Last week, Lynne of Lily's Quilts was asking on Twitter for recommendations for educational apps and it occurred to me then that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing to take a rare deviation from incessant sewing talk to tell you a little more about the ones made by my husband, and in a less instrumental way, by me too. It will soon be a year since my husband took a massive leap and gave up his job of nearly ten years as the Director of a web design agency and came to work here at home, with me, creating educational apps for iPhones and iPads. I haven't really written about them on my blog as I'd worried that it could look like biased promotion, but in this first year his work has received praise in The Telegraph, The Observer, The Guardian and on BBC radio, so although my views are indeed entirely biased, I think they also coincide with a positive view held by those more objective, which I hope validates them in some way!
Several years ago, when my husband's job shifted from being one where he was involved in the hands-on programming aspect of web design and game programming, to one where he was managing people, he began designing an iPhone app in the evenings purely to keep his brain active by learning a new programming language and to help our daughter, who at that time was beginning to learn her times tables. He had always taken a home-made approach to their education - when our little boy struggled to learn to spell, he made Star Wars Top Trumps featuring basic words that needed to be read in order to win the game - and using technology just seemed a natural step for him, rather than one that we made a conscious decision about.
We noticed that both our children loved collecting things, so my husband designed a set of characters that could be earned, each with a their own idiosyncratic list of likes and dislikes, that once won through answering times tables correctly, were then displayed in a gallery. He told me he needed a collective name for the group of characters and I suggested Squeebles. It's this collection of characters, Squeebles, that are now featured in all of his games.
Our children come from opposite ends of the spectrum: while most things have come with relative ease to our daughter, our son's dyslexia has meant his achievements are harder-won, so when my husband has designed games he does it with an awareness of meeting the needs of children with very diverse abilities: gently stretching a more able child, whilst providing enough frequent reward to encourage those who struggle with learning.
The games cover Times Tables; Addition and Subtraction; Fractions; Division; and Spelling, and the game play for each is different. In some apps turns can be won on games racing 'Squeeblecarts' through answering questions correctly, while in others children win new toppings, fillings and various flavours of sponge with each turn in order to make an amazing array of cakes that can be put before a panel of Squeebles for judging in a cake show (this is my favourite, obviously).
In my husband's apps he has attempted to create a compelling reason to return to the learning element, rather than simply playing with the rewards already earned; he's created multi-aptitude games so that children come away feeling positive about what they've achieved, rather than demoralised over what they couldn't do; he's also tried to create apps where parents don't feel divorced from their children's learning.
Neither of us feel comfortable with the idea of plugging a child into a device and handing education over to an inanimate object. So while in some apps you can access your child's learning stats and see which aspects they've struggled with, in others, such as the spelling app, it really is an extension of yourself. The spellings app is completely customisable: you type in the words you want your child to learn; you record the words in your own voice (with room to explain the meaning of the word vocally if you wish) and there's even a place to record your own congratulations or reward message that can be played on their successful completion of a spelling test (on top of all this, children also win turns on a game by spelling words correctly).
|Runner-up competition entry by Poppy, aged 6|
Several years ago our children lived in something of a technology vacuum. When they were small the tiny playroom in the house where they were born was filled with wooden toys and as they grew we made an active decision that we didn't want them to use hand-held consoles or to play on the computer (aside from when my husband programmed games from scratch with them where they hand-drew and voiced all the characters). However, when they went to school, after a few years we realised our aversion to child-technology meant that in laptop lessons they were far less computer savvy than any of their peers. Why does it matter? I said, I don't want them to use a computer. But actually, it did matter. Today's world is so technology-based, that the ability to use it confidently is now as essential as many other elements of the curriculum and my overly-wholesome approach was meaning they felt anxious and out of their depth in laptop lessons. It's taken a while to find a way of using technology with them that doesn't feel like a compromise of the initial values we set out with, but happily, my husband's games are a big part of that solution.
If the games seem like they may be of any interest to you and your children, you can find them in the app store by searching for 'Squeebles'. Prices start at 69p/$0.99.
Let me know if this kind of thing is of interest to you, and if it is then I'll write a post about some of our favourite magazines, books and other resources (not designed by my husband!).