Review of Language Category iPad Apps

See here for an updated post on what worked for us: https://fumblingthruautism.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/the-answer-to-the-category-problem/

In my last post, I compiled and shared a list of language categories (http://wp.me/p2OomI-Ia). By keeping the list of categories in mind, I can quickly highlight categories with Beth in natural settings, such as while reading, playing with toys, and on outings. But Beth’s understanding of categories has been emerging for a very long time, and I was unsure if she was progressing with incidental teaching.  So, I do what I usually do when we have a tough problem. I turned to the iPad as a teaching aid. I downloaded and road tested (i.e. Beth, my 5 year old who has autism, played with them) as many language category apps as I could find.  The good news is there are many to choose from. The bad news is, in my opinion, no single category app has a wide range of categories, necessary customization capabilities, and adequate rewards to motivate Beth.  So, I used parts of several apps for teaching Beth categories on the iPad and it seems to be helping.

Below is my review (actually Beth’s review) of the language category apps we tried. My hope is this post will help you filter through all the options faster than I did, because it took me a month to locate and try all of these apps.  If there is a key category apps missing from this post and you would like Beth to review it, please contact me at tl_calvert@yahoo.com.

Rating system:

  • Worth Trying
  • It’s Okay, But…
  • Didn’t Work For My Kiddo

Sing it!

Tuneville (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tuneville/id405968611?mt)

tuneville

Idea: This app uses the time-honored tradition of teaching kids through song

Price: The section  “How Many…” is free, each additional section (like categories) is $0.99.

Rating: Worth Trying

Pros:

  • Good graphics and design (pause button, several levels to progress from listening to a song to full participation, catchy songs)
  • For kids who love songs, this app capitalizes on that natural motivator
  • If your child likes the song, you can easily create a new song to the same tune (or just try singing the last question of the song “What are these?”)  to extend to categories outside of the app.

Cons:

  • The categories they include are great core categories (food, clothing, letters, numbers, shapes, animals, instruments, and toys), but I wish they had more.  
  • I wish they varied the questions “What are these?” to teach the different ways of asking about categories (I just pause after the first “What are these?” and sing things like “What do you see?” and “These things I see are…?” to vary the question).

Read and Play!

Buddy Bear (Lite: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/autism-pdd-categories-lite/id527931314?mt=8 ; Full version: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/autism-and-pdd-categories/id519101618?mt=8) budy bear categories Idea: The app is like a book, with an easy matching component and short animation.

Price: Lite version free, full version $14.99

Rating: Worth Trying

Pros:

  • It was a hit with Beth because of the cute bear, easy matching that kept her engaged, and rewarding short animation clips.
  • Fairly wide range of categories put in context.

Cons:

  • The categories range from easy to complex and the categories cannot be limited in settings (but it is pretty easy to skip ahead).

Create a Scene Together!

Make a Scene (http://www.makeasceneapp.com/)
make a scene Idea: The app is like putting stickers on a background scene, where you drag and place critters from the bottom bar to the background. There are several “Make a Scene” apps (like farm, ocean, jungle).

Price: Each category (with many items to place on a few different backgrounds) is $0.99

Rating: Worth Trying

Pros:

  • Good graphics with fun sounds and short animation after the items are dragged and dropped into a background scene
  • Good beginner category activity

Cons:

  • My only wish is for more scenes, but you can’t have everything!

Talking Picture Board (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/talking-picture-board/id452550955?mt=8)

talking picture board Idea: The app has many features (large choice board organized into categories, ability to create quizzes and flashcards), but I like it because you can create scenes by putting items onto a background

Price: $1.99

Rating: Worth Trying

Pros:

  • Huge board with many categories and real pictures of items
  • Large number of background scenes (save items in the “banks” and then use the play mode to create scenes)
  • This app packs it in.  You can quickly make a memory game, flashcards, a receptive identification game, and create sentences.  Save a subset of category items in a bank and make custom games (a memory game, flashcards and receptive identification games, yes/no game, and a spelling game) and create picture sentences.
  • The ability to take your own photos using the iPad camera for category items and backgrounds and save them within the app

Cons:

  • The design is a bit cumbersome, due to process of saving category items into “banks” to create the customized games and activities.  Also, it would be better if photos of my category items could be saved within each category rather than being located in one separate location.
  • Cannot add a spoken label to the category photo items I add through my iPad camera
  • Beth was not as interested in creating scenes in this app as she was with the Make a Scene app discussed above.  Probably because the items did not animate when they were placed on the background.

