I must admit that even though I love technology, I am always a little cautious when people ask me about using technology with the littlest students. There are so many things that need to be learned in those early school years (self-regulation, early literacy, number sense, interpersonal relations and a love of curiosity and learning) and many of those things are really best learned face to face and through direct intervention. Am I suggesting we therefore shouldn’t use technology in the primary years? Good grief, no! Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. But…..it is important to limit screen time for our smallest learners and we therefore need to be very selective about what we use with them.
My first choices will always be apps or technology that allow creation, like BookCreator or iMovie. My second choice will always be well-crafted, engaging yet rigorous apps, like those put out by Duck, Duck Moose, Motion Math and Dragonbox Math (totally not an exhaustive list – that’s for another blog!) Many of these apps focus on Math, not so many focus on literacy.
Enter Squiggle Park. Squiggle Park is Canadian and it runs on both iPads and laptops (the Android version is coming out soon). It is an early literacy program designed to help students master reading skills such as phonemes, phonemic awareness, word work, and spelling. At the time, Squiggle Park is designed to be used for students from Pre-K to Grade 2. However, there is nothing to say that older ELL students or students with learning disabilities wouldn’t also be able to use it effectively.
Squiggle Park allows teachers to set up a classroom, add and delete students and access student progress through the dashboard. When you first set up the classroom, you choose the grade level of your students and Squiggle Park “suggests” a world for them to start with. There are currently 25 worlds and as a teacher, you can set the world your students start with, even if it is not the one suggested. Squiggle Park provides teachers with a PDF that shows exactly what skills are covered in each world.
Within each world, cute little monsters guide the students through matching, sorting, ordering, listening and collecting games that are designed to teach them, without ever “preaching” to them (kids have fun, learning happens, it’s a win-win). Students can earn stars by doing well and lose lives by not answering correctly. By the way, you would think this whole “losing lives” thing would be de-motivating, but the players I watched all seemed to accept this as a logical, given part of game-universe! You can only lose two lives in any stage of a world and once you’ve lost all 5 of your lives you go back to the start of that level to play again. Once you have achieved 80% mastery of a level, you are moved up to the next level.
The people at Squiggle Park have made student log-in easy, with picture codes rather than passwords. They recognize that Squiggle Park could be very useful for ELL students and their families and they have provided teachers with informational letters to send home, in a variety of languages. On the teacher section of their website they have also added lesson plans, printable monster pictures, certificates, Valentines and a bunch of other things teachers and students can use. Squiggle Park also has a variety of teacher “tutorial” videos on their website, to help teachers set up and use Squiggle Park.
The creators of Squiggle Park claim that with 30 minutes of play a week, students can master reading skills up to 5x faster than with direct instruction alone and that ELL learners can catch up with their peers in as little as 10 weeks of play. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these claims but I can vouch for the fact that if a game is engaging, kids will play. And if they play, they will learn.
If you are a primary teacher in West Vancouver School district, please contact your administrator or Cari Wilson (me) for information about our extended trial of Squiggle Park. If you are outside of our district, Squiggle Park is offering time limited free trials – just click here.