Hey! I finally managed to connect to the posting potential of this blog. So, now you know that any comments I have about the iPad are coming from a techno-Luddite and my proficiency is almost as good as your average kindergartener.
I had a chance to share the iPad with a fairly adept 5-year old and to get her input on a few of the apps that I had tried and liked/didn't like. I noticed that with all of the drawing applications, the Chalkboard app was the only one where she actually drew a picture. The rest of them had too many choices and manipulating through the color palettes and pen functions was frustrating. She reacted to the alphabet tracing programs the same way I did-- thought they were boring and quickly realized that they don't respond if you make a mistake, so you can just scribble all over the template and make a mess.
She enjoyed the Alphabet Bus. I had muted the sound completely at first (forgetting that there are some reinforcement instructions/word reading that are part of the educational component). She did the reading herself, as the three-letter words in the demo app are pretty basic. I clicked on the sound about halfway through and the program gives the option to hear or mute the music. The five-year old muted the music pretty quickly herself. This girl really did enjoy the "game" aspect of this app. I'm not sure what the pay-for-it version has, but if there were an app like this where teachers could put in their own vocabulary for students, this would be an awesome study/review tool.
Watching a five year old use the iPad made me aware of some of the issues that Brian raised in his post. Kids have a tendency to touch the screen in multiple places and that effects how a program responds. Also, fine motor skills are pretty important if a program has lots of menu options. My 5-year old tester enjoyed the Puppet Pals app, but frequently stopped the recording or lost her show because of exuberant screen play that crossed over into the control bar. And, if she was sitting with the iPad in her lap (as she was with the Alphabet Bus game), her hands would get tired and she would dip the pad down and the screen orientation would turn upside-down. There is an option to lock the screen in place, but having her sit at a table might have been the solution. Or, if she was sitting somewhere where she could have her knees up as a iPad support, she could have moved the iPad for the game but not lost the horizon plane necessary to keep the screen orientation.
I also had her work with the Rocket Math app, even though I think this is for older students. I had to guide her through the rocket building portion and then we went for the challenges. Some of the challenges are basic for a young student (like shape recognition), but the shapes the user must tap change and the only way the user knows of the new assignment is if they can read the words at the bottom of the screen while also looking at the array of falling objects. Needless to say, I did the reading, while she did the searching and tapping. This app needs a bit of tweaking-- the reading level/dexterity needed to play the game is high, but only some of the tasks related to money are at the same intellectual level as the skills required to work through the nuances of playing the game. But, it is compelling. The five-year old wanted to keep on going and even I enjoy the occasional review of my odd-numbers in my desire to beat my best score.