Hairy Letters is a synthetic phonics app that teaches young children the shape and phonetic sounds of letters. Designed by Bristol based company Net Educational Systems (Nessy), it is an app that combines learning, colour, fun and humour to create an interactive learning experience that should appeal to small children eager to learn how to read and write.
Good to Know
Cost and Adverts
£1.99 with no in-app purchases or adverts.
The official site has five words to blend by dragging and dropping that illustrates how that works in the app.
iOS universal app. Requires iOS 3.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
The target audience is age 4 – 7 years. It is aimed at children than already have a basic understanding of how letters work to produce words. Most of the app is about tracing letters with a finger tip. They will need the control and skill to be able to trace with a high level of precision.
The voice over is done with a male English (UK) accent.
Adult Annoyance Factor
There is no background music and the voice-over does the sounds with a normal clearly enunciated voice that is quite soothing. The mini-animation for each letter do have sound effects that can get annoying after a while, but they are intermittent and does not play automatically, only when tapped.
Features and Accessibility
Design & Visual Accessibility
It is a bright and colour design with distinctive cute hairy characters that should hold near universal appeal for all small children and many adults.
There are no bright or flashy effects that could be a problem for those with photophobia and no vibration, motion simulation or other motion sickness triggers. The letters are written in an easy to read font using large text against a plain background. Letters pulse as a prompt to tap them and letters that are locked on the first play through are coated in ice that shatters when they unlock. Colour is never used as the only indicator and audio cues do help as all letters are sounded out when selected.
The audio has been done to a high standard and enhances both the educational capacity and enjoyment of the game. All audio cues have a visual counterpart and the app can be played without any sound.
Input and Touch
It is a touch screen based app that mostly uses taps and tracing with one finger to access content. The app does change through three modes, lower case, upper case and tracing, with a gentle shake but the same function can also be done with a tap on two arrow keys at the top of the screen.
Users will need to have quite a high level of fine motor control to trace the letters accurately. I think most children under the age of 4 will not be able to trace to that standard.
There are no timed events, no vibrate that could deter those with a hypersensitivity and progress is saved automatically every step of the way so that the game can be stopped at any point.
Ease of Use
It is a well-designed application that is easy to use and understand. There is no set-up involved and complex mental skills are required to use it. There is no particular cognitive skill requirement to play or navigate through all of the options, but younger children will quickly lose interest unless they have the physical dexterity to fully interact with the game.
It is an excellent app for teaching little ones how to read, however it is not the best app to start learning phonics with. The interactive element is the fun part and they really need to be old enough to trace letters to play.
Hairy Letter is a steal at £1.99 as an educational app that aligns with the British educational system and provides an appealing way to learn phonics. At first glance, it doesn’t do much. To the adult eye it is just an alphabet grid that opens up traceable letters and furry figures with a voice that says “sat”, “s”,”a”, “t”, “sat” and it does not look like much fun, but when used in conjunction with a budding learner, it becomes an entirely different experience as bright shiny eyes soak up every tiny animation and small fingers fumble to hit every dot that forms each letter.
Product: Hairy Letters | Developer: Nessy (Net Educational Systems) | Platform: iOS | Genre: Educational: Pre-school, Early childhood education | Players: 1 | Version: Europe | Release Date: January 2011 |Content Rating: Apple 4+