to avoid over-stimulation, while the large, clear letters make this app suitable for smaller smartphone screens. Great for learning on the go!
- ABC Go and ABC Wildlife! ($1.99 each; ages 3-4) Both of these apps use letters, sound effects and kid-friendly videos to make the alphabet come to life with the touch of a finger. Similar to traditional ABC books, each alphabet page has a wild animal (in Wildlife!) or a transportation object (in Go) beginning with each letter. Tap the image to hear a lion roar or see an airplane jet across the sky. Little animated explorers help your child spell out the full word, reinforcing letter and sight word recognition.
- ABC PocketPhonics ($2.99; ages 3-4) Going beyond simple letter recognition, this app features letters that are sounded out to create a tool for whole word recognition. PocketPhonics, has a trace feature complete with a choice writing styles to trace with. Tracing lets your little learner begin honing the skills necessary to write. Animated pencils pop up and cheer when a correct answer is given—positive reinforcement that encourages frequent use. Grab the "lite" version for free, or shell out for the full version, and watch as your child begins building her reading skills by sounding out full words.
- FirstWords: Animals ($1.99; ages 2-4) Take a virtual trip to the zoo with this adorable app! Boasting bright colors and large enough graphics for tiny fingers to interact with, these fun games will help your preschooler hone fine motor, spelling, and speaking skills. A drag-and-drop feature allows your child to practice spelling simple words—promoting letter and whole word recognition—and when a correct answer's given, her furry friends celebrate with a spin and cheer.
- Dr. Seuss's ABC ($3.99; ages 4-5) One of the best total reading experiences around, Dr. Seuss's ABC is an enhanced, digitally-rich version of the popular book. Touch a picture and see the corresponding word pop up and hear it spoken out loud, or tap individual words to hear them sounded out. The "read to me" feature highlights words as they're read, as repetition is key for beginning readers. This app is a great bridge to beginning eReaders as your kid's reading skills progress.
Many of these early reading apps let children actively learn by touching, changing and interacting with stories and lessons. Kiera Parrott says that this type of multifaceted learning across reading platforms is called 'transliteracy'—an essential skill for a generation of digital natives. Going digital with these reading apps—along with a generous dose of story time with mom and dad—is sure to create a happy, enthusiastic book worm.
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