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If You Give A Mouse A Cookie: activities and a review of Special Stories app

 

Edited to add two things:

  • In response to the review the developer has dropped the price of the app from $19.99 to $13.99. I think this places it in the ‘must buy’ category if you have children with special needs or work with them.
  • I also have two copies of the app to giveaway! You can enter via the rafflecopter at the bottom of this page.

Thanks so much to Special iApps for the codes and for being so responsive to feedback.

Special Stories App

Oliver reading If You Give A Mouse A Cookie to Milo. Very meta.

The purpose of this post is two-fold. Firstly, it’s our contribution to this month’s Virtual Book Club for Kids blog hop which for January 2014 is focused on books by Laura Numeroff. Secondly, it’s a review of the app we used as part of our activity – Special Stories by Special iApps.

As our book I chose If You Give A Mouse A Cookie because we already had a copy at home. I thought over all the activities we could do inspired by this book and was having a hard time picking one. Then it dawned on me – Oliver loves to act out stories with his toys and ‘re-tell’ them. If we enacted our own version of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, took pictures and then used the pictures to create a book, it would give Oliver a chance to practice talking about things that we did in the past tense, which he has a lot of trouble with. It would also give us a chance to chat about concepts like cause and effect and sequences.

I decided to use Special Stories as the app that we would use to put the book together for a couple of reasons – it’s simple enough for Oliver to use and the final story can be read in iBooks, just like a ‘real’ book.

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie activities

A page of our story when viewed in iBooks

What we did

Oliver, Owen and I read If You Give A Mouse A Cookie a few times this week, just to brush up on the story. It gave Owen the opportunity to use ‘give’, a new word in his AAC vocabulary for this month, and also to eat cookies (which he already has ample experience of doing but I think he’s training to represent Canada if cookie-eating ever becomes an Olympic sport).

I put together a bag full of all the things we would need – nail scissors, crayons, scotch tape and so on – and Oliver re-enacted every step in the book while I took pictures. I loved having the opportunity to pose questions (like – “What comes next? If you wanted to do ‘X’, what would you need?”) which Oliver could think about but not stress over. If he wasn’t sure he just opened the book to take a look! I think we’ll do this more with books that he really enjoys as it seemed to reinforce for him that he didn’t need to remember everything, he could use his book as a reference point. As with many other autistic people, word retrieval and executive functioning can be a challenge for Oliver, so teaching him how to compensate for that is an important life skill.

We were working on the concept of pretending here - Milo doesn't need a hair cut!

We were working on the concept of pretending here – Milo doesn’t need a hair cut!

With the pictures I’d taken, Oliver and I then sat down to put them together and create our book. Sadly he wasn’t up to recording all of his comments (in the video of the book we made you’ll only hear him on two of the pages) but he absolutely loved reading the final product as a ‘proper’ book in iBooks.

If you’re wondering who Milo is – he’s the mascot for the speech therapy app developers at Speech With Milo. Oliver loves him.

Is the Special Stories app worth buying?

If you want a universal, intuitive way of creating personalized visual sequences, an app that can easily be used solo by older children and adults that also has some fantastic functionality, then Special Stories is well worth a look. It is also switch accessible so if that’s a feature you need then buy the app because it is terrific.

How does it work?

Creating a page in Special Stories app

Creating a page in Special Stories – clear, easy and fast

I don’t really even need this section as all I did was open the app and start using it. There is a short Quick Start guide in the app if needed and I do recommend that you check out the ‘View Online Documentation’ section so you don’t miss out on any of the app’s cool features.

Special Stories app by Special iApps

Settings is where you find options for sound, page turning and so on

Special Stories can obviously be used to create social stories but the potential of the app is boundless. We used it to put together a talking story book but you could also use it for photo albums, task analyses, visual supports, recipes, learning new skills and so on. The app doesn’t try to do everything – the images you can use are ones either from your photo library or that you take with your device’s camera – it’s clearly designed just for creating books that use personal images meaningful to the user. If you’re looking for an app that has images or symbols built in, this isn’t the one for you.

