EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a synopsis of an edWeb.net webinar entitled “Using Technology to Engage Learning, Communication & Relationships” which featured Tamara Kaldor, director of PLAY is Work (Chicago Play Pro). You can reach Tamara at firstname.lastname@example.org or @chiplaypro.
“Screen time” is often considered as something that isolates students or is to be used as a reward for good behavior. But in her work as a developmental therapist, autism expert and assistive technology specialist in Evanston, Illinois, Tamara Kaldor uses a wealth of apps that connect kids to peers, school staff, and families. Many of these are reviewed on her websites, graphite.org and commonsensemedia.org.
Kaldor uses tech to help kids find their voice in school, community, and home; to support emotional regulation; to process experiences and information; to allow children to show and tell us what they know; and to support independence. She thinks about the goals and outcomes for the child, what she wants to document, and how tech can support this.
For example, she will share something the child has made with parents. This allows kids to talk at the dinner table about what they did that day. She advises thinking about what you can document to help families see the child’s progress.
Kaldor mentioned many apps in the webinar. Here are some — check the webinar for the complete list and for other tips. If you have a smartboard instead of mobile device, you can use many of these apps together as a class.
Apps for emotional regulation
Transitions/sequencing and social stories
Choiceworks ($6.99 for iPhone and iPad) and Choiceworks Calendar ($4.99 for iPad) — or bundle of both for $9.99 for iPad): A picture-based learning tool that helps children complete daily routines, understand and control feelings, improve their waiting skills, and make choices.
One of Kaldor’s favorites, she said Choiceworks is well worth the money. Choiceworks allows kids to make their own social stories. One of the most popular is what to do when dealing with anger. (See further in the article for more social stories apps.)
Kaldor found Choiceworks very successful in encouraging involvement from fathers or other partners who are having trouble connecting with the child. For example, the family might make a weekend schedule together on Choiceworks. They then have a visual schedule to support them and the child happily follows along. Kaldor said Choiceworks’ waiting board is also helpful. It gives kids choices about what to do when they are upset.
Choiceworks also allows kids to record their own voices. This is a great exercise for kids with language issues.
Sesame Street Breathe, Think, Do: (Free for iPad, iPhone and Windows/Droid devices): Help a Sesame Street monster friend calm down and solve everyday challenges. Kaldor said it was good for mindfulness practice.
Kimochis Feel Guide — Not an app, but instruction and materials which help kids figure out their feelings and hold emotion pillows.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood TV show, website, and app ($2.99 for iPhone and iPad and Android): Explore bedtime, bathtime, doctor, and more at Daniel Tiger’s house Kaldor said it has great songs relating to emotional regulation and calming down after a temper tantrum. Her students sing them a lot.
Google Forms (Free, browser-based): Allows great flexibility and ease of use in creating surveys. Kaldor likes to integrate pictures of facial expressions from the app ZONES of Regulation ($5.99, iOS) into the surveys, to ask kids how they’re feeling when they walk into class.
More social stories / maker apps
Kaldor emphasized the importance of letting kids make their own stories. When kids make their own sequences, they are doing executive functioning through sequencing, she said.
Kaldor lets students take pictures with the devices. She said the risk of damage from dropping is low if the device has a good cover. She feels the risk is worth it, since taking pictures empowers students to express themselves and connect with others. She said it is eye-opening what even nonverbal students will create when given the opportunity.
Kaldor helps new children figure out their role in a group by having them take pictures of what the group is doing. As a game, Kaldor sometimes has a student take a picture of something, then has the entire group guess what the picture is of.
Oftentimes students can bring the devices or printouts of their work to their family dinner as a visual reminder and conversation starter about what they did in school that day.
Students also use pictures and social stories to document what they should do in certain social situations. Kaldor laminates these and leaves them in the classroom where kids can refer to them.
Kaldor loves to let kids create. Photography exercises visual skills and relatedness. Storytellling and moviemaking exercise ideation, sequencing, and creativity. Here are some helpful apps.
Camera on device: The earliest iPads don’t have cameras, but smartphones, later iPads, and many other mobile devices do, including movie creation ability.
Keynote ($9.99 for iPhone and iPad); PowerPoint (part of MS Office); Google Docs and Slides (Free, web-based for Android devices). Good for creating books. Kaldor recommends treating each page as the page of a book
In addition to social stories, kids can use these apps to create books, speeches, and reports. In one instance, a little boy wanted to be a part of the school science fair, but he had ADD issues and language challenges. To make a book about the Bermuda Triangle, he used BookCreator and ThingLink. The boy made movies, deciding which pictures to use and sourcing them, and he voice-recorded the facts he was interested in. Using Keynote, he presented it as a series of slides at the Science Fair. People loved looking at it and the principal wanted to have all the kids in school do similar presentations. One high school student used BookCreator to make an entire speech.
Apps for improving group interactions
When problems occur between children in groups, there are some very good apps for reviewing social situations to rectify behavior. Some of them can be used to rebuild the situation to review what happened.
FlummoxVision (Free for iPad) is a live-action comedy show designed to help kids navigate the social and emotional world. Kaldor said it is good for social skills and social thinking.
Puppet Pals HD (Free for iPad): Allows kids to pick out actors and backdrops, put them on stage, and voice record for later playback.
Toca Boca apps (Free for iPhone, iPad and Android). These allow free, unstructured play. Kaldor especially likes the Play House app, and says the Tea Party app is great for practicing social skills such as pouring tea for others and taking turns. The apps are very good for kids with mobility issues, and parents like them for playdates.
Apps for reading
Dyslexie font (Free for home use, 44 to 89 euros/year for educational site license): Not an app, but a special font that is easier for dyslexics to read.