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Reader Bee’s First Story Maker

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This is an app of two parts. First there is a simple space in which children can play with and develop their literacy skills.  Secondly a custom keyboard, usable in both this app and those by other developers, designed to help children take their first steps in formulating words and sentences.

Teacher Review

The developers of Reader Bee’s First Story Maker have been quick to be among the first to make good educational use of Apple’s fairly recent relaxation of the rule that prohibited third party keyboards.  This does make setting up the app slightly more complex than others, as you must go into the settings menu to enable the custom keyboard.  The great news, though, is that the new keyboard is available for use in other completely unrelated apps too.
The keyboard is a lot cleverer than it may at first appear.  What looks like a hexagon based set of letters, with pictures denoting the initial letter, has had some careful thought put into its layout.  The most common words such as , the, is, an , of , and at, are placed such that they can be formed without taking one’s finger off the keyboard.  This is a really useful feature and allows children to flow throw the process of spelling common words without the break of having to search for a letter.  Little customisations can also be made to this keyboard as children become less dependent on its features. These allow it to change from lower to upper case and to show the letters without the pictures.
The app that brings with it this new keyboard is designed to encourage young children to experiment with using letters to form words and to use these words to form sentences.  Using the new keyboard (or even the standard keyboard) the app has space for children to form, in large letters, their words and sentences.  A clever and useful feature of this app is that it includes a large amount of pictures linked to certain words that young children will start with in literacy foundations.  Many of these are consonant, vowel, consonant words and typing them replaces the word with the appropriate picture.  This confirms to the child that their spelling is correct and they can switch between word and picture by tapping it. The reverse is also true, in that children can select the word they want to use in its picture form and then tap this to turn it in to the letters.  The app really does all it can so that children have the means to build their own understanding.
Rounding off the story and sentence creation is a simple drawing app for children to illustrate their sentences.  Finally, recognising that children will be proud of their new writing skills and will want to both preserve their work and share it with family, they can tap the camera icon which will save their creation to the camera roll of their device for sharing by email or other method.
If there is any criticism of this app it is that the keyboard, due to its innovative layout and the rules enforced by the device manufacturer for the dimensions of keyboards, is a little cramped for young fingers.  This is likely to be no more than a minor and occasional problem and certainly shouldn’t put you off from what is an original and useful app.


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From the Developer

Unleash your child's inner Story Maker! Their stories can come to life with magic pictures that transform into words and back again with a tap and they will love drawing illustrations. The Honeycomb Keyboard lets young children see and write words (like cat, hat, sat, with, the, and, is) with one swipe through the letters, helping them learn to read as well as write.

Kids can browse through dozens of fanciful pictures to inspire their tale-telling and jumpstart their spelling. Once a picture of an octopus, a strawberry or a violin has been pulled into the story, tapping changes it magically into the spelled word 'octopus', 'strawberry' or 'violin'. Even more surprising, type, "c a t" and pop - a cat will appear where that word was!

The Honeycomb keyboard lets kids swipe through the commonest words in English (the, is, in, it, and...) without picking up their fingers. That's approximately 20% of the words in a 950M word sample! Kids and grownups can also use the Honeycomb keyboard in many other iPad apps - email, notes, messages and more.

Companion app for Reader Bee and the Story Tree, Children’s Technology Review Editor’s Pick for 2014.

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