Sort It!

Categories Learning Center (by Smarty Ears) (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/categories-learning-center/id496646536?mt=8) category app smarty ears

Idea: Sorting items into two bottles and much more (other sections for category naming, Where Does It Go? game for sorting into three bottles)

Price: $9.99

Rating: Worth Trying

Pros:

  • Huge list of categories, with options to turn each category on and off (organized by level 1 and 2 categories)
  • Easy concept … sorting things into bottles
  • High level category challenges (sorting and flashcard/question games) to try after your child masters simple sorting into two bottles

Cons:

  • Uses cartoon-like pictures instead of real pictures and the pictures are a bit small
  • There is no reward.  A satisfying “clink” as the items go into the bottle would be so much better (like the Candy Count app for sorting colors, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/candy-count-learn-colors-numbers/id454950461?mt=8) and fireworks/verbal praise when all items are sorted correctly is needed.
  • For the level with two bottles, it would help to separate the bottles apart more to reduce the fine motor challenge.

Sort It Out 1 & 2 (Lite:https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sort-it-out-1/id501939025?mt=8 and https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sort-it-out-2/id501952788?mt=8 , Full versions through in-app purchases)

sort it out

Idea: Sorting of items onto a few scenes, but mostly into shelves/long boxes

Price: Lite version free, full version through in-app purchase $1.99

Rating: Worth Trying

Pros:

  • Cute cartoon-like graphics
  • Good starter app with easy categories
  • Reward is a smiley face and verbal praise

Cons:

  • I see this as a starter app only, since there are no spoken words when the items are pressed and the category list is limited (no higher level categories)
  • Beth needed a lot of modeling by me and verbal hints (put with the cars, put with the balls, etc) with these apps. I think the large field of items at the bottom of the screen and the sorting into horizontal bars above was a bit visually overwhelming to her.
  • It could use a better reward (fireworks, spinning, or confetti)

Tiny Hands Sorting 1 & 2 (Lite: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tinyhands-sorting-1-educational/id599965478?mt=8 and https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tinyhands-sorting-2-educational/id588415329?mt=8 , Full versions through in-app purchases)

tiny hands

Idea: Simple sorting games into containers or backgrounds.

Price: Lite version free, full version through in-app purchase $2.99

Rating: Worth Trying

Pros:

  • Very nice cartoon-like graphics
  • Good starter app with easy categories
  • Nice hint feature (a hand showing where to drag item)
  • Very intiuitive…Beth had no problem knowing what to do
  • Reward is a silly character flying across the screen with balloons, verbal praise, and applause

Cons:

  • I see this as a starter app only, since there are no spoken words when the items are pressed and the category list is limited (no higher level categories)

Autism iHelp – Sorting (Lite: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/autism-ihelp-sorting/id609622929?mt=8 , Full version through in-app purchase -9 category sets)

iHelp Sorting App Idea: Sorting items from the bottom of the screen into two category boxes on the top of the screen.

Price: Lite version free, full version through in-app purchase $1.99

Rating: It’s Okay, But…

Pros:

  • Uses real high-quality pictures
  • Encouraging verbal praise for each correctly sorted item
  • Settings allow for audio on/off, male/female voice, varied sorting of number of items in each box

Cons:

  • A limited, and random, set of categories (toys/clothes, farm animals/zoo animals, bathroom/kitchen, letters/numbers, circles/rectangles, green things/red things, air vehicles/land vehicles, happy/sad, he/she)
  • Could use some fireworks and extra reward after all items are sorted correctly

Where Do I Go? (Lite: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/where-do-i-go-group-match-words/id499190609?mt=8, Full version through in-app purchase) Where do I go Idea: Sort items by dragging them from the bottom of the screen and dropping them into one of three category scenes.

