Speakaboos is a digital story subscription service aiming to promote the love of reading to children. Their constantly expanding digital library currently offers 150 stories written or adapted by Speakaboos writers, narrated by voice actors and celebrities, and jazzed up for the digital medium by GeekMom’s own Amy Kraft who answers to the title of executive interactive content producer at Speakaboos.
The service offers content access online on their website or on the iPad through the Speakaboos app. The website offers stories mostly in the form of narrated videos, along with songs, games, and printable worksheets. Meanwhile, the app offers stories and songs in three modes: “Read To Me,” “Read & Play,” and “Read It Myself.”
I’m usually not a fan of the read-along feature on the digital book apps. With their flashy animation, they feel more like television shows than books. However, most of the “Read To Me” stories in the Speakaboos app highlight the words as the narrators reads them, something I have not seen many children’s digital books do. The “Read & Play” mode allows time to explore extra features on each page, like hidden actions and dialogues. The “Read It Myself” mode—though obviously missing the narrator, as expected—does allow the user to click on a word to have it read aloud to them. A great feature for early readers!
GeekMom Sarah and I both gave the service and the new app a try. Here’s what Sarah had to say about her experience:
“My four-year-old has been a bit of an iPad addict ever since we let him use it on a trans-Atlantic flight last year. We limit his time on it, so that he knows it is a well deserved treat.
“Speakaboos fits our lifestyle. He has options in themes, we have options in story length. The stories we have viewed so far have been very different than the app story format we are used to. In Speakaboos, we are led through the story by an almost movie-like screen, rolling pictures, expanding pictures, etc. He has a hard time not swiping his finger across the screen to turn the page! It’s a learning curve. We all enjoy having a collection of good quality stories in one place.
“My son is less distracted by the Toca Boca icons when we don’t have to leave the program to pick a new story. We are about to take our annual flight to England and I see Speakaboos coming in very handy while we wait in Logan airport!”
Interestingly enough, we have the opposite dynamic in our house. Our 3-year-old has unlimited access to the iPad as long as she’s playing games or reading digital books, and she doesn’t choose to take advantage of that access very often. The Speakaboos app kept her intrigued for a long time during our few sessions with it.
I love (love, love, love!) that it doesn’t have any advertisements. Since it’s an all-inclusive service, they don’t need to sell you the next digital book or app in the series. With most children’s apps, my daughter always ends up clicking on a button that takes her to a purchasing menu, if not out of the app into the app store all together. With Speakaboos, she can browse the app to her heart’s content without hearing me burst out, “No, don’t click on that!” continuously. It’s incredibly refreshing!
I also agree with Sarah that it’ll be a very handy tool while traveling. We have put in quite a bit of air and car time this summer and it doesn’t take long before our active preschooler gets bored watching back to back movies. Speakaboos offers a good, more interactive alternative.
Now for the more technical details…
The first time a story is selected, it does take a little bit of time for it to download. Once it’s downloaded though, it resides on your iPad and can be accessed even offline. While offline, icons for previously downloaded stories will show up in full colors and the unavailable content will be appear shaded to show it’s disabled. There is a setting option to remove downloaded content from your iPad, in case your iPad gets near capacity and you wish to unload the stories your child is done with. You can always download the content again later.
While Speakaboos’ iPad app is brand new, their online service has been available since 2010. It has gained valuable momentum since then, accumulating awards like the Scholastic Teacher’s Choice Award. The Speakaboos team is hard at work continuously generating new content, usually at the rate of 1-2 new stories per week, while also revamping the website to offer all the same great, interactive content made available in the new iPad app. An Android app is also in the works and expected to be available in the fall.
Subscriptions to Speakaboos start at $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year. You can try Speakaboos by downloading the app, which is free and comes with three stories for you to keep. You can also try Speakaboos on their website, which allows you free access to 25 stories. A subscription unlocks the entire Speakaboos library.
A word of warning: The app requires iOS 6.0 and above. At home our 3-year-old uses an old original iPad while my husband and I share an iPad 2 which she isn’t usually allowed to touch (ironically, ours is the one that ended up with a cracked screen). As I found out while trying to download this app on “her” iPad, the original iPad is no longer supported by iOS upgrades and therefore stuck Speakaboos-less in 5.0 land.
GeekMom received this item for review purposes.