Talking Shapes – Early Literacy Resource Review

It seems that the current trend in the American education system is to begin pushing academics at younger ages each year. I am a firm supporter in the value of young children playing and exploring their world instead of sitting at a desk. However, as a mom with a wide age range of children, I have young ones who want to “do school” like their older siblings. While my four year old daughter does not sit down for formal learning each day, we do have opportunities for her to add to her knowledge in more structures ways.

Over the past few weeks we have been reviewing an early literacy resource from Talking Fingers Inc. Talking Shapes: A Supplemental Curriculum for Early Literacy is an online learning tool that gives exposure to young children (around 4 – 5 years of age) of letters, their sounds, and how those work together to form words, sentences, and stories.

**Please note that the above link takes you to the Talking Shapes: A Supplemental Curriculum for Early Literacy App. We did not review the app for this program but the online version.

Talking Shapes is a series of seven stories, told by two sisters, that introduces the 40 phonemes in the English language. To help children remember the phonemes, picture cues are used such as: cat for the letter C, hat for the letter H, and fox for the letter F. There are activities included to help with review and practice: drawing the letters, a game to recognize specific sounds/letters, and popping  balloons that match a word in the story.

Our Experience with Talking Shapes

When we received Talking Shapes a few weeks ago, my initial plan was to have Martha use the resource two – three times a week for about 10-15 minutes. Martha is 4.5 and has had no formal literacy instruction. This seemed like a fun, low pressure way for her to become familiar with letters and sounds. Unfortunately we have had a few issues with the program that have hindered much enjoyment or learning with Talking Shapes.

One aspect of the program is having the child draw the letters on the screen. A touch screen is recommended for this activity which seems a logical choice. I grabbed my Kindle Fire to pull up the online resource and it failed to load. I contacted Talking Shapes for tech support and was told:

“The Talking Shapes app will run on a desktop/laptop computer running MacOSX or Windows.  It will not run on mobile devices based on iOS or Android.  That’s why it doesn’t come up on your Android based Kindle fire.”

Since the only touch screens we have in our home are Kindle Fires this was disappointing but decided we could work around that and still benefit from the program. However, we continued to have technical issues. After being unable to load Talking Shapes on my computer, it was recommended to install Chrome. Instead of installing Chrome on my laptop (which is a bit outdated and running on Vista), I used another computer in our home that already had Chrome installed.

Every time Martha and I signed in to Talking Shapes it would take at least 10 – 15 minutes to load. I was concerned at first that it was an internet speed issue on my end but  it appears to be related to Talking Shapes. We are able to use other online learning resources, stream videos/movies, etc with no such delay time. It was a bit frustrating at first but I simply signed in and didn’t call Martha to the computer until it had fully loaded.

Not being about to use our Kindle Fires made the drawing the letters portion of the program basically useless. In theory, you should be able to use your mouse to “write” the letters. While Martha does have excellent fine motor skills for her age, she found writing the letters with the mouse difficult and frustrating. It didn’t take us long to learn that if you wiggle the mouse around enough, the letters will fill in without you actually “writing” them. Since this portion of the program wasn’t really usable for us, we opted for writing letters on the dry erase board.

We still listened to the stories and used the other activities. Martha enjoyed having her own time to do school.  Since our goal was exposure to letters and sounds and not mastery, I think that goal has been met despite our glitches. If you are interested in using Talking Shapes: A Supplemental Curriculum for Early Literacy, I would recommend contacting Talking Fingers to make sure it will work with the computer devices in your home. Also make sure to read other reviews from Crew Members to get a broader picture of this resource.

Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}
Crew Disclaimer

Flying Cats, Rainy Days, and a Tribe of Kids

Flying cats? Rainy days? Tribe of Kids? Yes, this could totally be an afternoon at our house. No, I’m not kidding. However, as exciting as our days might be this is a peek into our stack of picture books that we have enjoyed lately. I have many books to share but thought I’d highlight a few favorites before they head back to the library.

Caramba – Marie-Louise Gay – As soon as I began reading this one, my children were asking if this was the same author/illustrator that wrote Stella and Sam. We might have a few Stella and Sam fans here. Caramba is just your typical furry, fluffy cat that looks fabulous in suspenders. Caramba just has one problem. He can’t do what all the other cats can do. Fly. Poor Caramba. He tries and tries to fly like all the other cats but from landing on his face in the grass to crashing into Grandpa’s lap, flying isn’t working out well for Caramba. Cousins step in to help Caramba learn to fly. Unfortunately the lesson doesn’t go quite as planned. It all ends with a huge splash.

Perhaps Caramba was written to celebrate differences and to encourage us to embrace our individuality. Or not? We just enjoyed a fun story about flying cats, trying hard when things are a bit difficult, and the value of a good friend. And, sadly, our cats here don’t fly either.

Puddle – Hyewon Yum – There is nothing like a rainy day to make us a little grumpy at times, right? Rain can make a day seem so dull and dreary. Then the boredom sets in  and nothing indoors will do. Until mom brings out a bit of paper and crayons. A mom and her young son end up having great fun taking turns drawing pictures of what they would do in the rain. After creating such a delightful picture, even including jumping in puddles, what else could they do but go out in the rain? A picture comes to life!

Such a simple, quick read but so enjoyable. An excellent read for a rainy day especially if you an go outside after reading. It would also work well to encourage a bit of art. Children could take turns drawing what they would do at the park, in the backyard, or in the snow. Then make their creations come to life!

There is a Tribe of Kids – Lane Smith – Every week or two, I go through the New Books listings on my library’s home page. Most of the time I have particular books I am looking for but sometimes I’m just browsing for a book or two that catches my eye. This is how I stumbled across There is a Tribe of Kids. For several years, we have called our family by the title of Tribe. How could I resist this title?!?  It turned out to be a favorite book that we have read and looked at over and over again.

Simple text presents various groupings of animals to a young boy: bed of clams, parade of elephants, formation of rocks, and of course a tribe of kids. The beauty of this book is not only in its simplicity of text but the lovely illustrations; charming and sometimes funny when you notice the details. This is perhaps what has drawn my children to this book again and again. My almost two year old loves to flip through the pages and it inspired my ten year old to create a few sketches of her own. She loved the style of the tribe of kids. A beautiful read that appeals to a variety of ages.  It shouldn’t have been surprising that this book has become a favorite. We are fans of Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green. A beautiful, sweet story that shares about aging and memories.

Drawn by Hannah – 10

 

 

Favorite Picture Books – 2015

My children and I have shared some wonderful picture books this year! Here are a few of our favorites:

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich (Julia Sarcone-Roach)

This is Sadie (Sara O’Leary)

Please, Mr. Panda (Steve Antony)

The Bus Ride (Marianne Dubuc)

By Mouse and Frog (Deborah Freedman)

The Whisper (Pamela Zagarenski)

There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight (Penny Parker Klostermann)

Bear and Squirrel are Friends (Deb Pilutti)

Bear Has a Story to Tell (Philip C. Stead)

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes (Nicola Davies * Emily Sutton)

Maple & Willow books (Lori Nichols)

Read Me a Story, Stella (Marie-Louise Gay)

I Want My Hat Back (John Klassen)

Check out other picture books we have read this year, here.

I’d love to hear about books you enjoyed in 2015 with your little ones!