iPad Apps for Building Young Children’s Narrative Skills

Narrative skills, or the ability to tell a story, are a key skill set for communicating effectively. They begin for young toddlers by simply naming individual events, such as “I fell down” and then become heaps of information “The boy fell down. He hurt his knee. He cried. The teacher put a band-aid on it”. As narrative skills progress in preschool and kindergarten, the child includes more detail about the characters, more cause and effect sequences, the problems that occurred and how they were resolved. This could sound something like, “A boy in my class was riding too fast and he didn’t see the big rock. So he rode right into it and then fell off his bike. He scraped his knee so it started bleeding. He cried until his teacher came outside and helped him by putting a band-aid on it. I think he’ll ride slower next time.”

These types of stories become more complex as the child grows which is important as his narrative skills are related to his pretend play skills and his reading comprehension skills. As language becomes more abstract and less concrete, the ability to understand and create complex stories and narratives becomes more important for successful communication.

When I use the iPad with very young children to build story-telling skills, I begin with “I Close My Eyes” by Little Bella. This app offers a variety of interesting and entertaining 10-15 second cartoon videos that tell simple and enjoyable stories with pictures only. The pictures are beautifully illustrated and the music is highly engaging without being over-stimulating. Some stories simulate real occurrences while many others are part of a fantasy world, but all engage young children’s attention and they often want to watch them repeatedly. Often, I have the child watch the video without any narration and then afterwards I tell the story to them. I let them watch it again to match the story with my words. Then I return to the picture index of all the stories and let them request which one they want. After they’ve seen the videos a few times, I help them retell the story by filling in the blanks (e.g., The girl was ____. She liked to _____). Children can learn to retell the story to their parents while other children can begin to make up an extension of the story by adding what may happen next. Children in kindergarten can begin to make up their own stories by closing their eyes to imagine them and then share what they saw in their imagination. At whatever level, the short videos from the I Close My Eyes (ICME) app help a child understand and retell simple stories, especially because you don’t need a lot of time or the ability to read.

For children who can read or at least understand more complex language and answer questions, I use the app called “Story Builder” by Mobile Education Store. This app is a simple and successful way to build a story by showing the child an interesting picture and then listening to the simple questions the narrator asks about it. As the child answers each individual question in the form of a full sentence, his or her answers are recorded. At the end of the Q/A section, there is a complete 4-5 sentence story that the child has developed. There is an option to save each story so the child, the parent, and/or the SLP can go back and listen to it again. There are three levels of complexity to the Story Builder app which go from more concrete questions and simple pictures to more abstract questions and intricate pictures. This allows the child to work up to each level when ready.

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