Category Archives: Fun

Top early literacy apps 2020

Most young children are already using apps on phones or tablets, at least occasionally. Whatever you think of kids’ screen time, we want it to be quality time. There is some evidence that interactive apps support early academic development, but finding quality early literacy apps can be difficult and time-consuming. Lots of what’s available is (IMHO) simply rubbish.

It’s helpful to read adult reviews of apps for children, but a lot of online information is available about them already, and to REALLY road-test an app, I like to watch a young child using it. My colleague Caitlin Stephenson and I have thus filmed Harrison (aged 4, nearly 5) trying out some of my favourite early phonemic awareness and phonics iPad apps for young children.

The resulting video is below. We hope it gives you a taste of how each app works, to help you decide whether it would suit the small person/people in your life. The video is 16 minutes long, and the apps tried are listed below (numbers in brackets are start times on the video clock):

The only tablet I have is an iPad, but some of these apps are available for other platforms. Many also work on iPhones. If you’re not in Australia, please note that my app store links are all to the Australian store, so you’ll have to search your local store for apps that take your fancy.

I’m not quoting prices here because they often change, and things that I’ve said are free suddenly aren’t, while things I’ve said are expensive drop in price. Also, some apps have hundreds of activities, while some have only one/a few, so it’s like comparing apples and banquets. I’ve decided to leave the value-for-money question up to you.

Other early literacy iPad apps IMHO worth considering for young children include:

Beginners’ decodable books allow children to practice phonics skills by reading stories  containing simplified spelling patterns, and some of these are also available as apps:

Apologies to all the people who make good apps of which I’m not aware. I’d love to hear about them, and wish I had more time to search for and try them.

I hope this blog post helps you find apps that the small people in your life enjoy, and which help them develop great early literacy skills.

* Note that I don’t make or sell any of these apps, but if you go to the Phonics Hero website via a link on this website and buy a subscription, I get a small commission. I was recommending this app for about two years before being offered the commission, so thought “why not?” – it helps make maintaining this website more viable, and I don’t recommend the app any more now than I did then.

Free downloadable phonics card game

These days we all have the attention span of a gnat, so here’s a new, 60-second video about a simpler, faster way to play my free Twender word-building card game:

Setup:

  • Download the game from https://www.spelfabet.com.au/materials/level-5-twender-game-comic-sans-font
  • Print the consonant cards in one colour and the vowel cards in a different colour.
  • Ignore the original instructions, or try playing both ways.

Play:

  • Deal the two sets of cards equally.
  • Race to make words with all your cards. The winner is the person who uses all their cards up first, or if nobody can do this, the person who makes the most words.

Happy New Year from all of us at Spelfabet!

Another 12 decks of vowel-focussed playing cards

Just in time for our thank-goodness-winter-is-over school holidays, here’s a dozen more vowel-sound-focussed playing card decks, including two freebies, to download and print.

These decks are a little more advanced than the previous ones available here, here and here. They reflect the teaching sequence used in the Phonic Books Talisman 1/Rescue Series and the Sounds-Write program‘s Extended Code section and books, but can be used with other synthetic phonics teaching sequences and programs.

The decks work from sound to print, and focus on the following sound-spelling relationships:

  • /ay/ as in “mistake”, “contain”, “holiday”, “navy”, “obey” and “great”.
  • /ee/ as in “coffee”, “disease”, “secret”, “carry”, “believe”, “protein” and “compete”.
  • /oe/ as in “remote”, “roast”, “follow”, “hero” and “mangoes”.
  • /er/ as in “swerve”, “circle”, “burnt”, “search” and “worth”.
  • /ou/ as in “aloud” and “trowel”, and /oy/ as in “point” and “destroy”.
  • /oo/ as in “smooth”, “rule”, “true”, “fluid”, “jewel” and “group”.
  • /igh/ as in “delight”, “despite”, “crisis”, “apply” and “allies”.
  • /or/ as in “porch”, “before” and “drawn”.
  • /or/ as in “stall”, “chalk”, “brought”, “daughter”, “author” and “warm” (there were so many spellings of this sound they wouldn’t fit in a single deck).
  • /air/ as in “chair”, “declare”, “bear”, “where” and “their”.
  • /ar/ as in “charm”, “past”, “calm”, “heart” and “aunt”.
  • One deck of high-frequency words with a mixture of the above sound-spelling relationships (not available separately, but included to bring this set up to a dozen decks).

