iPad learning tool integrates toys to teach children to read

Play tools meet augmented reality

Square Panda

Silicon Valley upstart Square Panda announced a new phonics toolset that integrates with iPhones and iPads at CES 2016. Developed in collaboration with the Agassi Foundation, Square Panda's learning system helps children learn by decoding letter and word sounds.

When the Square Panda Play-set is paired with an iPad, on-screen videos and games guide children through the process of sounding out and recognizing words through a tactile experience. The system allows children ages three and up to spell out words using letter blocks that accompany the app.

"Square Panda Phonics Play-set is the first connected device for early learners that teaches phonics and print in a completely multi-sensory way," said Andy Butler, CEO of Square Panda, in a statement. "Square Panda is currently in pilot programs at various Head Start chapters, as well as day centers in the Las Vegas area. We are encouraged by the education community's positive responses and look forward to continue working with parents and educators around the country to advance reading readiness skills for young children before they enter kindergarten."

Combining real tools with gaming

There are two components of the Square Panda learning system, Butler explained to techradar in an interview. The first part is an iPad app. The second part is a stand with an area where students can place letter blocks to interactively spell words. These two components provide an engaging educational experience when combined.

The app provides instant response and can adapt to a child's learning progress. For example, if a child struggles with a particular word or level, the app will recognize this and alter the curriculum to allow the child more time in that area. Parents can even personalize the app as well, creating an augmented reality play.

In a demo, Butler shows that the Square Panda app can help a child spell out the word "dog." If the word is spelled out correctly, the app will reward the child with a picture of the word, and the on-screen chameleon teacher will do a colorful dance. Instead of a generic photo, parents can insert a photo of their family dog. Similarly, a photo of mom can be inserted as a reward for when a child correctly spells out "M-O-M."

"I know one of the most important skills for a child to possess as they enter kindergarten is a basic understanding of phonics," said Andre Agassi, Chairman and Founder of the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education. "If you can teach a child basic reading, then the child will begin their educational experience with self-confidence."

The basic Square Panda Phonics Play-set costs $99, and the company will offer optional add-on services as well, including tutoring, a subscription plan with more games and additional learning tools.

At this time, the app is only available for iPad, but Butler informed me that the company will look at expanding into other platforms in the future.

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