Price: Lite version free, full version through in-app purchase $1.99

Rating: It’s Okay, But…

Pros:

  • Cute cartoon-like graphics for the sorting items and sorting box background
  • I love the combination of sorting and making a scene to put the category items in context
  • Confetti, a big happy face star, verbal praise, and a spinning category item as the reward
  • Nice hint option (a hand showing where to drag item) that can be turned on/off in settings

Cons:

  • Small set of categories (home [kitchen, bathroom, living room], climate [polar, tropical, desert], geography[sea, land, sky], food [fruit, vegetables, grain], animals [mammals, birds, reptiles])
  • The categories were too advanced for Beth.  I guess it can be used for higher level sorting for older kids (?)
  • No customization options.
  • One of the verbal praises is “I’m home!”  Can you imagine that becoming a verbal stim for an autism spectrum kid?  I can, so I hesitate to use this app!

Category Carousel (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/category-carousel/id516878389?mt=8) category carousel

Idea: Sort items by dragging them from the bottom of the screen and dropping them into two small category icons on the top of the screen.

Price: $3.99

Rating: Didn’t Work For My Kiddo

Pros:

  • Uses real high-quality pictures
  • Encouraging verbal praise for each correctly sorted item
  • A visual reward with carnival music and carnival picture after a selected number of items are sorted correctly
  • Settings allow you to choose the categories to be sorted and adjust the number of items to be sorted (6, 9, 12), adjust the number of correct items sorted until the reward music/image appears, and change the frequency and select on/off for verbal praise.

Cons:

  • The program uses a drag and drop method, where the pictures must be placed over the appropriate category icon (which has a single image that is supposed to represent a category) in the upper bar and then the pictures you drag to the icon disappear.  This design confused and frustrated Beth, so we couldn’t use the app.
  • A limited, and random, set of categories (animals, transportation, clothing, food, household, instruments, occupations, summer, winter) with easy and hard pictures mixed together within the categories.
  • There is no way to select and hide some pictures within each category
  • It would be so much better if a short video of a spinning carousel or other carnival ride was used as the reward!

Sort It Out Pack (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sort-this-out-pack/id595179812?mt=8) sort it out

Idea: Sorting items into two train cars

Price: $29.99

Rating: Didn’t Work For My Kiddo

Pros:

  • Cute concept with the train traveling to different places and getting loaded with cargo
  • A large number of pre-loaded categories (flowers, toys, bedroom, music, body parts, weather, drinks, sports, school, ocean, cleaning, shapes, house, insects, animals, clothes, tools, bathroom, kitchen, transportation, vegetables, fruit)
  • Easy concept … sorting things into two train cars
  • Verbal praise and slight fireworks when the items are all sorted
  • You can take pictures with the iPad and add them to the pre-loaded categories or make new category sets

Cons:

  • For the price of the app, it fell way short of my expectations
  • The app contains drawings instead of real pictures
  • Many of the pictures within a category were not beginner pictures or not familiar to Beth, and there was no easy way to hide the pictures for later use without deleting it
  • Instead of accepting the item if it is placed anywhere within the appropriate category train car, the app requires that each picture be placed within a box and the tolerance is tight.  This really frustrated Beth.
  • The ability to take pictures is great, but it was very difficult to get a good picture and the size of the picture ended up to be too small for Beth to recognize the item (there is letter box above and below the pictures that makes the pictures even smaller than the pre-loaded drawings)
  • This is picky, but it just bugged me that the places the train stopped sometimes had absolutely nothing to do with the categories my child was sorting. They could have just had very general stops like home, city, nature, etc. and that would have been more appropriate for sorting various categories in context.

