Spell Bear offers young children an opportunity to spell simple words while learning about the sounds that letters make. Players choose a key letter, then drag letters to target boxes to spell the focus word while hearing the letter sounds. The narrator then sounds the word out while highlighting the letters one at a time.
Includes 26 key words with focus beginning or medial sounds
Three levels of difficulty
Fun customization activity allowing kids to use earned points to dress their bear
Add your own words and pictures
Parent information available
Spell Bear is a high quality app that will help young children practice beginning phonics and spelling skills. Developers did a nice job of creating simple illustrations of familiar words to focus on the consonant and short vowel sounds. The system to add your own words is easy to use and works well, except for a known glitch that interferes with adding pictures directly from your device’s photo stream. The work around listed on the App Store page is to transfer your pictures to Dropbox or another supported service and import them from there. Developers did include a small information section for parents, but it would be nice to have a more thorough explanation about the three levels and how they help children learn.
Spell Bear is intended for the very young. Preschoolers and kindergarteners will enjoy the app and are likely to learn a lot about spelling the 26 included words as well as the words that parents or teachers enter for them to work with. Children are presented with an alphabet at the bottom of the screen (users can scroll to see the rest of the letters). When a letter is tapped, the key word for that letter is presented with an illustration, the word spelled with hyphens between the letters, and a notation that says “The letter _ makes the /_/ sound.” Touch the picture, and it is replaced with letter tiles in random order. At the bottom of the screen are tiles to use to spell the word. At the easiest level, the letters are printed on the target tiles. At the medium level, the first letter is printed and the rest are blank, and at the hardest level, all target tiles are blank. When users touch a letter tile, the narrator voices the letter sound, and when the tile is correctly placed, the narrator names the letter. After all tiles are in their correct spots, the narrator voices each phoneme (sounds out the word), then reads the word.
There are a few concerns with the presentation of the skills in this app. Some letter sounds are not 100% accurate, including the letter Y which is voiced as “YE” and the letter W which is voiced as “WWOO” which some children might find confusing. The letter tiles overlap when initially presented, and children can drag them to the targets in any order, instead of being forced to spell from left to right.
The user added words are limited to four, and these must have between three and five letters. The system does not recognize anything except the basic sound of each consonant and short vowel sounds, so words such as “HER” or “CHIP” will not be sounded out correctly. Developers do note that primary sounds only are used, but this should be clarified in the word-adding section, since many parents will not understand the difference. If a user chooses to skip adding a picture to custom words, the app presents a generic “WORD” graphic which may be confusing to young users. It is also impossible to distinguish one custom word from another without a picture, and the app does not pronounce the whole word, or give users an option to record it.
When children spell words correctly, they earn “Paw Points” which can be exchanged for clothing items for the bear in the Clothing Store. Bears can wear various articles, including hats, glasses, and pants. There are also three options for the bear itself-brown, black, or panda coloring. Optional items cost from 3 to 10 paw prints.
Correct spellings are rewarded with a picture of the bear’s face, complete with the decorations that have been purchased. The narrator speaks a brief congratulatory message in a very mechanical and mostly expressionless voice. Children may quickly grow tired of that!
Spell Bear costs ninety-nine cents on the App Store, which is an excellent value, especially if multiple children will use the app. The feature allowing users to add words makes it particularly valuable, because parents can customize and recustomize it as they wish.
Spell Bear is a simple and pleasant app that is designed to help very young students develop basic understandings about letter sounds and word order. The app provides practice with spelling three letter words, sounding words out, and more.