The boys attend a multi-activity respite session on Thursday evenings. It’s at the Geneva Centre for Autism which is a long way from our home (about a 60-90 minute journey on public transit involving two subway lines and a streetcar ride!) but it’s 1 on 1 time at a centre where the staff have a lot of expertise in working with ASD kids and the boys certainly seem to enjoy it. Last week we left the centre to walk to the subway station and given the time of year it was already dark. As many of you know Oliver is echolalic and his delayed echolalia usually expresses itself in lines from books, dialogue from television shows or things mentioned in apps. As we were walking along he noticed the moon and said “It’s the Night Giant!” Given that this was actually context-appropriate and not scripted from the app he was referring to (Backyard at Twilight) I’m counting this as a communication success!
It reminded me that I had wanted to write for some time a review of the Stella and Sam Story Pack app by zinc Roe. I bought this app during the recent A4CWSN app party weekend when the price of the app was reduced and 50% of sale proceeds were donated to the Beverley School in Toronto. The Story Pack normally costs C$6.99 and consists of four Stella and Sam apps that are also sold separately: Into the Snow We Go, Rainy Days and Rainbows, Backyard at Twilight and Go-There-Square.
These iPad-only apps can be enjoyed in both English and French. All four apps follow the same basic structure: Stella and Sam have a little adventure which is broken up by three games within each app. These games are simple ones and are therefore best suited to young first-users or older special needs children. There is one app for each season – Into the Snow We Go finds our dynamic duo looking for their toboggan and the three activities within the app involve matching, building a snowman and finding objects under the snow. Rainy Days and Rainbows is the fall adventure and the three activities are foot/hand painting, finding objects under leaves and guiding a pine cone across Puddle Lake. Backyard at Twilight has the siblings camping in the backyard and the games involve finding bugs with a flashlight, making shapes with fireflies and connecting the dots (stars) to make pictures. Go-There-Square has Stella and Sam exploring a springtime meadow, running up a hill and enjoying a picnic by Puddle Lake. The three activities in this app are “catching” dandelion seeds, popping bubbles and building a bridge of flowers across Puddle Lake.
The animation is gorgeous.
The only voices used are Stella and Sam’s and the same voices are used in both the activities and the stories. I love it when kid’s voices are used in children’s apps!
The sound is great - for example, in Go-There-Square, Stella blows bubbles from the top of the hill which leads into the activity shown in the screenshot below. Popping the bubbles (aided occasionally by a butterfly as you can see) results in really lovely sounds and having the kids comment saying “bubbles sound funny when they pop” or “that sounded wonderful” is both cute and reinforcing.
The activities are ideal for very young first-users or special needs children because they focus on simple skills and concepts. For example, the bubble-popping activity above utilizes simple cause and effect and in both the snow and leaf activities items are uncovered by just rubbing your finger across the screen. The drag and drop activities are great for those with fine motor challenges – examples of this include the matching game in Into the Snow We Go:
…and building a bridge for the ants to cross Puddle Lake in Go-There-Square:
The use of visual prompts. You can see this in the flower bridge activity but its best used in Backyard at Twilight in the connect the dots (stars) game. In most connect the dots games the dots are numbered. Oliver knows his numbers from 1 to 10 but he still has trouble connecting dots in numerical order and usually gets frustrated with this type of activity quite quickly. However, he took to this game straight away and I think its because of the visual prompts. As you can hopefully see, the star you need to connect to next glows brighter than the rest. Oliver found this activity very intuitive and plays it often.
Stella and Sam seem to be almost acting as visual models for behaviour and play activities because Oliver can mimic the things they do in these apps that he hasn’t learned from watching people. I’m not sure if its because the app includes both passive components that he’s just watching and active components where he’s doing things that Stella and Sam are commenting on, but Oliver has done things as a result of this app that I found pretty impressive. For this reason I love that the “adventures” Stella and Sam are having involve everyday creative play and that the games within the apps are context-appropriate. For example, I haven’t been able to get Oliver interested in kicking fallen leaves but recently he has started doing it and asking whether there are things that might be hidden under the leaves. I have also never been able to get him interested in throwing things in water (playing Pooh Sticks for example) but in High Park last week he grabbed a pine cone and threw it in the water saying “Go pine cone!” I know he got both of these play ideas from this app.
From my perspective there is one huge thing missing from these apps and that is labelling, both visual and aural. If that were added to these apps then I think they may be perfect – it would be amazing if this could be incorporated in a future update
Let me give you a few examples of where labelling is quite striking by its absence. As mentioned, I love the visual prompting in the connect the dots (stars) game and the little comments from the kids are adorable (“I think its an animal!”) but when the dots are all connected and the underlying picture is revealed, nothing happens in terms of labelling. Given that these activities seem focused on very young children I’m fairly certain that the kids playing the app may not know the picture below is of a deer and even if they do they probably don’t know how to spell ‘deer’. When the child touches any object in these interactive games in my opinion the object should be labelled and ideally the label would be both heard and seen on the screen.
In Backyard at Twilight there is a game that requires you to ‘catch’ fireflies that is good for hand-eye co-ordination. Once ‘caught’ (touched), the fireflies move into a stationary position. This game could be great for teaching shapes if only the shapes were named!
Oliver is starting to get into art apps – he likes ‘real’ arts and crafts but until recently he has struggled to see the point of creating anything on the iPad. Both boys like to uncover items though and there are two activities in this app that let you do this by just wiping your finger across the screen. I think a real opportunity is missed however, by not labelling the objects that are uncovered.
All-in-all, these are very cute apps that Oliver goes back to frequently, but if labelling were incorporated they would be great apps and in my opinion this would also make them much better value for money.
If you would like to buy the Story Pack app, here’s the link to it in iTunes: http://bit.ly/mOwkI5 Using this link will result in 5% of the sale proceeds being donated to A4CWSN, an organization that provides iOS tech and apps to children with special needs. If you would like to try one of the Stella and Sam apps for free I have four copies of Go-There-Square to give away! In order to enter the giveaway:
1. Comment on this blog post and confirm how I should contact you if you win a copy of the app.
For additional entries:
2. ‘Like’ zinc Roe’s Facebook page and tell them that I sent you. http://www.facebook.com/zincroegames
3. ‘Like’ my blog’s Facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Small-But-Kinda-Mighty/265221686839625
I will announce the four winners on Monday, October 31st. Good luck!