As an early childhood educator, I love creating just the right classroom activity to inspire children to try out new strategies, concepts and skills. I found my most effective teaching method was to not focus on teaching at all, but rather to focus on learning. Each day, I offered active, engaging environments that served as stepping-stones to learning—they were intentionally incomplete and therefore intriguing to a child’s natural curiosity. Children are never too young to be at the helm of their own learning.
In the abstract, my process worked like this: If I offered elements (1), (2), (3), and (5), then it was almost inevitable that my students would discover the missing element (4) on their own. Using this method, those new concepts and skills discovered along the way will hold personal meaning and relevance for children. This is the nature of hands-on learning in the classroom, and also in digital world.
At Mrs. Judd’s Games, we create app experiences in which children figure out pathways to later learning. In Chalk Walk, learning includes the self-awareness, self-monitoring and self-correction needed for students to notice their own hand positioning when they hold a pencil or pen to write or draw at school. The crucial missing elements in Chalk Walk are paper, pencil, and a teacher standing nearby to correct one’s hand positioning.
In Chalk Walk, we take the low-stress activity of sidewalk chalk drawing and add a unique challenge of tracing and doodling in a touch-screen game that can only be achieved if one notices a very specific clue repeated throughout the game. The icon of a hand with a thumb and finger pointing downward in a classic pincer grip action is the most important clue. Another set of clues is the thematic signposts that spell words related to the alphabet puzzle pieces collected along our mapped journey.
For years, adults have faced the baffling conundrum of knowing when a budding artist and writer might be receptive for instruction about proper pencil grip. By their very nature “preschool” children are “pre-instructional” in style, and their hands tend not to be available for lessons in pencil grip when their minds are full of ideas to draw.
Chalk Walk moves the moment of decision-making about hand positioning away from pencil and paper, and places it on the touch-screen. Here, children discover continual reminders that success begins with one’s thumb & finger pincer action. It is true when tracing or doodling on our app, and it also true when one takes a pencil in hand. When maneuvering a pencil, one’s thumb and finger pincer steers the action, and the other fingers support the hand. Just like offering alphabet puzzle pieces which form words, one’s pincer action is part of an ergonomic tripod pencil grasp. They are both valuable components of a child’s emerging literacy experience.
We hope your children take a moment to show you a video playback of their handiwork from the “Trace” game, or a “Doodle” created on one of our unique sidewalks. They may also want to point out surveyor’s marks, manholes or rain drops discovered on one of Chalk Walk’s 55 concrete surfaces. We think these serve as interesting places for your child to build sound foundations for literacy in a manner that connects to those important tactile experiences found in the real world.
Frances Judd is an iPad educator, app developer and consultant. After more than 25 years as a classroom teacher she translated her most essential classroom lessons into educational apps. She has served as a freelance toy and game designer for PLAYSKOOL and Hasbro, Inc. and educational consultant for various educational and cultural institutions, including the Bennett Day School and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.