Apps for early literacy and fine motor skills

I was recently asked for the names of some apps to support literacy and letter awareness. Of course there are many ways to help children develop these skills and the iPad is just one method but it is an engaging tool in the toolbox for literacy learning.
My criteria in choosing the list below were:
  • evidence based theory behind the methods   256px-Child_with_Apple_iPad
  • engaging but not over-stimulating
Early Phonics
  • Hairy Letters (Nessy Learning Ltd) –  $5.99  (Anything by Nessy is great!)
  • Phonics Under the Big Top (Celeste Musgrave ) – $2.99
Sight Words
  • Phonics Read CVC (Joe Scrivens) – $2.99 or in a bundle with other apps for $5.99
  • Hairy Words (Nessy Learning Ltd) – $5.99
There are two bundles of phonics and sight word apps which are excellent.
  • Tools for Teaching Reading (Reading Doctor) – $129.99 for the bundle of 6, $24.99 each
  • OzPhonics (DSP Learning Pty Ltd) – $7.99 for the bundle, $1.99 or $2.99 each.
Tracing letters
  • School Writing (demografix pty ltd) – $7.99 (Uses Australian states’ handwriting fonts)
  • iWriteWords (gdiplus) – lite or $4.49
  • Little Writer Pro (Innovative) – $2.99
  • Ready to Print (Essare LLC) – $14.99
Most of these have an Australian or English voice which is probably less confusing for Australian children than an American voice.
Photo credit: By Intel Free Press [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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“Seven Steps to Writing Success” and students with learning difficulties

Jack? No, it couldn’t be.  He was dead.  I’d seen his bloodied body and been to his funeral. But I couldn’t mistake that walk for anyone else’s…

This was one of the “Sizzling Starts” I wrote yesterday at a “Seven Steps to Writing Success” workshop and according to the certificate I was given, I am now a graduate.

“Seven Steps”, developed by author and educator Jen McVeity, is “a unique system that chunks writing into seven main techniques” which a lot of Australian schools are adopting as a schoolwide method.

Writing success
Writing success

I came away with a lot of useful insights and ideas for teaching writing.  My reason for going was to pick up strategies for helping students with learning difficulties with writing and I was really encouraged that the presenter mentioned several times that students with LDs are definitely capable of writing creatively.

In particular I thought the following aspects of the program were beneficial for students with a learning difficulty:

  • The whole notion of “Seven Steps” provides structure for writers to hang their hats on and consider when they’re writing. A clear structure that they can remember is great to help these kids.
  • Planning is one of the seven steps. There is a story graph which makes it easy for kids to remember how to go about planning.
  • Short activities help to avoid cognitive overload
  • Repetition gives children with learning difficulties a better chance of assimilating new learning.
  • “Verbal is vital” is one of the catchphrases. A multisensory approach is great for students whose literacy skills are not strong.
  • Emphasis is on writing well and creatively. The training did include references to NAPLAN but doing well in NAPLAN is not the primary focus of the program.
Students with a learning disability can still be great writers
Students with a learning disability can still be great writers

Here are a couple of enhancements which may benefit those with a learning difficulty and make their writing experience even more productive and rewarding:

Tips for remembering a sentence – have a look at Dr Lillian Fawcett’s clip here, demonstrating how to help students remember a sentence they have created in their head while they work on writing it.

Assistive technology may be beneficial to help students

  • Make a plan electronically if writing is difficult with an app such as ShowMe or ScreenChomp
  • Write using text prediction and spell checking
  • Dictate their writing using speech-to-text programs or apps


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Apps for Autism

Autism is one area where assistive technology has made a huge difference in access and affordability, and allowing individuals to participate in mainstream education.


In honour of World Autism Awareness Month, here are some great sites which explore apps and programs which may be useful. The focus here is on technology which can be downloaded from an app store or accessed via an online subscription, rather than those purpose-built devices that need to be purchased through a supplier or manufacturer.

Every person with autism is different, just like every person without autism is different, so what suits one person may not suit another.  It’s probably a case be of listening to advice, reading reviews and then trying some things out to see if they work.

This article  from UK based organisation Research Autism provides an overview, based on research, of the types of assistive and adaptive technologies available.

Appy Autism is a funky little website that lets you search for an app based on type of device and desired features, dividing apps in to the categories of :

  • Communication,
  • Learning,
  • Leisure,
  • Support Tools and
  • Emotions and Social Behaviour.
Appy Autism
Appy Autism





Autism Queensland has an excellent resource page which also divides apps into categories and rates each app according to:

  • independence needed to access the app,

    Autism Queensland
    Autism Queensland
  • motivation,
  • feedback given to the child,
  • the sensory friendliness,
  • the ability to customize, and
  • language skills needed.

Happy World Autism Awareness Month!

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