Although I know the value of imaginative storytelling, I’ll be the first to admit that it doesn’t come naturally when I’m with my kids – so I jumped at the chance to review this new, free app from notonthehighstreet.com. Launched in the summer, ‘Storytime Sounds’ aims to “bring an extra element of fun to story time for families with kids aged 3-7”. It’s designed for iPhone, but works equally well on iPad. The app was launched with five story themes (Pirates, Lost World, Fairytales, Space and Monsters), but a new Halloween theme was added recently.
I was interested to see whether the app helped me become more imaginative with storytelling, and also to see how my 3-year-old and 5-year-old engaged with it differently. Whilst we don’t own an iProduct ourselves, our kids love playing with Nanny’s iPad whenever we see her, and we’re not always sure that what they’re doing is particularly educational. I was keen to download something which could lead to more creative interaction on the iPad, something which we could enjoy together as a family – rather than the more isolating batch of individualistic games our kids often play on it.
Firstly, did this app help me to make up stories with my children? Yes, it did. I was slow at first, but soon got the hang. Each theme contains nine sounds – enough for a decent story, not so many to become perplexing – and are wide-ranging enough to allow for a variety of characters and situations. They are also – this is important for a music teacher – decent sounds. Not bad at all for a free app. A small but important feature is that the sounds can be used simultaneously – so, for example, you can simulate the sound of not one but three witches cackling. You can have galloping horses and a fanfare. Again, with my music teacher’s hat on, this creates some very interesting textures within a story’s soundscape: moving from quiet, sparse sounds to busy, dense bustles of noise as the action develops. Some sounds were more of a struggle than others to get into a story (air lock, anyone?), but this is a minor niggle.
Secondly, how did our children use it differently? The three-year-old enjoyed sitting and listening to Mummy’s made-up stories (less discerning than the five-year-old perhaps?), and enjoyed joining in by pressing the sounds that I pointed to. The five-year-old started to make up his own stories – not long, not particularly coherent, but that’s not really the point is it? Both children also enjoyed simply playing with the sounds, experimenting, without the need for a story.
And thirdly – does this app have the potential to engage our whole family as we use the iPad together? I think it does, yes. We will be able to tell new stories, developing them and lengthening them as appropriate for our growing kids. Of course they will become more proficient at telling us stories, too. And I expect we’ll also be able to use the sounds to tell familiar stories, those from books or films.
Those who designed the app were particularly keen to know how we enjoyed the Halloween sounds. Those of you who know me, or have read enough of this blog, will know that we don’t celebrate the darker side of Halloween in our family (and yes, there is a light side: more to come later this week!), but I have to say that I found the Halloween sounds imaginative and well-chosen, and certainly wasn’t uncomfortable using them to tell my children a ‘scary’ story. It verged on the darker side of a fairy tale, that was all. So thumbs up to the Halloween sounds, too.
I would love to see an Android version for those of us who haven’t yet sold our souls to Apple. It would also be brilliant to be able to mix and match sounds from different story themes, to further the weird and wonderful possibilities! Altogether, a great free app: why not download it now? (And, when you’ve done so, those helpful peeps at notonthehighstreet.com have even written a short story to start off your own storytelling – if you’re as hopeless a storyteller as I am, why not have a read?)