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Chalk Walk Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 7th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Chalk Walk is a very interesting app for iPad that re-enforces the pincher grip used to hold a pencil correctly, something that is rarely the focus of within an application.

Although applications with a lot of dragging and other interactive elements are often touted as being good for fine motor skills, the hallmark of fine motor skills support is the exercise of the pincher grip where the thumb and forefinger pinch together to correctly hold a pencil.

We do love to use the iPad and iPhone for all sorts of applications including art apps which allow children the chance to finger-paint or color with the swipe of a single finger, I have always been aware of the need to reinforce these skills with real art supplies, especially crayons as their resistance when dragged across paper which strengthen important muscles.

I do wonder sometimes if the use of the iPad and iPhone still may impede my son’s fine motor skills development more than if he only had crayons or paints to create with, although the use of these supplies would never be welcomed in his bed before sleep on long drives or on the sofa in our family room - places he loves to curl up with the iPad.

Because of these concerns, I am intrigued by this application, Chalk Walk, developed by a teacher, Frances Judd, which was thoughtfully created to give iPad users a chance to practice their pincher grip as they trace a character on the screen who draws a chalk line across the page styled to be the sidewalk of a urban area (think Sesame Street) but with the P.O.V. of the sidewalk.

Children are instructed to drag two bulls-eyes together with their thumb and forefinger and while in this position, trace the trail created by a character presumably drawing a line on the sidewalk with chalk. Although one has the option of following this character closely, keeping their bulls-eyes within the same bubble surrounding the characters found among these pages, it may be easiest for young players to wait until the line has been created to trace directly over it as best they can.

As one travels through these sections, players will notice that each word demonstrated, such as “Kitty” will include individual lines to trace, one per letter of the word in question, adding some basic literacy education to this game as well.

Ten of these sections are offered, as well as a final area dedicated to free play that I enjoy.

I appreciate the concept of this game a great deal, but the more I play this application the more aware I am of this app’s limitations.

Do note that this app needs direct skin contact from the player, making it necessary for me to trim my nails before use. Not an issue for me really, but other users my feel differently. I also have a hard time being able to trace these lines accurately even as an adult as my hand oftentimes covers the line I am tracing.

Although I applaud Ms. Judd for creating an application that mimics the proper way of holding the pencil, I still found the grip needed at times cumbersome to use as I found myself pressing rather hard to make good contact with the screen in order to draw a line without skipping, especially as I try to trace a line on the page.

I like that this app includes fun shapes and movements offered as one moves from the left to the right side of the page, more engaging than if only straight lines were incorporated, but even as an adult, I had a hard time getting the perfect score of three out of three stars, and I worry that this app may be too hard for children who are in need of this type of exercise. I do, however, appreciate the swirly nature of many of these shapes which gives children a sense of what writing cursive may feel like - something I have not seen much of within applications.

I would love to see a choice of chalk point size an an option in a future update as a larger point would make accuracy less of an issue for those just starting out using this application.

It is a great inclusion, however, that this app supports both left- as well as right-handers - a very important inclusion. The included music is also exceptional, with a wonderful use of drums and other instruments that to me are reminiscent of a drum-line as well as other influences as this music changes for every section, bringing something new to these areas that correlate to the word in question, like robotic elements incorporated into the word “Robot.”

Even with the difficulty I have had in this application, I do think this is a very nice app for children who may be more focused on playing iPad games than doing art in real life, especially boys who may unfortunately associate art supplies with “girly” activity. A sections of hints is included that is helpful to read before using this app, please look for it.

Those interested in other apps by Ms. Judd be sure to also check out Snow Flake Station, also reviewed here at GiggleApps. I find these apps to be very nicely conceived - creative and very educational. I look forward to seeing what new apps Ms. Judd may develop next.

Snowflake Station Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 9th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Snowflake Station in a wonderful craft application for iPad that allows children to cut their own paper snowflakes, teaching the concept of symmetry and other skills along the way.

I have always been a huge fan of paper-cut art since I was old enough to pick up a scissors. My love for paper cutting stems, I am sure, from my lack of ability to draw representationally. Yet here, few cuts to a correctly folded paper ever look mistaken, creating an art form that children and adults who lack certain foundation skills in drawing can fully own themselves.

For me, the process of folding and cutting has been more important than the snowflake or other decorative shapes produced, and I have never been a fan of the cleanup associated with paper-cut art. Because of this, I have really been enjoying Snowflake Station which allows children to work in two basic modes - Workshop, where one traces over lines of dots, creating cuts in the paper or Creation Station - where players work freehand to make their own designs.

