Can An iPad App Help Solve The Literacy Problem?


learn-with-homer-appLearn With Homer is a new app that provides a comprehensive contextualized literacy curriculum that kids can use at home on the iPad.

The app is created by Stephanie Dua, a well-known education reformer who led the effort to improve understanding of the intent and implementation of the Common Core publishing criteria for top decision makers across the country.
“I know there’s a lot of great research on how to teach children to read,” said Dua. “But when my own daughter wanted to learn, I couldn’t find any suitable materials for parents. That’s when Learn with Homer was born. It brings the best early learning techniques together in one app.”

I get where Dua is coming from. People are always asking me which apps they should download for their kids. Little munchkins love smartphones and tablets. Anything with a touchscreen is fun. Meanwhile, parents are anxious to find something with educational value. Earlier this week I got a facebook message from a friend I hadn’t talked to in over 15 years. After a few niceties–”I hope life is treating you well”–he cut to the chase; he was looking for an app that would help his young kids start reading.

Considering I write in a very particular niche, it surprising how often people ask me about learning apps. I doubt if I wrote about digital cameras, for example, that friends would be asking me about megapixels all the time, nor seeking me out on facebook. But apps for kids–learning apps in particular–are different and not as tiny a niche as it seems. In 2009, 47% of the top selling apps in the iTunes store were aimed at young kids. According to a Joan Ganz Cooney Center report, in 2012 almost three quarters (72%) of top selling apps targeted preschoolers and elementary age children.

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I was thoroughly impressed with the pedagogy; it is top notch, comprehensive and remarkably complex. Phonics, deep vocabulary, and context all meet technology wisely. My only gripe is that a few of the user interface aspects could use some tweaking. For example, there were a few moments when my son wasn’t always sure how to navigate further. It wasn’t always intuitive at a five year old level. I had to show him what to tap. Honestly, this is to be expected from such an early iteration. These are precisely the kinds of things that can be easily fixed with simple animations after developers begin to get feedback.

When I spoke with Stephanie Dua, she told me that the goal was not only to create “the first comprehensive literacy app,” but also “to deliver for parents what we know to be best practices for early education” in a way that was “beautiful but not over gamified.” I think Learn With Homer succeeds. Now, when people ask me for a reading app for young kids, this will be my recommendation. It’s not magic; it won’t make it so your kid can skip kindergarten–after all, school is about a lot more than just language arts skills. But Learn With Homer is a great way to start working on reading with your kid, or to reinforce what he or she is already learning in school. And as always, the results will be much better if an adult plays with a child.

Learn With Homer is backed by a seed series round of 2.2 million from a prestigious list of angel investors, including: Great Oaks Venture Capital; Paul Francis, Entrepreneur and early CFO of Priceline; Tom Glocer, former CEO of Thomson Reuters, Founding Partner of Angelic Ventures; Rob Soni, Entrepreneur, Investor , former Managing Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners and General Partner at Matrix Ventures; and Matt Turck, Managing Director, FirstMark Capital (invested personally).

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The app is free to download. It relies on in-app purchases for revenue; the first few lessons are part of the initial download, additional lessons need to be purchased.