Continuing our series of the best educational apps, we round up our favourite spelling and phonics apps for nursery and primary school kids. And no, we still don’t know why through has a ‘gh’ in it.
Spelling practice is a necessary evil which many kids find a real chore. If you have memories of being quizzed on endless lists of words over breakfast while trying to wolf down your toast and get your shoes on at the same time, you will probably have some sympathy with them.
Thankfully, there are now hundreds of apps and games that try and engage kids in learning to read through play. The challenge, though, is wading through them to find the ones that hold their attention for longer than 20 minutes and which use British English spelling and pronunciation. So we asked around, found out which apps parents and teachers rate and put them through their paces to whittle down a list of our favourites – from phonics flashcards for eager toddlers to spelling tests that we bet would challenge most parents.
Our favourite tried and tested spelling and phonics apps:
Hip Hop Hen
Best for: Ages 2-4
Available on iOS (£2.29 for individuals apps or £4.49 for the bundle of 3).
Created by two UK teachers, the Hip Hop Hen series started life as a slick and simple ABC flashcards game (with beautiful illustrations and hilarious catchy songs) and has since grown into a brilliant set of three complementary apps: flashcards, jigsaws and letter tracing, all aimed at 2-4 year olds.
The series is designed to support the Early Years curriculum and teach children to hear, read and write early phonic sounds to prepare them for reading. The original flashcards game won the App Store Editor’s Choice award in 2014. A fourth app, teaching simple CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words is released on 2 July. And if the brilliant illustrations look familiar it’s because they are the work of Ben Hawkes, creator of the popular ABC London book.
Part of the wider online literacy series supported by the charitable Usbourne Foundation, this multi award-winning app is specifically aimed at younger kids getting to grips with basic letter and sound recognition. The quality of the game design is really high lending a true interactive gaming feel to the educational content.
Children create their own monster and move through a world of eight islands, which each house a series of mini games that tackle a new letter or sound. Each letter is reinforced by four different mini-games that must be completed before the child wins their reward and moves onto the next. The game is adaptive too, meaning that the letters or sounds that the child has struggled with will come up in the mini games more often. Each level is also complemented with further activities to introduce the concepts of blending, segmenting and decoding tricky words.
Once they have mastered First Steps, they can move onto Fun with Words (free on desktop and coming soon as an app) and then Champion Reader (desktop only, free) which takes children through to reading full sentences.
UK based developers KeyStageFun have been hugely successful in tying up the maths app market for primary school kids with their Squeebles games and have struck gold again with their literacy apps. Children set out on a quest to save the endearing Squeebles from the Spelling Snake by correctly answering the spelling challenges and, following the tried and tested educational app formula, kids collect rewards in the spelling games to use in the ‘fun’ mini-game Squeeberang as an incentive.
The beauty of it? It is fully customisable so parents can record the specific word lists to support homework tasks and can adjust the difficulty to suit their individual child – settings allow children to see the word or just hear it (or both) before spelling it and there are various options to randomise or focus on words that they struggle with. The app works cross-device too, allowing parents to create tests on their own devices to then be delivered on other iPads and phones.
Mr Thorne SpellBook 2: Master Edition
Best for: Ages 7+
Available on iOS (£1.99)
There is no stopping London primary school teacher and YouTube sensation Christopher Thorne – this is the 18th app in his hugely successful digital learning series that covers everything from grammar to maths (his Maths Universe features in our Best Maths Apps list). This is his second spelling app, building on the original Spellbook for 5-7 year olds, and is specifically designed not just to improve spelling technique but also for building vocabulary in Key Stage 2 and into secondary school.
The 72 spelling tests are divided into themed sets such as space, countries and football and categories including irregular verbs and compound words. Some of the later levels are really quite exacting, even for grown ups – rheumatic and onomatopoeia anyone?