I have spent the last 7 years specialising in reviewing or supporting those developing children’s apps, particularly those that promote learning. At this very difficult time for all of us, I am putting together a few posts that provide some ideas of apps, online platforms and other resources that might help those who suddenly find themselves homeschooling their kids (whilst trying to work themselves).
This article focuses on suggestions that will support primary school children with English as well as pre-schoolers with early literacy, reading and writing skills. See also my guide for Maths for Primary and Pre-school ages and more coming soon.
I also encourage you to read this recent article by the Guardian in which teachers makes some very important points.
Primary School English
Night Zookeeper: I highly recommend Night Zookeeper, in fact, if your child is Year 2 or higher and you were only to subscribe to one paid service during the COVID-19 crisis I would suggest this one. This is a UK creation so the language and curriculum are particularly good for UK households. It is primarily a service to encourage Creative Writing but does far more than that. Children get to create their own digital drawings of animals for the night zoo and are encouraged to write in a way cleverly designed to develop their writing skills. Qualified tutors mark the work they submit providing comments to stretch and encourage the children. There are also learning games and a fun reward game to keep children engaged, as well as offline activities (currently free) to ensure it is not all screen time. Children can ‘friend’ each other using their anonymous usernames if they want to read and send encouraging comments to each other too. Furthermore, the Night Times provides a means for international recognition for great work. There are even 4 physical books, a card game and a Sky TV show to enjoy within the brand. There is a free 7-day trial before you have to pay for anything.
Puku – learn new words
Puku: Puku is a new app released in 2019 by Merriam-Webster, designed to develop a child’s vocabulary. It combines a range of quiz-style games to help children learn to recognise and understand word meanings, encouraging engagement via an ever-growing and evolving word worm. I have to admit a little bias as I was involved in its development but it has been commended via a number of sources so it’s not just me that likes it! The basic app can be played for free but the subscribed version opens up far more choice in terms of word lists to learn and other features. It’s currently £7.99 for a year.
Reading Eggs: This is a particularly great choice for those early in their learning to read journey, perhaps in Reception / Year 1. It is again made in the UK. The programme is designed to move at the right pace for each individual child, helping them learn in their own time. The combination of phonics activities, language learning games and motivating reward mechanisms works really well to develop children’s reading skills.
As well as Reading Eggs for Key Stage 1, they also have Reading Eggs Junior for pre-schoolers and Reading Eggspress for 7 – 12 year olds (as well as a Maths learning game – Mathseeds).
Teach Your Monster to Read
Teach Your Monster to Read: This is another wonderful option to help your child learn to read, starting from pre-school age. The app combines mini-games for letter recognition, blending, segmenting and learning tricky words, through to reading with purpose. This programme will again allow your child to move at their own pace and keep them entertained while they learn. This is also one of 8 government approved educational apps for language learning for early years (see below).
Nessy (dyslexia friendly)
Nessy: The range of Nessy reading, spelling, writing and typing resources were particularly designed with dyslexic children in mind but work equally well for all children. They currently have a COVID-19 discount in place. If you do have a child struggle with dyslexia or suspected dyslexia I highly recommend Nessy. There resources for backed up by great research and, as a dyslexic myself, I wish this had been around in my day. (For other dyslexia resources see ‘How Apps Can Support Dyslexic Children‘
Approved language learning apps from the Department of Education
The recent Department of Education review of various language learning apps for early years has also particularly highlighted 8 apps is the Hungry Little Minds website: CBeebies Storytime and CBeebies Playtime Island (ages 2-6), Lingumi -Kids’ English (ages 2-6), Kaligo (good for handwriting practice), Teach Your Monster to Read (see above), Navigo (Android only), Phonics Hero, and Fonetti. Some of these are better for Primary and some for Pre-school.
Twinkl: This is a much loved resource for teachers that has very much opened its doors to supporting parents with homeschooling. You will find a huge range of resources to support English learning from ebooks to printable phonics activity sheets to activity suggestions.
Audible are currently providing 100s of their Audiobooks for kids for free to support parents entertaining their children at home. Ultimately, a love of stories is one of the most important drivers of good English skills and academic success more widely, not to mention opening up a pastime they will enjoy for life. Getting children to listen to stories is a great place to start. Perhaps encourage them to write reviews, synopses, diaries from characters, related poems, draw pictures of scenes from the story or get them to write their own short story inspired by what they have heard. You can also test their comprehension and inference skills by asking questions. How about getting the children to create their own quiz (maybe using quizlet if not on paper) and even test you as well as them?
Reading, writing, comprehension
There are endless activities you can set to keep children’s English skills going:
- Reading: encourage your child to read as much as possible, fact, fiction, poems, news (aimed at Children such as First News or The Week Junior), anything you have in the house or any ebooks you can access online. If children are reluctant to read, start with listening to stories and reading to them as much as possible and take time to pick subjects/stories that grab their attention.
- Writing: any opportunity to write is a good idea. A homeschooling diary, letters to relatives or for local initiatives to the elderly, poems, comics, creative stories, re-creations of fairy tales or stories you’ve read together. Get them to write stats for their favourite football player or lyrics for their favourite song – whatever captures their attention.
- Comprehension: it’s easy, as an adult, to assume children understand what they hear or read but comprehension is a skill that takes time to build. Ask children questions about the plot, the characters, their feelings, what is inferred rather than stated, what they enjoyed, what they didn’t enjoy about the story. Get them to put on a play of the story (to help show what they have understood) or get them to write their own quiz questions as I previously mentioned or think of some yourself.
- Vocabulary & Spelling: whether you use an app or a paper dictionary, or even games like scrabble, try to help your children extend their vocabulary and practice good spelling.