The decks can be downloaded individually (starting from the third item here) or as a discounted bundle of 12. We suggest printing the cards on A4 200gsm cardboard, available from major stationery shops, which can be used in most printers/photocopiers.

If you plan to use the cards a lot, we suggest laminating them, though this is not essential if you’d rather not add to the planetary plastic overload. We recommend that children be encouraged to practise their scissor skills by cutting them up, rounding the corners if a more professional look is sought.

All the decks can be used for any card game requiring a standard deck of cards, from very simple games of chance like War to complex strategic ones like Mancala.  See this previous blog post for videos of other suggested games.

We hope these cards give many children many hours of well-targeted, high-intensity repeated reading practice, cleverly disguised as fun. Thanks once again to Caitlin Stephenson for the original idea and design.

New and improved phonics playing cards

There’s a new set of downloadable phonics playing cards in the Spelfabet shop, including a couple of free decks. These add a few new sound-spelling relationships and syllable types as well as mixing and reviewing patterns covered earlier. Spaced practice, people.

The sequence broadly matches the Phonic Books (last bit of Magic Belt/That Dog, and most of Alba/Totem) and Sounds-Write teaching sequence, but the cards should be able to be used with most other phonics teaching sequences. All four of us at Spelfabet have done some work on these, after Caitlin Stephenson had the original idea.

Use these cards to play any of the games shown in videos in this previous blog post, or any other game you like requiring a standard deck of playing cards. Continue reading

We need GOOD practice, not common practice

I wrote an opinion piece in The Age newspaper this week called “Premiers’ Reading Challenge no fun for kids who can’t read“, arguing we need to close the gap between research and practice in early literacy education, so more kids can enjoy, not dread, the Premiers’ Reading Challenge.

I hope it’s helped put another nail in the coffin of common, but extremely poor, literacy-teaching practices like rote wordlist-memorisation (the “magic words” etc) without regard to their structure, incidental-not-systematic phonics, and encouraging kids to guess words from first letter, sentence structure and context/pictures.

I hope it also helps kill off the idea that reading is natural, and replace educational blah-blah about reader identity and teacher literacy philosophy with more interesting discussions about what science tells us about how to best teach reading.

I’m sorry they didn’t include my link to Emily Hanford’s great “Hard Words: why aren’t kids being taught to read” audio documentary, but otherwise happy with it, especially the mention of David Kilpatrick’s seminar on 19 August at Melbourne Town Hall (have you signed up yet? He will also speak in Perth and Cairns, and Sydney and Adelaide, but they’re booked out).

Of course letters to the editor appeared the next day disagreeing with me. People who agree with something they read in the paper don’t generally rush to write to the editor. Editors don’t usually give a right of reply to these letters, so I’m giving myself one here. Continue reading

Introducing Clever Caitlin’s phonics playing cards

This year I have some excellent new colleagues, and one of them, Caitlin Stephenson, is queen of making therapy fun for kids.

She grew up playing cards with abundant siblings, and came up with the idea of phonics playing cards.

For an affordable, fun, social, portable phonics activity that can be tailored to a range of ages and abilities, they’re hard to beat.

Caitlin and I have so far collaborated to create over 50 decks of downloadable phonics playing cards, and so far I’ve put 30 of them in the Spelfabet shop. (April 2020 update: there are now 57 decks in the shop, I’m about to add another dozen, and there are still a few more to come). Continue reading

New word-building card games

I’ve been faffing around for ages trying to improve on my old word-building card games, and finally have a new set of three decks of download-and-print cards I’m happy with.

These games are intended to provide practice blending and manipulating sounds in one-syllable words, and learning their spellings.

The basic games are lot simpler, and young children can play them more successfully, as the less-common spellings are now in the harder games. The colour scheme has been revised thanks to feedback from people with red-green colour-blindness (oops, sorry).

The basic “short” vowels game can be used by six-year-olds who know the alphabet and a few consonant digraphs. Two players or teams each build five words using the five vowel cards, then change each other’s words into new words. Here’s how to play it:

Continue reading