Virtual Book Club for Kids

I love that Oliver is holding the crayon in Milo’s hand, helping him draw the picture

What I like about the app

  • It’s universal so it works on the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch
  • It has a clean, simple interface that’s easy to use and allows you to create books very quickly. You could easily do stories on the fly with this app.
  • It can be used with 1 or 2 bluetooth-enabled switches
  • Stories can be printed via an air printer, converted to pdf format or emailed to other Special Stories app users
  • The ‘collections’ feature allows you to manage your stories easily if, for example, you are using the app in an educational setting and you have multiple users
  • Special Stories integrates with Special Words, another app from the same developer
  • You can read the story in the app itself but I LOVE the ability to read the story in iBooks. Not only does this give the impression that it’s a ‘proper’ book but it also allows you to take advantage of iBooks’ ability to customize your book viewing experience with different fonts types, sizes, background colours, etc.

Recommendations for the developer to consider in future updates

  • I didn’t miss the lack of stock images or symbols at all but one thing that would be handy is the ability to Google or Bing from within the app to search for an image.

See the app in action

Here’s our version of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie:

 

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie activities

Oliver’s drawing of Milo – currently still on our fridge

*disclosure* I received a copy of Special Stories at no cost in order to write this review. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

 
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4 Responses to “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie: activities and a review of Special Stories app”

  1. I think it sounds well worth the money, maybe €14.99 might make it more attractive. (Disclosure; I am an App creator that makes zip selling our App for 9.99)

    If we want good content and good functionality, then you have to pay. I used to pay €14.99 for good children’s books, back when we had good children’s book shops where kids enjoyed hanging out.

    I still have those books and will never part with them. The shops are long gone.

    I want there to be good app developers who can work full time on their Apps without having to rely on advertising or in App purchases to survive. For that we need to pay.

    When we have good reviewers like you and good review sites like the ones you contribute too, there really is no risk. If it is a good App I will buy.

    xx

    January 19, 2014 at 8:58 am Reply
    • OMum22 #

      Thank you, as always, for your comments and insight. It’s funny you mention this as I was having the exact same discussion with the developer. Their view is that the price point is cheaper than Clicker Books (Cost: $30.99 – a comparison I can’t make as I don’t have the app but I’ve heard good things about it from both Lauren Enders and Praactical AAC) and comparable to Pictello (which currently sells for $18.99). As you know, I’m a big advocate for paid apps and I have no problem paying for great content. Is Special Stories worth $19.99? Absolutely – if the features are a right fit – i.e. if you need something VERY simple to use and/or switch access. If you’re looking for the ability to add video and/or want text to speech and word highlighting, then Pictello would be a better option.

      As a reviewer (and thank you for saying you believe I’m a good one) I try to give both honest feedback to developers and to share the information a consumer needs in order to determine whether to buy an app. At its current price point I think Special Stories is well worth the money for someone like yourself who has autistic older children who could easily use this app themselves as a support in gaining greater independence. At $14.99 I think it would be a great deal for anyone who has special needs kids or who works with them. At $9.99 I would recommend it to everyone who has kids and all educators. I’m trying to assess comparative rather than intrinsic value here. I hope that makes sense and makes my point about price clearer.

      Lastly, Grace App for $9.99 is a STEAL. If anyone needs a PECS-based, universal, AAC app then buy it now.

      January 19, 2014 at 2:54 pm Reply
  2. I think this is a wonderful idea, I loved how the story turned out using Special Stories. Thank you for sharing the Virtual Book Club for Kids featuring Laura Numeroff!

    January 25, 2014 at 10:23 pm Reply
    • OMum22 #

      Thanks Kim! I love the idea of the Virtual Book Club for Kids – wish I’d discovered it sooner as my boys adore Karma Wilson, Nick Sharratt and others that you’ve already featured this year.

      January 27, 2014 at 9:02 am Reply

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