— by Glenn Hovemann
The Wilderness Society recently noted that the “thoughtful use of technology . . . may actually encourage spending time outdoors.” What a delightful observation! As every teacher knows, kids need a variety of learning tools—and lots of kids are attracted by technology. So why not use it to their benefit?
Apps—closely related to “enhanced e-books”—can be very effective learning tools because they can so smoothly combine the best features of a book and a game. Dawn’s newest app, Noisy Bug Sing-Along, is a perfect example of how the learning experience of a book can be expanded and enhanced.
In the book Noisy Bug Sing-Along by John Himmelman, children see wonderful, accurate close-ups of insects, and begin to learn where all those sounds on a summer evening are coming from. Crickets! Cicadas! Beetles! Katydids! Grasshoppers! Each makes a unique sound, and quite often it is LOUD. The book uses onomatopoeia and explains that bugs are not using their “voices” to make these sounds, but rather they move various body parts to make the sounds.
As an app, Noisy Bug Sing-Along offers all of the above. In addition, children hear the author’s narration—including his wonderfully creative onomatopoeia—as well as the real recorded sounds of the bugs. And when little fingers touch the on-screen bug, the child not only hears its sound but also sees how the insect moves its wings, or abdomen, or other body part to create the sound.
And that’s not all. Whereas the book introduces kids to concept of sound waves as vibrations going through the air which can be converted into the form of a graph, the app goes further. When kids touch a short sound wave for an insect on screen, the full sound wave recording for that insect opens up, and the child can follow along the ups and downs of the wave as it plays. What a delightful way to learn!
As is customary with Dawn products, both the book and the app offer additional information about each featured insect.
Dawn’s apps focus on both fun and learning—and avoid the unnecessary distractions, the bells and whistles that seemingly are for their own sake. In a thoughtful article in Washington Parent, Mary Quattlebaum addresses the concern of educators who ask “whether such ‘screen time’ cultivates a child’s deep pleasure in words or reading, or is merely a distraction?”
Quattlebaum quotes Mary Ann Scheuer, the librarian at Emerson School in Berkeley, Calif., who reviews books online (greatkidbooks.blogspot.com) and serves on a task force on book apps for the American Association of School Librarians. Scheuer believes that “the crux is how to balance interactivity that draws readers into the story with the many bells and whistles that distract them from understanding the story.”
Be guided by your child’s interests and learning style, advises Scheuer, whose oldest daughter prefers print as opposed to the youngest’s embrace of apps. “Understanding how stories unfold, and that stories are related to printed words are essential early literacy skills,” she says. When chosen and used judiciously, book apps and enhanced e-books can be “wonderful elements that contribute to the early literacy experience.”
Of course there is no substitute for quality reading time together with a child, whether the book is digital or print. Quattlebaum suggests attending to the child’s “developing interest in words and story rather than the medium.” (Disclosure: Quattlebaum is also the author of three books published by Dawn Publications.)
In the case of Noisy Bug Sing-Along, kids are fascinated by bugs, so why not take advantage of this teachable moment? In fact, the whole family can get in on listening to bugs, imitating them, and identifying them. Field crickets go chirp-chirp-chirp; kids will sing like bugs with glee-glee-glee!
Apps are complex creations combining the art and the text of the author, John Himmelman, with the animation and audio skills of Malachi Bazan of Simply Nature Media and Dawn Publications. Himmelman illustrated the book digitally, including secondary “layers” of art in addition to what is seen in the book, so that additional parts of the insects can be shown as they move, as well as additional background art. Himmelman also provided recordings of the insects, which Bazan formatted to reveal the sound waves.
Bazan, coming from the world of digital products is accustomed to such collaboration. He formerly participated in producing Hollywood animated movies as well as video games for a major game producer. Himmelman immediately adapted to the situation and quickly became a facile collaborator.