Workshop includes an impressive amount of templates that one traces with a finger to create snowflakes in a variety of shapes and levels of intricateness. This would be a wonderful app for those just learning how to connect the dots or for children new to scissors and are able to understand the concept of paper cutting but whose fine motor skills are simply not adequately developed to control scissors well enough to make their own designs just yet - such as my son at four years of age.

It is also a nice touch that the dotted lines one traces fade away, leaving one to to remember the basic line one is cutting in the more sophisticated levels, adding a nice element of memorization as well as pointing out how symmetrical images have been created along the way - a wonderful way to teach this important concept.

My favorite section, however, is the Creation Workshop which allows users to choose a style of folded paper, from the simple folded square sheet folded twice, creating four symmetrical panels, to the more delicate octagonal-shaped snowflakes that, when unfolded, reveal 16 equal sides cut into innumerable possibilities.

The cutting of these snowflakes is nice and intuitive as one drags a finger over the folded paper to cut shapes.

It is worth mentioning that most children are used to using scissors during this activity, but this experience is a little different, allowing easy access to the center of these shapes - something not easy to achieve with a scissors as extra folds would be needed to reach the areas not directly touching an edge of the paper. It is as if here, a knife is being used to cut away shapes that can easily fit into any area one wants to cut - be it the center or sides of the folded paper.

Another interesting element found within this app is the fact that when working with scissors, if one cuts the corner of the paper with a single cut, one would expect the corner to fall away, but here one can fully cut through the page and the cut marks will become negative space without the use of gravity removing the effected pieces, adding to the details one can create with ease. To fully cut away pieces, be sure to lasso the piece in question to remove it completely from the page.

I love the inclusion of an undo button styled like a tape dispenser which allows children to fix mistakes they may have made - wonderful for beginner artists new to making paper art.

I also especially enjoy the use of a preview button shaped like an eye that allows children a sneak peak at their creation - intriguing as it is not really possible to unfold and refold to real paper as the lines would never line up in a way that would allow for re-cutting, making this sneak peak interesting and fun.

Watching the paper slowly unfold is always a magical time be it with real paper or within this app. I especially enjoy how this app demonstrates this as the symmetry created is really showcased - a great lesson that is important to understand as the basis of math, touched upon in more detail within the Workshop section.

Another element hard to re-create with paper is the chance to include eight folds, as the paper gets awfully thick and uneven, especially with the basic paper found around one’s home. Because of this, I am really enjoying working on the selections involving eight paper folds, creating 16 uniform surfaces that I have been excising with use of a stylus, creating details so minute that in real life, the paper one is working on would become so fragile that it would fall apart in one’s hands.

Children will also love the choice of colored paper and glitter to use before or after their creations are cut - nice touches to be sure, as is the ability to change these colors over and over again, experimenting with different shades of paper combined with glitter hues.

I like that saving one’s snowflakes to a gallery is possible as is framing these images against a selection of lovely natural landscapes such as trees during a snowfall.

I prefer, however, the setting to create little snowflakes that then fall from the sky using one’s landscape choice as the background.

Other backdrops include the default choice, which is very nice in its own right - that of a natural wood grain which keeps the focal point of the snowflake itself - or a photo of the players choosing from either the iPad’s camera roll or by taking a new photo.

I really appreciate how a shadow is included within the framing of these snowflakes, adding a very nice realistic detail that I greatly enjoy, as I do the ability to make changes to snowflakes kept in the gallery if one chooses to do so.

Music is included that is easy to listen to that can be muted if one chooses, making this app a wonderful quiet activity. I also like that the included narration offering compliments and encouragement can be turned off as well independently of the music - a nice touch.

I have really enjoyed this application, creating my own snowflakes as well as the tutorials that have taught me new shapes that can be cut into paper art. I have quite the gallery of my own work and will continue to make more snowflakes in the future.

I have noticed that sometimes the cutting is less than smooth - reminding me of cutting with dull scissors - an issue I hope can be looked at in the future, but even these rough cuts look interesting as one watches the paper unfold to see one’s work.

This is an app I highly recommend for children and their adults alike.

It is worth noting that this app has been designed by Chicago-based teacher, Frances Judd, developed to teach children about symmetry, which this app does well.

Another application from Mrs. Judd is Chalk Walk, developed to enable children to work on their pincher grip on the iPad, and it is another app that I look forward to reviewing on GiggleApps soon. I am overall very impressed by Snowflake Station, and I will be on the lookout for any new apps by Frances Judd in the future.