iPads in Education – How you & your iPad can volunteer together in your child’s classroom, Part 2

| February 14, 2012 | 8 Comments

Earlier this school year I began volunteering in my child’s Kindergarten class with my two iPads and a suite of apps that focused on early literacy skills. Now half way through the school year, I’ve discovered more about engaging kids with learning apps. You can read my first post, “iPads in Education – How you & your iPad can volunteer together in your child’s classroom” here: http://digitalmediadiet.com/?p=916.

Assessment Tool for Early Literacy Skills

A free assessment tool that will impress most early childhood educators …

I’ve been very impressed by how even the most basic assessments in these apps can help teachers (and volunteers) tailor educational efforts to meet students needs in a more individual way.

So far, the most useful role I’ve had is helping the teacher assess students (taken together with the assessments she had been doing as a school requirement) to detect which kids need extra help or need to be challenged more. Identifying the kids on either end of the skill spectrum for early literacy allows the teacher to tailor some individual instruction for these kids and decide which kids should spend longer sessions with the iPads. As a volunteer, these assessments, provided by the Smarty Pants School app in particular, have been very helpful in picking other apps for each student (see below for a link to the full app). At the end of this post I will also list the other apps I have found most useful.

Smarty Pants School

If you had only one app for early literacy, this is the one!

A few children seemed satisfied with just the lessons launched by the Smarty Pants School app, but most of them got restless after 10-20 minutes with the same program. This meant that I needed a whole suite of apps, focusing on a range of skills from pre-K to 2nd grade skill level for reading. Engaging the kids with the lowest and highest skill levels was the biggest issue I’ve encountered so far. There are a lot of apps out there, but finding the right ones was a challenge.

When I mentioned this to the teacher, she said this was also the struggle Kindergarten teachers have with regular lesson planning for a typical class. The kids in the middle of the bell-curve for literacy skills were the easiest to engage and pick apps for … the apps are often even labeled by grade level, making them easy to select. Finding the right app for those kids trying to catch up to their classmates and those needing additional challenge was more time consuming and involved a bit more trial and error on my part.

Yet, the extra lessons I could provide with iPad apps to these kids seemed like the most valuable role for me as a volunteer and for the iPad itself as a tool in the classroom. The assessment lists skills that a child has mastered with stars and then a percentage from 0-100 if they are still working on this area of learning.

A sample of Smarty Pants Assessment Tool

A sample of Smarty Pants Assessment Tool

This example is from my child taking the assessment over several months time. Overall I found that kids needed a variety of engaging apps to teach each skill they were working on, from beginning word sounds, to consonant blends. I found many apps that would work on each of these skills, but the more polished and game-like apps were the biggest hits with the kids themselves.

As a result, certain apps stood out as essential for my folder of 20 that I set up each week before coming to class. Below you will find each of the apps I have found useful and a brief description. Click on the image to get more information or to download from iTunes.


Your essential literacy ‘toolbox’ for the classroom:

Smarty Pants School [Includes assessment tool, iPad only.]

TeachMe Series (iOS Universal Apps):

TeachMe: Toddler

TeachMe: Kindergarten

TeachMe: 1st Grade

TeachMe: 2nd Grade NEW!

[Note: The “TeachMe” app series is not only exceptional but is also compatible with either iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch … each app is also priced very reasonably at only $0.99, making these the 1st choice for both parents & educators. See their website for more info: 24×7 Digital]

Additional apps for basic literacy:

Alien Buddies


Alien Buddies from ArtGig Apps … a comprehensive app for learning both letter identification and basic phonetics. Designed in a way that is very appealing to young learners, this app has been the most requested by the Kindergartner’s in my child’s class. iOS Universal



Noodle Words App

Great for visual learners, active words show their meaning …


Noodle Words is an awesome little app, containing 18 words with ‘active’ meanings that the ‘noodle bugs’ demonstrate. A very engaging app that young learners can’t resist. Allows for free-form play to explore each word’s meaning. iPad Only. Created by Kwiq Apps and NoodleWorks



Lakeshore Sound Sorter

The Lakeshore early learning company has almost 60 years experience with designing early literacy aids. Their digital line-up includes several great apps like “Letter of the Day” and “Phonics Tic-Tac-Toe“. Interactive ‘Sound Sorting‘ for Beginning Sounds was the most popular with the kids in my child’s class. All three are iOS Universal



Screen Shot of 123 Color


This is a phenomenal app, full of content in the form of coloring pages. Each drawing page has a very small letter or number that corresponds to a color. When the child selects the right color that matches the letter or number, the color fills in, eventually completing the picture and playing a tune. Great for basic letter & number reinforcement and a big hit with the Kindergartners. Great for kids ages 3-6! From KidCalc.




AlphaBooks Letter Buddies


From Digital-Storytime’s review: Letter Buddies AlphaBooks is a packed app that is really more like 24 little books rolled into one. Each letter is illustrated with cute feet, hands & happy faces. They also have a personality trait assigned to them, like Chatty C and Furry F. The illustrations, combined with high quality photographs make for an alphabet app that stands out in an otherwise crowded market. It is also well-designed with educational goals in mind. Created by Cavallo Media.



To challenge skill levels beyond Kindergarten/1st Grade:

The digital transformation of these titles is really amazing for children learning to read. The ‘book’ itself is more of a hybrid book/educational game. There are 12 pages with short statements using simple words. These sentences are a bit longer than in Book #1, with things like, “Ben got the egg from the hen.” The images are at first just black and white line drawings. Tap on each word and the letters for that word appear like little game tiles.


1st Words Deluxe

This app has great settings that let you control the level of difficulty for the child – either with lots of hints or almost none at all. The letters slide nicely into each word and when completed the child is rewarded by having the pictured animal enlarge and animate briefly. The words and letters are spoken aloud at the beginning of each page and anytime the animal is tapped or letters are slid around. From Learning Touch


Montessori Crosswords


The most engaging app for challenging kids who are already beginning to read, this app is customizable to focus on a specific skill and includes an enormous amount of content that kept the kids with the highest skill level from getting bored – an important factor in app selection.



Word Wizard



The newest app from L’Escapadou, this one is great for testing/learning spelling and sight words, but also has a great template for creating creative writing sentences or individual words. Fun to explore, but even better for 1-1 work with a young learner.


Rocket Speller


A great app configurable for multiple levels, reinforcing basic spelling and sight words. Set up the app to give hints for all letters or none at all, depending on child’s skill level. Free, iOS Univesal App. From Little Big Thinkers.



Kids Crosswords by Learning Touch


This new app from Learning Touch has an enormous amount of sight word content, with 10 increasing levels of difficulty that will follow children from pre-school to 2nd grade. From simple sight words to levels with no hints and extra letters.


If you have any questions about these apps or my experience volunteering with iPads in my child’s classroom, please leave a comment below or email Carisa Kluver at: digital.storytime@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!

Category: All About Apps, iPads in Education, Our House

About the Author ()

Carisa Kluver is the the editor of Digital-Storytime.com, an iPad children's book review site. She has a BA in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and an MSW from the University of Washington. Before starting this project, she was a school counselor, health educator and researcher in child & maternal health.