Release Date:February 12, 2010
Summary:A flashcard app for kids to learn the alphabet in a fun way through images and voiced pronunciations.
Yesterday, we checked out Pocket Story – The Boy Giant and nurtured our burgeoning skill at reading. But, before we can actually read, we need to learn that cornerstone of language, itself: the alphabet. Before learning to use a language, you must first learn its alphabet, which are the building blocks not only of speech, but of the written form. There are several Alphabet type apps in the iTunes Store, but today we have ABC Shakedown, by i-Itch, a flashcard style app that lets kids sort through all the letters in the English Alphabet, to help familiarize them with those crucial A, B, Cs and X,Y, Zs.
ABC Shakedown, upon first impression, is cute and colorful, with happy, upbeat music sure to grab a young child’s attention. I particularly like the artwork – it’s nothing extraordinary by any means, but it’s youthful in its presentation, each image looking as if it could appear in a regular coloring book, clad in the appropriate Crayola crayon striations and color. Each flashcard shows both the uppercase and lowercase form of a letter, an image representing a word that begins with and showcases the letter, and a volume symbol at the bottom that lets the user hear the pronunciation of the sound. The very first flash card is, of course, the letter A, written as Aa, with a picture of an apple beneath. Tap the letters to hear the letter pronunciation (i.e. long A versus short A, as in “bay“), and tap the image to hear a voice say apple out loud, the A really emphasized. When the user taps the volume symbol, a short A is heard (“aah” as in “cat“), so a child can recognize the different sounds of the letter. Obviously, there are more ways a letter can sound (hello IPA guide), but for the purposes of beginning speech, this is a great way for a child to learn. I can remember learning the more difficult sounds of -ch, -th, and -sh as a kid, accompanied by these funny pictures of mouths contorted in such a way so as to effectively reproduce these sounds.
While most of the images are pretty dead on, a few of the images aren’t nearly as intuitive as the others. For I, the developers chose Itch, along with a drawing of an unfortunate person clad in painful-looking red welts, with a hand itching. I suppose it’s good practice to include words that aren’t concrete objects or animals – the word “itch” is much less tangible and requires more critical thinking than, say, “igloo” and dealing with such abstraction can teach children that letters, and the alphabet, are applicable to other areas. In any case, it’s a way to bring attention to the developer’s name. For X, the developer chose “box” instead of the usual “xylophone,” and this forces the child to examine the last letter of the word, rather than the usual first. The app goes a little beyond most children’s conceptual abilities, though, with the inclusion of “edge” for E, accompanied by the visual aid of an arrow pointing to a table’s edge. This might be a little beyond what most children are capable of recognizing, in the same manner that kids at this age are conceptually incapable of recognizing that a shorter glass contains as much volume as a larger one. It’s just a natural part of development and cognition, so perhaps the app would do better with any number of other, excellent choices, like “eel,” or “elephant.” Another case where the app is just ever so slightly off is with the word J. The picture shows a jar of strawberry jam, where both jar and jam begin with the letter J. Here, it’s good to include an image where two objects within are representative of the letter J (it challenges critical thinking), but the image focuses so heavily on the jam, with all its red, strawberry goodness, that most children would immediately think “jam” for the picture, and not conceive of “jar,” which is the word the app chooses to voice aloud. For more intuitive purposes, the app should have voiced jam to encourage an association between the image and what a child would initially think of. Then, an adult can point out to the child that the jam is within a jar, which also begins with the letter J.
Overall, though, ABC Shakedown is a good flashcard app for kids learning the alphabet to practice on their own. Navigating is easy enough with arrows at the bottom of the screen, or a shake to produce a random card. I’m surprised there isn’t also a flipping gesture to switch flashcards, so that kids can rely both on their gesturing abilities, and their symbol recognition (using the arrow to move forward or backward), because it seems both of these conceptual abilities are nurtured in extra doses today, with our iPhones and all their gesture/symbology technology. Regardless, ABC Shakedown is a cute and educational app that will nurture your child’s letter recognition, conceptualizing, and application.