Monday, April 30, 2012

Learn To Read Video

I got a video of my girls demoing the app.  I think they are really cute, if I do say so myself.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Learn To Read Has New Content

Learn To Read and Learn To Read Lite are updated on Google Play with new content!  Updated versions will be available soon in the Amazon Appstore and Nook Apps(TM).  If you enjoy these apps I would appreciate positive ratings.  Thank you!

Learn To Read is Available on Nook Apps (TM)

Learn To Read is available on Nook Apps (TM).  The lite version will be available soon.

Keeping Up With Evolving Technology

I cut back to working part time when my first daughter was born.  I quit working when my second was born.  It has been three years since I have worked in industry.  I have done a handful of projects in the meantime, but not day in and day out.  Now I'm getting back into the software development world and it is different.  I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around how quickly the technologies change.  How what was new and cutting edge just a few years ago, is old and outdated now.  

Of course there is a thread of commonality that makes learning new languages and new API's relatively easy. Mostly it just takes a bit of research.  But each language and each API has its own quirks, limitations and paradigms.  When you master the idiosyncrasies of a platform and you are proficient, you work faster and more smoothly.  When you are learning, work can be slow and frustrating--especially when you know how to do it in a different language or platform.  You rail, "Why can't this language do it just like that other language that I am familiar with?"  Then you sigh and spend some time with Google.

The web is kind of the wild west.  New products, platforms, API's, and libraries are being published and updated all the time.  I started writing the current app I am working on about two months ago.  Since then there are newer versions of, well, everything.  Not only do I have to get the app to work, hopefully on multiple platforms, but I have to keep integrating new libraries.  New libraries that break code I have already written, but allow me to do things that I couldn't before.  I have to constantly read, and evaluate what the best choices are given the tools and knowledge I have at the moment, knowing that my knowledge and those tools will change soon.  It is a tough juggling act.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Kids Ebooks. The Good and The Bad.

I'm still not completely sold on kids ebooks.  I've downloaded quite a bit of books from various sources and my biggest problems are that the pictures are small, the text is small, the pictures are animated, the formatting is often poor, and they keep on trying to read the book for me.  

Small pictures and small text is an inherent problem and there isn't much that can be done about it.  Books are better, but still not great, on a tablet, though many times all the of the screen isn't being utilized due to formatting.  Either because it was scanned from a book, there is excess navigation on the screen, or it was formatted for a phone instead of a tablet.  I have found that ebook apps, versus ebook files (epub, kindle, etc) or web pages tend to have the best quality.

I'm probably in the minority here, but I don't like the animations, or as my daughter calls them, the "wiggly pictures", either.  I get a bit over-stimulated and it seems like the book starts becoming more of a television show than a book. Especially if the pages are being turned automatically, and the story is being narrated by the device.  However my older daughter seems to prefer it.  We were reading 50 Below Zero on Tumblebooks, a Robert Munsch book that we have read before, and my daughter asked me why the pictures were moving and then said, "That is pretty cool."  I know that lots of people expect some sort of interactivity when purchasing an ebook because I see the negative reviews when an ebook doesn't have it, but I personally prefer an ebook to be without it.

Again I am probably in the minority but I don't really like read-to-me functionality.   I know that you can usually turn it off, but it is often the default, and then my kids won't let me turn it off because they like it better.  I think that it takes away from the social aspect of reading and makes it harder to stop and discuss the pictures or the story.  When a kid pipes up with a question it is hard to answer it because you can't talk over the voice, and by the time you fumble to find the pause button it is on to the next page. The book Mind in the Making has a great chapter about how the social interactions, commentary and discussion that happen while reading, helps children draw connections and makes them better creative thinkers and problem solvers.  

Despite these issues I can see the promise in kids ebooks.  Ebooks overshadow their book counterparts when it comes to the immediacy of being able to obtain them.  Sometimes the books that you have in the house are just getting a bit boring, and it is nice to be able to open up your local library's website and be able to pull up Tumblebooks or Blio and read your kids some new stories.  The read-to-me functionality shines in the instances when you are not able to read to your kids, and you need them to be self-sufficient for a period of time.  Also ebooks are a great avenue for new authors (including myself) and illustrators to distribute their work.

We'll keep on exploring kids ebooks and look forward to them improving in quality, but we'll also maintain our regular trips to the library to stock up on new picture books.

What do you think about ebooks for kids?  Love them, don't like them, indifferent, or waiting for them to improve?  Do you think they could completely replace picture books?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Free MP3 Audio Books For Kids

Browsing the web one day, I discovered that one of my favorite children's book authors, Robert Munsch, offers all his stories, told by him, in mp3 format, for download on his website.  At first I didn't know what I could do with the files, but when we were planning a long road trip I knew they would be perfect for the car.   Both my girls loved them.  Phrases from many of his stories have become part of our every day speech.

