Bottom Line: This brand new app is high quality with a great interface (including 3D graphics), designed to target early language development. The content is excellent for speech-language pathologists and teachers, as well as for parents to support language development at home. (iPad/iPhone/Android, $9.99)
It’s hard to describe PuddingStone with a quick summary. This app is really unlike any I’ve ever seen, and that is part of what makes it fantastic. It is based on interactive computer software designed at the Children’s Hospital in Boston, and it was put into app form by SpecialNeedsWare in a pretty amazing way.
In many ways, it reminds me of one of my favorite apps, Leo’s Pad, in the way it integrates a story along with interactive learning games. In PuddingStone, the interaction is focused on language development, and was developed specifically for children with autism. As a speech-language pathologist, though, I assure you that it is helpful for any young child who needs support for language development.
There are three areas to this app, after the video explanation and introduction. Each area opens with a very clear step-by-step tutorial, including video and audio instructions. The tutorial moves somewhat slowly, at least for adults! However, it’s designed for kids with language delays, and the slow pace and multiple presentations of instructions are designed perfectly. They can be easily skipped, though, after the child knows what to do.
The first area, the Action Factory, has three modes of play, all teaching who, what and where with actions. In free play, the user taps “who” to choose one of eight characters, “what” to select one of eight actions, and “where” to pick one of nine locations. As each is selected, it appears on the screen. Select the man with the mustache to have him pop up on the screen, then tap the crawling icon to see him start crawling around the white room. Finally, select the playground to have the blank room transform to a playground.
An eraser quickly clears the whole scene, if desired. Or change one part at a time to see the man crawl around the grocery store then run in the bathroom. There is no verbal interaction in this section. For the most language benefit, it is designed for use with a therapist, teacher or parent. Even so, it’s a fun interaction for kids to see the changes.
In Action Builder, the app guides the user through the selection process with more direction, first asking to “pick a what,” then a where and a who. It cycles through pretty quickly, though — I would like to see the app repeat the whole sentence (like “Dad is sitting in the living room,”) but it can be added by the adult. However, it moves so quickly to the blank screen again that it’s hard to have time to discuss it.
The third option in Action Builder is to tap the screen on the requested spot on an action that the app chooses. As a man jumps in the white room, the narrator asks the user to “find the who,” and so on. It’s a little tricky to tap on the who in some cases (like when the character is running or jumping and continually moving), but it’s still a great way to review who, what and where.
The second area, See & Do Theatre, has two modes. The user can interact with video modeling scenes for six different settings (each with three to seven sub-areas, such as shopping, checkout and pay cashier in the grocery store) in story mode. The narrator describes step-by-step what the character is doing. There is additional visual support located just below the video, with pop-up bubbles for each step of the scene and a scrolling scene selector below.
The story mode can be paused, which provides a great option for students to discuss the steps with the therapist. In the step-by-step mode, the story is automatically paused on each step until the user presses play. Again, this is a great option to use in an interactive setting with an adult, providing time to really review each step.
In the final area, the Storytorium, there is only one mode to read one of four stories. However, before reading, ASL captions can be selected, to see the story with text, rebus-style pictures above the words, a small illustration, and a video of American Sign Language is shown while the story is narrated. Without the ASL captions, the user can watch video modeling to learn specific steps related to the story. These videos are the same as those found in the See & Do Theatre.
As the story is narrated, the words are underlined with a green line. I really like the underlining compared to highlighting. I don’t know if this is evidence-based, but it seems to draw more attention to the word than typical highlighting, which is great for literacy development. The story can be paused as it’s read, as well as easily restarted to hear each page again. The story is not designed as an early reader, but the text is still simple and the concepts great for language discussion.
Overall, this is an incredible app for speech-language pathologists who work with young children with language delays and impairments. There is exceptional visual support for learning language that is often difficult for children with autism.
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