Every day at Homer, our team of educators and literacy experts is lucky enough to spend time talking to our amazing community of parents about the ways their children are using our program. We learn as much from their questions as we do from their positive comments.
One of the questions we hear over and over is this: “So many of the educational apps my child loves are highly entertaining. Can they really be educational?”
Here’s our answer: Just because something is entertaining doesn’t mean it doesn’t have educational value, and just because something is educational doesn’t mean it has to be boring for a child. The sweet spot in any great learning experience is where learning meets deep engagement.
At Homer, we love creating lessons and stories that hit that sweet spot. We believe in the power of learning through stories, and we are really excited to begin releasing a new set of stories that are as engaging for young children as they are valuable to their growth as readers.
Beginning on Saturday, April 29th, families who subscribe to Homer will open the app to find a big yellow box awaiting their children. Inside the box, an original animated story can be found. For families who have used Homer with their children for many months (some for many years!), you’ll notice some exciting new features of Saturday Surprise stories that are different from all the other lessons and stories in the app.
Thanks to a new partnership with our sister app, Speakaboos, Homer is able to share with our users captivating animated stories created by some of the top talents in children’s educational media, including producers and researchers who have co-created popular educational programming like Blue’s Clues and Super WHY! These stories were created using a thoughtful learning approach that blends research on how kids learn best and the child’s point of view. It is this thoughtful approach that makes these stories unique and maximizes learning benefits.
Children will delight in retellings of beloved classics such as The Three Little Pigs and being introduced to new adventure series such as the SuperKids or our Robot stories. Parents will appreciate all the thought that has gone into these stories to make them educational as well as enjoyable. Here are a few features of our new Saturday Surprise stories that make them the perfect combination of technology and educational purpose:
Focus on comprehension: even the youngest children bring a wealth of background knowledge to the stories they read or have read to them. Animations in a story can help prompt a child to retrieve this background knowledge and to build on it, strengthening the child’s understanding of the story. Consider our retelling of the “Three Little Pigs.” Animations help the child uncover the meaning of words such as “creaky” or “leaky,” and ultimately contribute to the child’s understanding the pigs’ initial motivation to build new houses. The stories ask a child to call upon her own experience of the world. “A ‘house of cards’ isn’t going to hold up so well,” a child might predict, and the animation confirms her prediction. But, comprehension goes beyond understanding the plotline. We also want to support children’s comprehension of characters’ points of view, apply to their own lives what they learn from the story, and understand that letters, words, and stories have meaning and purpose.
Highlighted text models good reading practice: understanding that text is read from left to right and that individual words are made up of letters is one of the first pieces of knowledge a child gains when introduced to reading. Saturday Surprise stories feature word highlighting, which models for children what is happening when we read a text. Even though all children are not yet ready to read and decode the actual words being highlighted, animated highlighting makes explicit for the child exactly what is happening when we read a story.
Kid-tested, Kid-approved: For Saturday Surprise stories, we have engaged kids as our editors. After watching children interact with each story, researchers go back to the writers, designers, animators, and programmers. Together they brainstorm changes based on the intended goal of the story, what kids find appealing, what they do understand and don’t understand, what questions they ask, and what they learn and don’t learn. This way, we know what kids think of the stories, what they comprehend, and what they learn so we are sure that children are learning through their engagement in the story.