So my friend Sara, co-owner of 2 Moms Media, LLC, suggested that I might be a good candidate to test and review Chalk Walk, a new educational iPad app that her firm is representing.
I said I'd be happy to test it out, because what Sara didn't know is that, in addition to being a mom who is interested in education, I have a child who is ridiculously addicted to the iPad. I figure if he's on there so many hours, I might as well have him doing something educational on the thing.
Now, let me pause and say something about the myriad of toys, games, apps, activities, and television programs that are labelled educational, and here I'm referring specifically to products aimed at young children. Most of the time I take one of two attitudes about these so-called educational products:
(1) It's not really educational, at least not in the academic sense, and that's okay. I think it's fine if kids aren't having academia drilled into them all the time. So what if they're watching TV for entertainment? Do I watch TV to learn? No, I watch it to escape. And it's fine if my kid does.
(2) All this so-called educational stuff is way overkill. Just another example (or several) of how America has gone insane when it comes to early learning. Why do we need our babies to read or our preschoolers to know their times tables? Why, just the other day, I overheard a parent complaining about how she checked out XYZ Preschool for her two-year-old, and it just wasn't academic at all. It is out of this sort of attitude that too many of these educational toys and workbooks are borne. I feel like as Americans we've gone insane about early academic learning and kindergarten readiness, and that none of it is doing a dang bit of good for our children.
So why did I agree to review an educational iPad app? Because Chalk Walk is refreshingly different. See, Chalk Walk actually does teach a valuable skill to young children, one that we have overlooked in our zeal for early childhood academic learning.
That skill is the pincer grip, a fine-motor skill that children need to master in order to hold a pencil. Chalk Walk is the first app designed specifically to help young children practice the pincer grip.
The app was developed by Frances Judd, a veteran Chicago kindergarten teacher and owner of Mrs. Judd's Games. Judd saw that far too many kindergarteners couldn't properly hold a pencil, possibly due to our current society's interest in passive, screen-based activities. If kids are plugged into video games all the time anyway, Judd reasoned, why not develop an app that helps them learn fine-motor skills?
And so, Chalk Walk was born.
Chalk Walk requires kids to grip a virtual piece of chalk, using two fingers like you would to hold a pencil, and trace a variety of different squiggly and jagged lines. Each time a child traces a line, he or she is given a rating of one to three stars, and is allowed to advance along a virtual gameboard. Each stop on the gameboard earns the child a new "prize" at the bottom of the screen (pictures of candy, toys, and the like).
Nathan and I reviewed the whole game, and let me bullet point my pros and cons list.
- As I said before, it's finally an educational app that teaches a useful early childhood skill, one that often gets overlooked. It's great for at-home use, but would also be fun in a preschool, kindergarten, or daycare setting.
- Nathan really enjoyed it. Now, let me say, Nathan is not always easy to please. His default opinion is I hate this, even when he secretly likes something. (I have no idea where he got that from.) But he actually said he liked Chalk Walk. He even said he wanted to show it to his friend.
- The little virtual gameboard with virtual incentives was cute, colorful, and age-appropriate.
- I really liked that this innovative educator thought of a way to teach fine motor skills using a piece of technology that kids are already using anyway.
- It was hard for us to find the directions. The game itself is relatively simple and self-explanatory, and there is a little diagram that shows you what to do (helpful for the non-reader), but I wish there were a section in the menu that spelled out how everything works in terms of advancing through the levels and earning prizes.
- There's no way to save your game and the levels you've already completed.
- I wish it were longer. Nathan completed the entire game in the space of about half an hour. Now, obviously he can go back and redo the levels again for more practice. However, I wish they had developed more levels for a change of pace.
- I would like to see a system where kids can get points/stickers/stars/coins and redeem them for virtual prizes. Nathan has another game where you earn virtual coins and can then go shopping in a virtual store. The virtual stickers or toys you buy are just the same as the prizes that Chalk Walk gives you at the bottom, but I just think it's more fun when you feel like you shopped for something, and when you get to choose the "toy" you get.
AND if you want to download Chalk Walk for free, it's free in the iTunes store all day Wednesday, May 2! Here's the link!
Disclosure: I got to download the app for free.