As a speech therapist doing early intervention with toddlers in their homes, sometimes it's helpful to have a trick or two in my back pocket for those times when attention just can't be held any other way. And so, an iPod has become my newest best friend. But while there are some really wonderful apps available for language-learning toddlers, I have scoured the web looking for recommendations and find them very poor. There are recommendations for toddlers or preschoolers, recommendations for so-called "learning activities" for this age range, but I just don't have the same idea of what constitutes a good learning activity as most people. Yes, there are preschool apps galore for "teaching" colors and shapes and letters and numbers, but most of these I don't honestly find to be all that great, and our speech-delayed little ones need more basic skills than that anyway.
So for any other speech therapists out there looking for app recommendations for their own iPod or iPhone, or for parents of little ones with speech disorders who are looking for something new to use with them, here are my recommendations. Keep in mind that I don't view these apps as something to hand the child and expect them to soak up learning from; the intent is for an adult to sit with the child and use the app as a teaching tool -- but the adult is still the one doing the talking and the teaching!!
1) Peekaboo Barn. ($1.99, lite version free)
I love this one. Absolutely love it. There are many apps with animals and their sounds, and some of those are nice too, but I love that this one makes the child think. An animal is shut up inside the barn. The child listens to the animal sound and guesses which animal it is. Touch the barn and the animal appears. It's great for so many things -- working on simple animal names and sounds, focused listening skills, answering questions ("Who is in the barn?") -- and kids LOVE it and will play again and again. At the end of the paid version, the animals go to sleep, so you can work on simple words and sounds like "Shhh" and "ninight" as well. The only fault I find with this app is that while inside the barn, the animal sounds are very quiet, making the app unusable with our kids with mild hearing loss or even just an ear infection.
2) SmackTalk! ($.99)
Have a quiet little one that you just can't seem to motivate to talk? Try this fun app. Talk into the device and a guinea pig, kitty, or puppy will say it back to you in their own fun modified way! Gets even the quietest toddler yapping away! Note: If you're using an iPod touch, you'll need a microphone.
3) Baby Sign ASL and Signing Time (both are $4.99, but both have free lite versions)
I list these together since they obviously both work on teaching kids to sign, and because I can't choose a favorite. The free versions will be enough to start your kids off, and if you find that they love one or the other and have learned all the signs offered for free, then you know where your money should go. I only wish that Signing Time would add some of their wonderful Baby Signing Time songs to this app!
4) Wheels on the Bus ($.99)
This is a wonderful interactive storybook app, with tons of verses to this popular children's song! When used with an adult, this can be a very language-rich activity with simple words that children can imitate ("poke" the bear; the horn goes "beep beep"; "pop pop pop" the bubbles; "tickle tickle" the bird; etc.) and some great concepts are included too. (Open and shut the doors; make the bus go fast and slow, etc.) The same company also makes Itsy Bitsy Spider and Old MacDonald which you might also want to give a try, but I've found Wheels on the Bus to be the most usable and fun for the kids!
5) Toddler Flashcards -- itot apps ($.99)
There are tons of flashcard apps available, all of interest to kids, but this one is my favorite because the cards are categorized (another great language skill) and they say the words for the child so this is the one app you can turn your child loose with if you must!
6) Make your own!
I don't know how to make my own app, but I do know how to make the music and photo features of the iPod work for me! I have long used and loved the music from Kids Express Train but have been frustrated at the difficulty involved in bringing music into a home, setting it up properly, etc., just to find and play the one song I need to work on a particular skill with a child. Therefore I haven't used the songs nearly as often as I'd like -- but the iPod has changed that. I uploaded my CDs to my iPod and now they are all just a touch away! And even better, a few minutes on Google's image search and I had pictures to go with my favorite songs. For example, do you have a child working on final consonant deletion? Play "Put the Sound on the End" and whip out a folder with pictures of the 15 words practiced in the song. Kids will want to play it -- and practice!! -- again and again. Voila -- your own speech therapy app!
Have some suggestions for me to try out!? Please leave them in the comments section! (Just don't recommend Preschool Adventure/Arcade!! Seems to be everyone's top recommendation, but I'm not impressed. They're okay... just in my opinion, not the wonderful teaching tools everyone else seems to think they are!)