I’m glad to see a new addition from Callaway Digital Arts, developer of the well-executed Monster at the End of This Book app. In the educational Endless Alphabet (January 2013), young users explore the alphabet, spelling, and vocabulary.
Users may begin the app with any letter of the alphabet by tapping it on the root menu, or begin with A and work through to Z. The narrator speaks a word beginning with that letter as it appears in all-uppercase on the notebook paper–style background. Then a gaggle of friendly monsters runs across, displacing the letters. Users are invited to spell the word by dragging the scattered letters into their appropriate order.
Touching each of the brightly patterned letters (with monster-worthy features of their own) prompts the narrator to say its name and the letter to vocalize one of its sounds. Users are then treated to a short, humorous animation of the monsters explicating the word’s meaning, followed by a clear definition from the narrator. Many of the definitions include some kid-friendly commentary, as in “Lick: When you lick something you are using your tongue to clean, taste, or wet it. You can lick ice cream, but you shouldn’t lick your shoes” and “Tangle: A tangle is a mess of rope or strings. Hair gets tangled all the time.”
The narrator’s tone and cadence are natural, but the personality-filled monsters and letters — all with individualized voices — steal the show. Plenty of unobtrusive repetition helps solidify connections between the words, their definitions, and their spelling. Cut paper–looking illustrations, funny sound effects, and upbeat music make the app an even more engaging experience. Users may easily replay any of the animations or definitions and navigate forwards or backward through the alphabet. The developer will automatically update the app weekly with new words and their corresponding animations (hence the “endless alphabet”).
Callaway has made an admirable effort to represent different parts of speech and to avoid typical alphabet book fodder in their word choices. While some of the vocabulary (e.g., cooperate, demolish, gargantuan, hilarious) is likely beyond preschoolers new to the alphabet and intended instead for elementary-age kids, other words (e.g., kind, rainstorm, sticky, umbrella, zipper) are accessible for the youngest users.
Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch (requires iOS 5.0 or later); $5.99. Recommended for preschool users.