As a mother of a child with special needs (PDD-NOS and high functioning autism spectrum disorder) and as an early childhood educator, I have spent nearly a decade reviewing apps. When considering Educational Technology, it's important to choose tools that enable the learner to become independent in his/her learning and lead him/her to show mastery of a specific skill. I am not only referring to academics; I am also referring to social, emotional, self-help, and adaptive learning as many of these are challenges for children who are developmentally delayed. The technology needs to be flexible, student centered, relevant, and presents the learner with the opportunity to choose what he/she wants to do. Most importantly, the technology needs to be used in a constructive way as opposed to merely being a babysitter. Technology should be used as a "means to an end" and not an end in itself. The learner should be focused on the content and skills being taught, rather than the technology itself. The goal is that the learner should be able to demonstrate the skills WITHOUT technology; technology should help the learner to reach that point. I recently had the opportunity to review Bluebee Pals
, developed by Laura Jiencke of Kayle Concepts
, and found that it is definitely a tool that meets the criteria above.
Designed for children ages 3-7 as well as those with special needs, the Bluebee Pal is an interactive plush learning tool with a FREE companion life skills/educational app. Using Bluetooth, it connects to all iOS
and Android Devices and pairs with all apps with a narrative. Its patented technology allows Bluebee’s “mouth and head” to move while reading stories, teaching through educational games, learning a language, and singing songs.
|Lily the Lamb|
What sets Bluebee Pals aside from other children's learning apps? First of all, a stuffed animal is included as part of the learning. There are six different Bluebee Pals to choose from. This is great for those children who crave physical stimulation and sensory input. I don't know of any preschool child who doesn't enjoy the company of his/her own stuffed animal. For example, Second Step
, an early childhood curriculum that teaches social and emotional learning, features the use of stuffed animals. Second, the ability to use the stuffed animal when reading a story enables the learner to listen to the narrative alone and pay attention to the Bluebee Pal, instead of watching the screen on the device. We know children learn best when it's done in a way that is multi-sensory; the more senses that are stimulated, the greater the chance that the children will grasp the material. However, it is also important that children strengthen individual senses when learning as they will not always have the option to experience multi-sensory learning. This is also a good idea when wanting a child to hear a story without giving him/her additional screen time. Adults can assess the child's comprehension and listening skills by asking questions after the Bluebee Pal narrates the story to the child.
Children with special needs benefit from apps that are flexible and those that afford them the ability to make choices. They need to feel in control of their learning. Many of the activities in the Bluebee Pals app are designed with that purpose in mind. For example, when the child first opens the Bluebee Pals app, he/she is given the opportunity to choose one of six Bluebee Pals to learn with. The next step is for the child to select his/her favorite color of balloon, category, and the room of the house that he/she wants to explore. As there is no sequential order in which the child must complete a given activity, the child can choose the order in which he/she completes the given activity. In addition, the child can easily choose to repeat that activity without feeling that he/she must move onto another activity.
|Bluebee Pals House|
A common goal for for younger learners and those with special needs is the ability to follow one and two step directions. For those who have difficulty with the reception of language, the Bluebee Pals app includes activities that can help them in this area of language and communication. Examples include but are not limited to: feeding the Bluebee Pal, brushing its teeth, and putting it to sleep. This is a great activity which can be integrated within a child's speech and language therapy sessions.
|Lily the Lamb gets ready for bed.|
Developmental delays in language often affect one's literacy skills in a variety of areas, such as comprehension, vocabulary, and phonics. To strengthen the child's vocabulary skills, the app includes a sound-board feature where the child touches an object on the screen and the app identifies what the object is. Adults can practice these words with children by using them part of daily conversation when participating in these routines. To strengthen comprehension skills, the Bluebee Pals' app includes a number of mini-games that target inferencing and critical thinking skills. The child is given a specific situation must infer what the character must do within that context. Last but not least, the Bluebee Pal app includes a number of games that focus on phonics and letters in an interactive and engaging way.
When choosing digital media, the content and skills that are being taught need to be relevant to the child's life. The Bluebee Pals app incorporates various daily living skills, such as hygiene, cooking, and cleaning up. The end goal is that the child will apply these skills to his/her own life. Needless to say, there is a greater chance that the child will do so when an adult is supervising the child using the app and reinforces the desired behavior each day.
I am very impressed with Bluebee Pals and all that it has to offer. With all of the activities that were created to strengthen children's development in all areas of learning, it's a win-win. And the fact that the developers are open to listening to suggestions on ways to constantly improve it is invaluable. Looking for a gift for a preschool child or a child with special needs? A Bluebee Pal just might be the answer. It's no surprise that it has been the recipient of various awards. You can learn more about Bluebee Pals by visiting https://www.bluebeepals.com/apps-bluebee-pals/