Flashcards (Ho, Hum, Yawn…)

This section is brief because Beth doesn’t like the flashcard apps on the iPad, and these were no exception.

ABA Receptive By Class (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/aba-receptive-by-class/id346469566?mt=8)

aba

Idea:  Receptive identification

Price: $1.99

Rating: Worth Trying

Note: This app is by Kindergarten.com.  If you like them, check out their other flashcards…nouns, feature/function/class, etc.  http://kindergarten.com/

Biggest Pro: Large category set with real pictures and customization options.

Biggest Con: None.  This is a good deal.

Categories Learning Center (by Smarty Ears) (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/categories-learning-center/id496646536?mt=8)

See review above under the Sort It! section.

Rating: Worth Trying

See.Touch.Learn (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/see.touch.learn./id406826506?mt=8)

see touch learn

Idea: This is an excellent flashcard program if you will be using a lot of flashcards and want to make custom sets.

Price: Free, with in-app purchases of card sets (range from $0.99 to $1.99 a set) and a charge for community membership where you can download sets (such as category quizzes) put together by other people to save time ($1.99 for one week, $19.99 for a year).

Rating: Worth Trying

Biggest Pro: You can do anything flashcard related with this app.  I own it and we used it for Beth’s old ABA program, and may use it again to gauge progress.

Biggest Con: It is time-consuming to make custom sets.  Expect to join the community and buy all the sets, because you will end up doing that!

Talking Picture Board (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/talking-picture-board/id452550955?mt=8)

See review above under the Create a Scene Together section.

Rating: Worth Trying

Name That Category (Fun Deck) (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/name-that-category-fun-deck/id453817829?mt=8)

name that category

Idea:  Flashcards

Price: $1.99

Rating: It’s Okay, But…

Biggest Pro: Cute cartoon-like pictures

Biggest Con: This is simply a flash card set.  Beth found the pictures slightly amusing.

Category Therappy (Lite: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/category-therappy-lite/id571553130?mt=8, Full: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/category-therappy/id571551926?mt=8)

therappy

Idea:  Receptive identification of category items in four different games

Price: Lite version free, full version (with more categories and ability to limit categories) through in-app purchase $14.99

Rating: Didn’t Work For My Kiddo

Biggest Pro: Large range of categories with real pictures

Biggest Con: When Beth tried the Classify game, the design frustrated her and was the complete opposite of every other category app on the market.  She wanted to drag and drop the category item on the category, which made intuitive sense, but the app wanted her to poke the overall category.

I Can Do Categories (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/categories-from-i-can-do-apps/id561715173?mt=8)

i can do

Idea:  Receptive identification of category items in five levels of games

Price: $2.99

Rating: Didn’t Work For My Kiddo

Biggest Pro: Large range of categories with real pictures

Biggest Con: When Beth hit the wrong answer in the Level 1 game, then tried to hit the right answer, nothing happened and she was confused.  Usually apps reward choosing the correct answer even if the child picks the wrong one at first, but not this app.

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6 thoughts on “Review of Language Category iPad Apps

  1. Nikki Heyman says:

    This is such a useful post. Thank you for ll your hard work! I have used many of these apps and had similar feelings about them. Categorization is a difficult skill even for ‘neurotypical’ children especially when it is a divergent naming task.

  2. Nancy says:

    Great! Thank you for taking the time to create this list! I do have some of these apps. I check the app store at least once or twice a week to see if anyone has created a category app I can customize. That would be my dream app. Please let me know if you ever find one. Thanks again!

    • grahamta says:

      Thx…showed it to one app developer and they are considering it. I will remember you if I see anything else or if the app developer follows through.

  3. mindy says:

    Have you tried abc mouse.com my students love using it.

    • grahamta says:

      Thx. I will check it out. She doesn’t use the mouse yet though…do you have a recommendation for a kids mouse that is easier to use? I wish they would convert all the wonderful computer programs to the iPad (mimio early learning, the one you mentioned, and others)!

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