For instance we do not call Sharpie markers Sharpies. We call them super-indelible-never-come-off-till-your-dead-maybe-even-later markers, from the book Purple, Green and Yellow.  Whenever we are looking for matching socks we say, "Socks, socks, wonderful socks.  I'm never, ever going to take them off," from Smelly Socks.

The stories are silly and irreverent which makes them so entertaining.  Do you know of any good sources for downloading free children's stories?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Favorite Early Reader Books

My daughter loved listening to early reader books when she was one and two years old.  Now that she is five and getting closer to reading on her own, many of the early readers are boring for her.  However we did find one series that is funny and entertaining.

If you haven't read Mo Willems then I highly recommend you go and pick out some of his books right away.  If you are looking for early reading books his Cat the Cat series is really good.  I like them because the print is nice and large, and easy for young children to focus on.  The verse is repetitive so the reader gets lots of practice, and best of all the story is funny.  My daughter was telling all of our family about the books because she enjoyed them so much.

*Disclosure: This is my own unsolicited opinion freely given.  I was not given anything to write this post, but if you do purchase anything from by clicking on the images above, I will receive a small referral fee.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Six Pre-Literacy Skills That Help Kids Learn How To Read

Learning how to read is kind of mysterious.  There are certain rules and heuristics you can learn and follow, but there are so many exceptions that it almost seems like magic when the brain clicks and is actually able to read.  The question many parents have is, "Is my child ready to read?"  Learning requires a person to have a set of fundamental skills and then new skills are scaffolded from the existing ones.  By knowing the signs of pre-literacy you can avoid frustration, by not starting formal instruction until your child is ready.

Six Pre-Literacy Signs

1. Phonological Awareness - Perhaps the most important skill of all, is for a pre-reader to be able to hear sounds.  When a child has phonological awareness they  understand what words sound the same, and what words sound different.  They can figure out how many syllables a word has, and identify the discrete sounds in the word.  If you say the sounds "k" "aa" "t", do they recognize that those are the sounds that make the word cat?
  • Rhymes, tongue twisters, and songs are all the ways children learn to hear the sounds of words.  
2. Vocabulary - Having a large vocabulary makes reading comprehension easier.  If a large pool of words is already understood then divining context from a text is easier.  
  • Use a wide variety of vocabulary around your child.  When they hear new words sometimes they will be able to figure out the meaning the word on their own, or they may ask you what a word means.  Either way, they are practicing skills in comprehension.
  • Read lots of books.  It is often overlooked, but many picture books have robust vocabulary in them.  Non-fiction books are great for learning new jargon specific to a topic. 
3. Writing - Reading and writing go hand in hand.  Physical movement makes stronger connections in the brain. By teaching reading through writing the child can more easily associates the connections between the alphabet, the sounds, and the meaning.  
  • Write letters.  My kids love to write letters and draw pictures for their grandmas.  Filling the envelope and putting the stamp on is part of the experience.
  • Write lists.  Grocery lists, to-do lists, daily schedule, etc.  
  • When I help my children write, sometimes I make dashed versions of letters for them to trace, and sometimes I dictate the letters to them.
4. Print Awareness - Stories and information are conveyed via words, and words are made up of letters.  Words are read from left to right, and from top to bottom.  You open a book from left to right and turn pages.  These are all things that children usually figure out when they are around books.  When your child starts asking you, "What does that say?"  you know they have print awareness.
  • Read lots of books.  Occasionally point to the words while you are reading.
  • Read and point out signs.  I especially like pointing out signs to my kids when they are doing something they aren't supposed to.  I will point to the sign and tell them it says, "No climbing."  The sign carries authority. :) 
5. Alphabet Knowledge - This is the skill most everyone focuses on. To learn how to read a child should know the alphabet and what sounds each letter makes. Some people think you should teach the child the sounds first and simply call each letter by its sound instead of its name. Either way, eventually they will need to know the sounds of the letters.  
  • Alphabet books.  Both my children learned the alphabet simply by reading them alphabet books.  The children's section at the library is filled with alphabet books and thus we ended up read a lot of them.  As they got older I would make up stories by going through the alphabet book and incorporating all the pictures into my story.

6.  Talking About Reading - You know your child is ready to read, if they talk about wanting to be able to read, are asking you for help, or are trying to sound out words.  Some children teach themselves to read because they are motivated by immediate access to information important to them. 

Children usually have a strong basis in all these skills by the time they are six or seven.  With these skills mastered, figuring out how to read should be not too hard, but not too easy--a fun challenge your child can confidently tackle.

For more info:
Emergent Literacy from Not Just Cute
PBS Literacy Development Guidelines
Ready Readers - Six Core Skills