Educational Mobile App Becomes Big Hit

This April Hideout, an educational iPad and iPhone app, was launched on iTunes as supplemental material for the Systematic and Engaging Early Literacy Program (SEEL). Featuring fun and relevant activities, such as a popcorn scene that allows children to make popcorn pophop, and stop by tapping on the screen, the app is designed to teach preschool and early elementary school children to recognize phonic patterns in words.

Now, only seven months after its debut, Hideout has reached over 1 5 ,000 downloads and has a rating of four and a half of five stars on iTunes. Hideout was recognized by smartappsforkids.com as “Good Free App of the Day”, and after the review in October it was the 60th highest download of a free educational app in the U.S. on iTunes.

Barbara Culatta, a professor in the Department of Communication Disorders in the McKay School, began to develop the SEEL program from grant funds in 1998, and it has since been developed and applied through the McKay School. The SEEL program uses playfulness to instruct as it helps improve literacy teaching of children at preschool and elementary levels.

When children use Hideout to learn phonics, they believe they are playing, which helps to make the experience more memorable so they are more likely to understand and acquire well-developed skills. “If children can have well developed skills and understand the meaning and function of reading early on, they are less likely to lag behind,” Culatta said.

Hideout is used inside and outside the classroom. It functions as a stand-alone tool or fits into the larger SEEL program along with various other materials. The popularity of the app on iTunes shows its merits as a stand-alone tool. One customer review read, “In the short time I ‘field tested’ this with my kindergarten class, it became a fast favorite! You could hear them chanting the word families and they enjoyed the game that went along with each one.” One review from a parent read, “I so thoroughly loved this app and the reactions from my children that I am desperately looking for more! I homeschool and have studied several modalities of teaching and types of learning and this app takes the cake…and then some.”

The Hideout app designer, Joseph Baird, talked about the critical success of the app saying, “You would be hard pressed to find an app so universally loved by kids, parents, teachers, and academics alike.” Culatta said the apps’ success could be attributed to its strong academic foundation. “The popularity of the engaging Hideout app is not surprising because it is developmentally sound and relevant to the young learners,” Culatta explained.

“Hideout is popular because it targets both sound awareness and reading; the activities also vary for each pattern taught,” Culatta said.  “Each word ending is placed in a different scenario.  Other early literacy apps repeat the same task for each new phonic or sound pattern taught. “

The app is currently undergoing updates that will be launched in the coming weeks to improve the user experience and add new play scenarios. Hideout can be found on the iTunes store, and more information about the SEEL program can be found here.