MyBackpack-Waterford Learning is a free app packed with early learning tools. Its maker, Waterford Research Institute LLC, is steeped in the tradition of providing services for the benefit of all children, by making educational materials accessible. They were one of the first companies to embrace technology and have been a leader in research and development in education. Their innovations have led to numerous awards for their curriculum software including Best of Show at the 2014 ISTE conference, an (SIIA) CODiE Finalist in both 2013 and 2015, and the recognition as a Certified Autism Resource from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to name a few. Their software is used in schools across the nation and has an incredible body of research to support their methods of teaching. MyBackpack is an app that literally is the virtual embodiment of a backpack with plenty of surprises inside. Inside the backpack are four areas to explore: Books (16), an early math program (4 games), learning songs (36) covering topics from math and science to time and phonics, and nursery rhymes (8). Opening the book selection is a treat. The books are diverse and rich in many cultures and traditions. Each book can be read in its entirety “like a movie” or “read by myself”. Some of the books are a re-working of golden classics, and others are folk tales from far away lands. A minor complaint is that some of the stories have pixelated graphics, indicating the use of earlier material, but the stories themselves are rich, timeless, and span generations. Mental math promotes fluency with number facts to increase the ability for kids to use math in a functional manner. Under the question mark on the opening page for mental math is a thorough overview of working memory, and why the practice of basic skills help with learning later on. One of the most thoughtful features I have ever seen in a math app when using a calculator is to ask if the participant is either left or right handed and then adjusts the placement of the calculator on the screen accordingly. There are 4 games, and a chance to play the master of all games if proficiency is established. In Mental Math, the graphics are slick and fun. The games are timed well to maximize attention, but not so long as for a child to lose interest. The idea is not to play in a burst of activity, but to do a little bit every day, so that consistency and proficiency are built over time. The three games are: • Rock Climb – solving simple equations such as 2+3=5 helps to get our hero, the squirrel to the top of a mountain. • Balloon Race adds a little more complexity by needing enough speed in answering or making sure the answer is correct to keep our squirrel friend aloft. Here kids need to maintain attention to both to be successful, and if not your balloon goes down! • Let’s Build is an untimed game that encourages experimentation. Kids drag numbers to a teeter-totter to balance out a given equation. This teaches flexibility in one’s thinking as well as help to solidify basic math facts. Kids are rewarded with building a playground for the squirrel after finishing for rounds. When basic proficiency has been established, there is one more game called Frustration. Here a timed clock marks the countdown in answering 20 questions. Correctly completing frustration will earn you progress on the game board and award you with prizes along the way. Songs are the next category to be unpacked. The topics range from seasons, telling time, grammar and punctuation, verbs and so on. Many of the videos remind me of Schoolhouse Rock, and again the videos are somewhat pixelated. The tunes are quite catchy and fun and help you retain the material by placing the material in measured beats. Be aware: You may find yourself singing these in the car, shopping, or at dinner – they are quite addictive. Sneaky Magic e is hilarious! Nursery Rhymes round out MyBackpack. Each traditional nursery rhyme has 3 modes of play; listen, explore (with touch and learn animations), or have the rhymes sung out loud. There are 8 in all, and it is heart warming to see the use of diverse characters. A few of the nursery rhymes have finger plays that up to the fun and creates joyful memories. I would highly recommend this FREE app. It is quite generous of the Waterford Institute and contains hours of instructional and playful games, stories, and activities for early learners to kids in the first or second grade. Waterford is a brand to trust, with no IAPs or ads. They have the research behind everything they produce and are a top pick. Jo Booth OTR/L has been an Occupational Therapist for over 35 years, and currently practices at EasterSeals of Sepa, Montgomery County Division mainly focusing on Early Intervention. It is an APS (Approved Private School) and home outreach based setting. She has also worked in Adolescent and Adult Rehabilitation. Writing reviews for Teachers With Apps have been a tremendous opportunity and experience to share and learn with others.
Written by Jo Booth
Jo Booth has been an Occupational Therapist for over 30 years and currently works in Pediatrics with early intervention. She sees kids newly diagnosed on the spectrum as well as medically fragile kids. She loves to move, explore and play every day; so that “her kids” grow up to be healthy independent learners.
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