The educational app: new solutions to America’s literacy problem

Article by Fran H Jakubowicz

A revolution in early childhood education is taking place in certain cities in the United States thanks to modern technology and certain educators and politicians who have allowed themselves to think out of the box. Apple ipads have made their way into kindergartens in Auburn, Maine; Omaha, Nebraska; Columbiana, Ohio; and Scottsdale Arizona. The goal of the iPad program in Maine is to increase the literacy rate from 62% to 90%. Tom Morrill, the Superintendent in Maine commented in a Boston Globe report , “The iPad is a powerful education tool with hundreds of teaching applications, with its touchpad screen, it is simple to use and can bring learning to life with imagery and sounds. It’s a revolution in education.” Superintendent Morrill has already received a lot of positive feedback regarding this program.

The ipad has a lot of work to do if it wants to tackle America’s literacy problem. 44% of American 4th grade students cannot read fluently. According to the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 37% of 4th graders and 26% of 8th graders are unable to read on a basic level. This means that they are unable to comprehend what they read. 46% of American adults cannot understand the labels on their prescription medication. America has been waiting for some new solutions to the literacy issue and the ipad shows some real promise. But if the ipad wants to create some inroads into the literacy problem it needs to start early. It needs to begin in our kindergartens.

While the ipad is indeed a powerful learning instrument for young children, it is the educational app that will ultimately make it sing. Many apps entertain but some manage to educate at the same time. There is one company in particular that stands out in the field of early childhood education that teaches children through creative and enjoyable activities. Umachaka Media Inc. has developed apps for the ipad and the computer that provides kids with games, songs, puzzles, stories and videos that aim to challenge kids on their level and grow and develop with them. TJ’s Puzzle Fun is an app that provides kids with a choice of four puzzles on four different levels. When your child completes the puzzle the picture comes to life in a song or video. Puzzles are an excellent means of improving a child’s spatial awareness and problem solving skills. The songs and videos at the end of the puzzles are a wonderful way of providing positive reinforcement for a job well done.TJ’s Remember is a memory game played on one of three levels of difficulty with six colorful themes to choose from. When a child finds a match she is rewarded with a playful tune. This game is a fun way to develop a child’s memory.TJ’s Seek & Find is an app in which a child is presented with one of four scenes such as a toy store or a circus. He is asked to locate ten items in that scene. Once he finds those items he is transported to another scene, such as a child’s bedroom, where he is asked to match the items with shapes that are in the bedroom. Once the items are placed in the proper place the bedroom comes to life with music and dancing. This app develops a child’s pre-reading skills as well as a child’s self-esteem.TJ’s Picture Dictionary is a colorful talking dictionary that is suitable for young children. It allows kids access to new words and ideas and is perfect for an audience of pre-readers who are building their vocabularies.TJ’s Art is for those budding artists to draw, paint, and stamp their way into fame and fortune (or their parents’ refrigerators, whichever comes first). A pencil named TJ with his friends Dabney the paintbrush, the Koki markers, and Butch the eraser are the tools that children use to play with their A,B,C’s and 1,2,3’s as well as make pictures for their friends and family members in this portable art studio.All these wonderful apps can be found in the apple app store

Umachaka Media Inc. has created a website called TJ & Pals where they have accumulated all of their games, videos, and songs A few things make their website unique. Firstly, it is free of commercial advertisements making it a safe environment for kids to play. Secondly, There is an option called “Live Play” which allows members of the website to play games one on one with family members anywhere in the world. There is also something called “TJ Connect” which is TJ & Pals version of “Skype for preschoolers” – it’s the safe parentally controlled version of Skype for little kids that will allow them to chat with family members and friends that their parents have pre-approved. In short Umachak Media has developed wonderful education apps for the ipad, and a safe environment for kids to play on their website. Maybe there is hope for education in America after all.

Umachaka Media headed by award winning film director Ashley Lazarus has introduced a brand new vision for children’s websites. is a children’s website that utilizes verified educational principles to allow kids, ages 3 to 7, to learn without even realizing that they are learning. They have also developed the technology to give kids the ability to play on the internet without being exposed to child targetted advertisements or other influences.