A few weeks ago my two-year-old daughter was showing my 85-year-old grandmother how to work an iPod touch. I’m not sure if my bubbie was more amazed with the device or with the fact that her great-granddaughter understood it better than her. While this was certainly an adorable sight, it was also a very telling account of how children seem to naturally pick up, and evolve with, the technology around them. Twenty years ago my grandmother was equally mesmerized by my Game Boy, which I effortlessly learned to use.
My daughter knows how to scroll through iPod and iPad pages, go back to the menu, look through pictures, play videos, and “bake” cupcakes via her favorite app. By no means am I saying that she is a spectacular genius (though I won’t discount the possibility), but it is clear that she is able to use the Apple touch devices to a certain extent. I decided to look for more educational ways for her to use “her” iPod (after I bought an iPhone she laid claim to my iTouch). Sure enough there was an app for that. Davka Corporation has a clever and adorable app called Alef Bet Schoolhouse. The app is essentially four different games designed to not only teach children the aleph-bet, but to also learn basic Hebrew words and how to properly pronounce them. While it’s suggested for ages 3-9, I decided to let my little girl test it. Of the four games, I only found one of them age appropriate for my daughter. This was a grid with the Hebrew alphabet mapped out. When a letter is tapped, a larger picture of the letter pops up along with an animated picture of a word that starts with that letter (e.g. for yud a picture of a yaldah – girl – comes on screen). A child’s voice then says the letter and the corresponding Hebrew word. My daughter found this quite engrossing, and came to know a few letters after one sitting. The second game helps children differentiate between similar-looking letters, such as vuv and zayin. When a child completes a round they get an on-screen “prize” (a clown, a box of crayons or a doll). This was too advanced for my little girl, so I did it for her. She was very excited when “we” completed a level, and a prize came on screen. (This is probably the precursor to the inevitability of doing her fifth grade science fair project for her.) The Magical Aleph Bet Game jumbles nine letters, and children must learn their proper order. As they tap the correct letter it disappears, and little by little a cute picture appears. The child’s voice then says the word of the picture in Hebrew and English (e.g. masa’it – truck).
The final game, The Unscrambulator, is the one game adults might actually enjoy as much as children. I was quite proud when I unscrambled a mixed-up chof sofit and a cute chipmunk in a party hat came on screen celebrating my achievement.
The Aleph Bet Schoolhouse is certainly more than worth its cost of $3.99. However, children older than five might tire of the same pictures, words and prizes. While no updates are yet coming, Davka Corporation is hard at work creating more apps for Jewish children. While only one of the four games was suitable for my little girl (for the time being), the app still served my goal of using my daughters’ iPod touch for more educational purposes.