Using a musical app for developing early language skills


imageStumbled across this interactive app (Sago Mini Music Box – £1.99) as a tool for developing language with early years children. I’d downloaded it as a recommendation for a musical app but it’s also got lots of potential for stimulating language.

You can select either a boat or a hot air balloon which moves along at a speed depending on where and how much the child taps the screen. Each tap creates the next note of a nursery rhyme as well as an action: dolphins jump up, birds fly and trees and flowers appear.

I used this with a 3 year old with language delay and as the boat moved along I started commenting on what was happening. The child also started using lots of language to describe what she saw.

It’s like commenting on a picture book but the child is essentially in control of where the ‘story’ goes which makes it extra engaging. This would be a great app for parents to use at home to practise commenting on and sharing stories with their child. image



Using My PlayHome app for early language activities


playhomeI love this app. Since discovering it a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been trying to find different ways to fit it into my sessions at a preschool. It has a range of different scenes, each with moveable characters and objects and decent sound effects e.g. in the kitchen scene you can open cupboards, turn taps on and off and put pizza in the oven. And it works on a wider range of vocabulary than I can ever quite achieve by getting a box of small world toys together. This app could be used as a tool in targeting a range of expressive and receptive language skills.

The free version of the app (My PlayHome Lite) has two scenes which give you plenty to work with. You can, however, upgrade it for £2.49 to upload lots more scenes and there’s also a shops version for £1.49 which I haven’t tried.

I used the app in a small nursery group session and told the children that we were going to tell a story.

  • First, I showed them the kitchen scene and we agreed on names for the characters (Mummy, Daddy etc. worked better for the language level of the group I was with).
  • I demonstrated a sequence of actions one at a time and asked different children to describe each one e.g. “The Mummy opened the fridge”. “She poured a glass of juice”. “She drank the juice”. You can make the actions as complex or simple as you like depending on the language level you are working at.
  • I asked each child to direct me on what happened next. This can work well for children at a very early language level who might give a one or two word instruction such as “TV on” as it is very easy to model an expanded phrase e.g. ” turn on the TV”. It helps to demonstrate a few of the fun actions first so they know what to request.

Developing use of Wh questions using videos


Making the most of the iPad video function deserves a few entries on this blog. It’s not a very groundbreaking idea to use videos in sessions but it’s now so easy to record and playback on an iPad that ideas which might have been too fiddly or time consuming until recently can be revamped.

I have been using short videos to work on developing understanding and use of Wh questions but it could be used to work on a range of language targets. This idea has worked well with both preschool and primary age groups and is very simple to plan:

– Find some willing members of staff to act out an everyday scenario and film it on the iPad e.g. someone pouring out some cereal in a bowl, then going to the fridge to find that there is no milk. It might only be a 5 second clip – you can do a lot with a very simple scenario.

– Play the video to the group and ask questions about it based on the question words or other targets that you might be working on, e.g. “what is he pouring into the bowl?” “why does he open the fridge?”, “where can he go to get some milk?”

I usually preferred to film two part sequences (only a few seconds each) as having a second video to play proved to be a successful way of maintaining attention during the activity for groups who had particular difficulties in this area.

The children loved watching familiar staff members act out scenarios and they sometimes chose who they wanted to see in the video the following week. (I didn’t have any problem recruiting staff to star in the videos – I think it helped when they saw how much the children enjoyed watching them!)

I got most of my inspiration from the book Language for Thinking (Stephen Parsons & Anna Branagan, 2005). It has a wide range of pictures, each of which describe an unfolding scenario. Each picture is accompanied by questions which are separated into different levels of difficulty. The pictures were easily adaptable into video scenarios which made it very easy to set up and hand over to a member of school staff for running a language group.LFT

There’s lots of ways of extending this activity – am hoping to try out a few different versions myself and will report back on what works over the next few weeks!