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Special iApps to overcome learning obstacles

There is much debate on screen time and technology use with young children. Used holistically with a balanced approach edtech can be in your tool box saving time creating resources, recording evidence, supporting soft skills alongside education and development. Every child won’t fit the same profile. Some children need extra support and scaffolding to overcome obstacles, some take longer than others, some are gifted and talented and some have Special Educational Needs that may or may not have been diagnosed. Along with the paint, glue, glitter, and play dough keep a tablet to hand fitted with a robust waterproof case and appropriate apps.

Many apps quote that they are evidenced based but very few have been trialled. In 2012, 13 children from 6 schools, aged 3-7 years, with a range of communication, language and literacy difficulties used Special Words from Special iApps over a 12 week period, each pupil was required to use Special Words for 10-15 minutes each day. Baseline data was taken with pre-assessment tasks at the start then identical post-assessment task repeated after 12-weeks had elapsed to obtain impact data. The project demonstrated that Special Words is an effective resource to enhance communication, language and literacy skills, and that it has a positive impact on the development of expressive language, receptive language, word recognition, reading and listening skills. In addition, the project has provided evidence of the iPad's impact on levels of concentration, confidence, motivation and fine motor skill development.  Special Stories was also used by the settings and together the 2 apps proved time saving as well as beneficial for the children.  For more information about our case studies, check out our website where you can read the full Durham 2012 iPad report as well as 2 further case studies on how the apps are being used in Nursery settings.

Both Special Words and Special Stories can be interchanged, resources created and easily shared between them. Picture, word and audio matching activities alongside story telling, both apps complement each other. Special Stories can be used to take photos during play and then used by the children with or without support or a light touch with direction and encouragement depending upon the abilities and what the session outcomes are. The apps are used in inclusive settings where the more able children take pictures, type words and record the audio, or there is turn taking and group work as well as 1:1 with adult or peer support.

As World Book Day approaches many will be dressing up as their favourite character and favourite stories read.  Re-enact the story, create a picture storyboard by dressing up or use play dough, felt or toys to create the characters. Stories can then be printed and send home as a keepsake of the day or for home-school communication or kept in journals.

For SEN children Special Stories is a tool for Education, Health and Care Plans. Children can create their own story about their lives, family, likes, hobbies and aspirations. It’s a photo book of what they’ve been doing and how they’ve progressed as well as regular show and tell.  Speech therapists use the apps to support communication, encourage conversations and speech development. Educators to develop reading skills, build vocabulary. For children with Special Educational Needs they use the apps and you can observe what they know despite poor speech, poor fine motor skills and poor handwriting skills you can assess and observe then set appropriate targets.

We’ve recently created a Pro edition of Special Words, a Teacher Manual and a range of resources that match the EYFS and the curriculum. The resources include topics for Geography, History, Speech and Language, Understanding the World and more. These can be use as they are or as a starting point as can be replaced by your own photos for example the life cycle of a flower can be your template and you create your own sequence as the children plant sunflower seeds, feed and water them and watch them grow.

For some children you may need to put in place visual cues of what the tablet is for as some may become frustrated as they want to watch a movie as that’s what they do. There are tips to get around this as you can differentiate visually by size and colour. Have 2 devices that may differ in size or have a different colour case. One is only for educational use and the other leisure with videos and games. Find the balance that works in your setting with the children you have.

Used in a holistic way tablets and apps are proving to save time and be a useful tool to have.

Both Special Words and Special Stories are award winning apps used for Early Years and Special Educational Needs at home, in schools and nurseries and other settings as well as for home education.

Special Words

  • Encourage speaking and help with clarity
  • Increase sight word vocabulary
  • Develop hand-eye co-ordination
  • Improve fine motor skills

Special Stories

  • Improving reading skills
  • Encouraging development of spoken language
  • Creating talking books and organising photos
  • Helping with social skills
  • Explaining step-by-step tasks
  • Home-school communication
  • Sharing news with family and friends

Do you use tablets in your setting? Which apps have you found useful?

Find a full list of apps suitable for SEN on the County Durham SEND and Inclusion App Resource.

About me: Founder, Beverley Dean

I founded Special iApps in 2011 to create educational apps for children with Special Educational Needs like my youngest son William. You can read my full story on the website. 

Special iApps C.I.C is a Community Interested Company, a social enterprise that creates apps for children and young people with Special Educational Needs. It was founded in 2011 and has a range of apps that support children who have Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, hearing impaired, visual impaired as well as a number of other disabilities and Special Educational or Additional Needs. The apps are also suitable for Early Years as well as English as an additional language.



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