App-y Thursday: If you are having fun, you are not learning?

I was watching the movie, "Matilda", a screen adaptation of one of Roald Dahl's magical books a few days ago. (For those of you who have not read the book, I would highly recommend you to grab a copy because Mr. Dahl is just such a wonderful storyteller.) The headmistress of the school, Miss Trunchbull, ruled the school with an iron fist and absolutely loathed children. In one particular scene, I was amused to see how her views were enforced in the classroom when I noticed a banner that said, "If you are having fun, you are not learning."

I can only imagine how much the children learning from a teacher who subscribes to that belief will dread going to class every day. Thankfully, many educators today try their best to make learning an engaging and fun process that pupils will enjoy. Even as adults, we like to have some fun when we learn. If you can learn something and have fun too, why not?

Being in a digital society, children these days are surrounded by gadgets such as iPads and are well-versed in their operations. When used with clear rules and the right purpose in mind, these gadgets are useful tools to enhance learning. In the Lil' but Mighty English classroom, the iPad is a familiar tool to my children. There are a number of educational and fun apps installed which I use as a reward or even as part of my teaching after some tweaking.

Today, I would like to share about two apps which are game based and essentially help in children's (and even adult learners) acquisition of vocabulary in a fun manner. 

1. Word Game for Kids - Futaba by INKids Education LLC

Multiplayer and lots of fun for your 4 to 8-year-olds! source: iTunes Preview

Multiplayer and lots of fun for your 4 to 8-year-olds! source: iTunes Preview

Age Group: 4 to 8
Designed for: iPhone & iPad
Cost: Free (There is an upgrade to the classroom edition which costs USD 6.99.)

What it is

Futaba is a multiplayer game which younger children will really enjoy. There can be up to four players playing the game, taking the four sides of the iPad. An object will appear in the middle of the screen and the player who is the quickest to identify the object among four given options will win a point. The winner of the round will get a futaba (which is seedling in Japanese) and they can continue to play another round until someone earns three futabas. The graphics in this app are beautifully designed and the upbeat music is perfect for this competitive little game of object identification.

In terms of vocabulary, the free version of the game is most suitable for children below the age of 8 as the game consists of animals, shapes, things and transports word sets. Due to the multiplayer feature of this game plus the time limit imposed, children will definitely be engaged and the fastest fingers will triumph. 

How can parents/ educators use it?

Although it is a multiplayer game, you can always just add on a dummy player for your child to practise matching the words to the objects on the screen. Otherwise, parents or educators can participate in the game with your children to give them a clue. This game provides good practice for younger children who are starting to expand their vocabulary and also for anyone who is beginning to pick up the language. You can select which particular subject set of vocabulary you want your children to learn in the game setting so that learning is deliberate. 

For older children, the free version of this app is really more of a fun game during a break. Other than that, its educational value for children aged above 8 is rather limited and there are other apps that will be more effective in vocabulary-building for them. However, if you upgrade the app to the classroom version, you will be able to create and customise the subject matter to cater to the age group that you are teaching. This, coupled with the multiplayer feature of the game will be a great learning tool for children of any age.

2. The Opposites by Mindshapes Limited

Pair up the opposites to clear the level! Tip: The fruit gives you extra time. Source: iTunes Preview

Pair up the opposites to clear the level! Tip: The fruit gives you extra time. Source: iTunes Preview

Age Group: 7+ (I would think this is suitable for children in Primary 2 and above, including adult learners!)
Designed for: iPhone & iPad
Cost: USD 0.99

What it is

This app is absolutely worth the USD0.99 price tag. It is a game which has really helped my children to learn, without any opposition, about antonyms(the opposites) of words. Basically, two siblings take turns to say a word and the player is to match pairs of words which have opposite meanings. Each level takes less than two minutes. It is a simple game to play but there are 10 levels in total and the words get increasingly difficult. A medal (bronze, silver, gold) will be earned when players clear the level and when all the words in that level have been cleared, a platinum medal will be earned. However, what is brilliant is that each level is accompanied by a dictionary of the words so that children can learn from their mistakes or learn new words before attempting the level. That being said, from level 4 onwards, the children and even adults, will really need to look at the dictionary and learn the words before they can clear the level.

A screenshot of the dictionary feature. The definition of the word is provided when you click on it. Source: iTunes Preview

A screenshot of the dictionary feature. The definition of the word is provided when you click on it.
Source: iTunes Preview

How can parents/ educators use it?

This definitely is an app that can promote self-directed learning and motivation to learn. Without any prompting at all, some of my children will go to the dictionary feature and look through the list of words in order to clear the level or get a better medal. I love it when I see them verbalising the opposite of the words even before it appears, showing that they are actively thinking about the answers. Hence, it is very ideal as a reward or break time activity that promotes learning at the same time. 

The look of pure satisfaction from clearing a level!

The look of pure satisfaction from clearing a level!

In addition, I use the words from the dictionary to create spelling lists. This way, the children are not just matching words based on rough recognition but are learning the exact spelling of these words as well. The spelling test can be created with two columns so that the children will write down the matching word automatically when one word is given. Of course, after this practice, children can proceed to play the game using the app as reinforcement.

I hope your children will enjoy learning through playing with these two apps for two different age groups. I will be trying out more educational apps and will share my thoughts about them in more App-y Thursday posts. 

What are some apps that you are using to help your children learn English? Please share with us!

Lily Chew

An English tutor on a mission to educate children; a blogger with a passion to share and grow the love of English with the world.