Being able to read and write are fundamental skills - of course, you’re doing one of them right now.
There are many good toys and apps which support literacy, and play is an ideal way to engage children in effective learning.
One of the first barriers of learning to read is getting children interested in books in the first place. For babies and toddlers, books they can just play with or even chew are perfect. As they get older, buttons to press, sounds, textures to touch, flaps to lift, etc. help keep their attention during story time.
Apps open up whole new opportunities, as they can include animations, games and interactive features to bring the story to life. Many apps are intended for children to use on their own, so it’s important to highlight whether they are meant to be read by a parent. For children under about six years-old, it is important that there is an option for the story to be narrated (with a clear and exciting voice) so they can hear the story without needing an adult. It’s also best if the text is highlighted as it is read, meaning children can learn to recognise the printed word being spoken.
For older children, adding an element of creativity – where they can create their own story or change elements of an existing one – can be very appealing too.
Children love a bit of competition, so card or board games involving letters or spelling can be a great way to get them practising without even realising. The level of ability needs to match the target age – a spelling game that requires a five year-old to spell onomatopoeia will only put them off!
For a UK audience, try looking at the national curriculum guidelines for information on the words children will be learning at each age. If you are developing a game for children between reception and year two, it’s worth thinking about the sight words (words children learn to read by sight, rather than sounding out) they will be covering.
It’s also good to have a game that can be easily adapted to suit a child’s ability, both now and to encourage progression (e.g. allowing free use of letters or letter tiles).
Reading printables to help your child learn the high frequency words (key words).
At around four years-old children will be learning phonics (the sounds linked to letters or letter groups), so they can decode unfamiliar words by sounding out the word bit by bit.
You can find a guide to the phonics children learn here:
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Toys and apps can reinforce this learning by showing children the letter or letter group, and giving them the sound this makes. For a UK-based audience it’s important that this is in a clear, familiar accent (e.g. not American English). This could be toys with buttons to press, or in an app game where children tap on or match the letters.
Pre-schoolers need to learn to correctly hold a pencil before they can start learning to write. Products that make it easier to progress from using their whole hand to holding with their thumb and finger, can support this.
Practising letter shapes is also important, and different methods can keep this interesting for children. For example, they can trace letter shapes with their finger, use tools to trace an outline, or make the shape out of art materials. Apps can be good for this too, and adding a game element or animations can make it more fun.