What is it?
Talking Fingers, Inc creates educational resources with the philosophy that when children are writing and reading, they are talking with their fingers by associated sounds with written letters and words. Their premise is that “text is speech made visible,” so they have created products that help children “see” the sounds and letters.
The Talking Shapes iPad App was created to help children turn the words and sounds they say into words so they can associate written letters and words with speech. The app tells the story of two girls who decided to create an alphabet so they could write down stories. They tell stories with each letter, pairing the letters with a picture that begins with that letter sound and represents the shape of the letter. The app also contains games for children to practice writing each letter, choosing the correct sound to spell a word, and choosing the correct word to complete a sentence.
There are 3 sections within the app:
- Read to Me
- Draw Letters
- Play Game
Each section contains three separate books. Each book has a different story and focuses on a few letters. Within these stories, there are around 4 focus words that use the letters introduced in that story.
In the Read to Me section, the stories of the letters are read to the child. There are pictures to show the shapes of the words.
In the Draw Letters section, the child is given the chance to say the words and trace the letters on the pictures.
The Play Game section contains 3 separate games for each book – Find the Shapes, Find the Letters, Draw the Letters.
- Game 1 – Find the Shapes – In this game, a word is read and the child must choose the correct picture letter shape to correspond to the word. You then drag the correct letter shape to the box and spell the word. The next half of the game is a couple of sentences that use the focus words. The sentences are read to the child and then one of the words disappears and a blank appears. Balloons float by with different words on them and the child must touch the correct one to fill in that blank. In later lessons different objects are used instead of balloons (such as flying chickens) but the premise of the game is still the same.
- Game 2 – Find the Letters – This game is just like the first game except that the letter shapes are not shown – only the letters with no picture behind them. The child must choose the correct letters to spell words. The following activity is the balloon activity with the same sentences.
- Game 3 – Draw the Letters – This game is also the same as the first two, except that the picture shape is shown (with no letter traced on it). The child chooses the correct letter shape and then traces the letter onto the shape. Once this section is mastered the child completes the balloon activity with the same sentences.
This product is designed for children in Kindergarten or in PreK.
How did we use it?
I had planned to use this app for both Bee and Ladybug. Bee is PreK but she does already know all her letters and most of her letter sounds. She is beginning to sound out short CVC words so I felt she would be able to use all the levels of the app.
I thought it might be a good app for Ladybug to try (with some help) so that she could begin to recognize more letters and start hearing letter sounds.
Bee used the app independently several times a week while Ladybug played with a few features of the app as long as I or an older sibling was nearby to help her when she got stuck.
What did we think?
The illustrations are very cute and colorful and my kids enjoyed the pictures within the app. Bee found the little extras (the volcano that burps, the goose that lays eggs) to be very fun.
The app reads the stories to the child so reading is not required. Bee was able to work by herself because the app provided enough reading help and instruction for her to understand what to do.
There are three “books” within the program. Each book introduces only a few letters and sounds. The books act somewhat like “levels” so the child can work within each book until the sounds and words are mastered before moving on to a new level. I enjoyed that Bee could work through the levels while Ladybug could stay within the first level. This kept Ladybug from being frustrated and allowed Bee to move ahead so she could be challenged.
The stories were a little on the long side for Ladybug’s attention span. She was ready to move through the stories to play the games. I also found that the stories that went along with the letters were not overly helpful for remembering the word or letter shape. Some aspects of the story were a little over the heads of my girls. I also found that some of the letter shapes associated with the pictures were a bit of a stretch. I had a hard time seeing how the tree looked like the letter “T.” It looked more like it should be the letter “A.” So, I’m not sure these stories and pictures were actually helpful in remembering the letter shape or letter formation.
It was difficult for my children to know when to progress to the next screen. While there is a small “next” arrow at the bottom right of the screen, it does not blink or flash to indicate when it is time to continue. Sometimes my girls would just sit watching the same screen, waiting for something new to happen before they realized that they needed to move forward. If you try to move forward before a screen is finished, the arrow will turn red and make a beeping noise. This feature did help Ladybug know when she pressed the arrow too soon. It would have been helpful for my girls to have more direction in knowing when to progress to a new screen.
In the Draw Letters section the child is supposed to say the words that are spoken. The app gives the explicit instruction, “Say Acrobat” or “Say Fox!” I had a difficult time getting this feature to work. It did not work consistently and often did not recognize my girls’ voices when they tried to repeat a word. Sometimes it did not recognize my voice. This was very frustrating for all of us.
Also, in this section the girls should have been able to draw the letter by tracing the letter shape on the picture. This did not always work for us. This section of the app seemed to be having problems. If you did not repeat the word, it would not allow you to trace the letter. I’m hoping that with an update the bugs in this section of the app can be fixed.
The Draw Letters section repeated parts of the stories in reinforcing the letters. My girls did not want to hear parts of the story again after just hearing them in the Read to Me section so they often wanted to skip this part of the app entirely.
The games section was probably the favorite part at our house. The girls enjoyed trying to play the games and earn the golden eggs laid by different animals. Once you earned 4 golden eggs you mastered the game and moved to the next section.
Each game had two parts – the spelling activity and then the balloon activity. My girls did not enjoy that the balloon activity was the same within each game. They did not want to play it after each spelling game. They also found this game more confusing. The entire group of sentences is read and then the first line is read and then the word that the child is supposed to find is read. It sounded like this: “A fat cat sat on a hat. Splat! Splat! That hat is flat!…..A fat cat…..Fat.” There are no instructions on what to do and the words are all read so quickly. My girls were lost until I showed them how the game worked several times. It was difficult for them to determine what word they were searching for because they had just heard several words all in a row.
The app does not repeat instructions. If you are unsure of which word you are looking for in the balloon game, the app does not say the word again. So, even a child is watching balloons go by and has not chosen one for quite some time, no help is given. There is a small question mark at the top of the screen which gives the instructions if you click on it. However, the instructions are only written and not read to the child. So, if a child cannot read (and this app is geared for pre-readers) than this feature is useless to them.
My wrap up!
While this app is a very neat idea of associating pictures with sounds to help kids remember words and letters, it had a few shortcomings that made it confusing for my girls. They loved the pictures and some of the cute animals and sound affects. However, the stories were long and somewhat confusing for a young child. They didn’t hold their interest well.
The Draw Letters section was very repetitive and the features often did not work properly. This really frustrated my little people. Also, the game section was also very repetitive and did not contain enough instruction.
Overall, I think this app is colorful with cute graphics; however, I feel it needs a few features to make navigation easier for its young audience so they can know when to progress to a new screen, have better help understanding instructions, and words and sounds can be repeated frequently if they have not yet selected an answer. I did appreciate the phonics-based approach of sounding out words and slowly introducing letter sounds.
The Talking Shapes app is available for purchase at the app store in iTunes for $5.99.
You can find Talking Fingers, Inc on Facebook and on YouTube!