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Smart Letters With APP Review by Heather Kelley and Lisa Tanner

+33 7 83 57 59 43
210 cours Victor Hugo
33130 Bègles

As a busy mom of four, I’m always on the lookout for ways to keep my kids occupied on their own, especially if they can learn something while they’re at it. The Marbotic Smart Letters - Interactive Learning Toy for Tablets really hits the nail on the head. 

This set includes twenty-six colorful, uppercase wooden letters that interact with three educational apps. The letter set costs $59.99, and the apps unlock for free using the wooden letters. These letters and apps are compatible with all iPads except iPad 1, as well as many Android tablets. Once downloaded, the apps don’t require WiFi, Bluetooth, or batteries. 

Each letter has 3 soft pods on the back that prevent it from harming your tablet. My girls get pretty excited sometimes and neglect to be gentle when they touch the letters to the screen of my iPad, but it’s never caused any harm. The letters themselves are quite durable, too. My one-year-old has grabbed some letters on occasion and started chewing on them, without causing any harm (as a note, I’m definitely not saying you should give these to babies to chew on, I’m just saying that it happened, and they survived). 

The first of the apps that we tried was Alphamonster. It’s recommended for ages three to six, and both my three- and seven-year-olds enjoyed playing around with it. This app is all about discovering the sounds and shapes of each letter in the alphabet. This app alone has a ton to offer. In one mode, you can touch any letter block you choose to various spots on the screen to hear what sound it makes, see the lowercase letter, a picture of something that begins with that letter, and even the lowercase letter written in cursive. This mode is my three-year-old’s favorite, because she can just play with any block at random (her favorites are the letters that are yellow because that’s her favorite color). In challenge mode, there are five letter and phonics games including finding the letter when given the sound that it makes, and being shown a picture and finding the letter it begins with. There’s also a cute mode where you can scroll through the alphabet and see pictures for each letter that you can interact with to get fun results. As a note, be sure to play with the settings and decide what all you want to turn on; you’re given a ton of customization with this app, including which letters are asked in the challenge portions, which is great if you’re working on a specific letter or set of letters. 

The next app is called Vocabubble. This one is for ages three to seven, and again both girls love it. This app is a bit simpler. In the first mode, you start out by choosing a letter to play with. Then you simply touch that letter to the screen, and copies of the letter begin bouncing around. Tap the wooden letter to one, and a picture of something that begins with the letter appears. When you tap the picture, the app shows you the word written out and reads it for you. There are a handful of different pictures for each letter. My three-year-old especially loves all the graphics with this app. She’s currently playing with the letter “D” over and over because she loves it when the dragon comes up. Through using this app, she’s gained the ability to select a letter from the alphabet page that she wants to play with and then find the matching letter block to use. This app also has a mode where you can select two letters to play with at once, and pictures beginning with both letters will bounce around the screen for you to tap with the correct letter. This mode is great for when both girls are wanting to play with the letters at the same time. 

The final app is called Bla Bla Box, and it might be my favorite of the three. It’s for ages three to six, but my seven-year-old has a fantastic time with it. The premise of this app is simple. You spell words, and it reads them for you. For this app, you can either use the wooden letters, or simply slide the letters you want to use from the alphabet that’s available at the bottom of the screen. When you drag or tap a single letter, the app tells you what letter it is. Then, as you begin adding letters, it pronounces the letters together. This is awesome for working with letter blends. For example, we can drag “STR” onto the screen and have it read the blend, and then we can put together different words that contain the blend. You can also drag letters around, so if you’ve spelled “ape” and then slide the “a” to the end, you can have “pea.” My three-year-old enjoys randomly dragging letters onto the screen and then rearranging them willy-nilly to hear the app say a bunch of nonsense words. She also loves it when I drag the letters of her name onto the screen and the app says her name. 

All the apps have the option to turn off the music if you get tired of listening to it. That said, I actually kind of like the music. In any case, it’s some of the least egregious I’ve heard in any kids’ games or apps.

My seven-year-old has really struggled with learning to read, and she absolutely loves to just have fun with these apps in a stress-free environment where she can experiment and learn without any pressure at all. None of the apps ever say that you’re wrong or need to try again or anything. For the apps where you need to find the correct letter, it just waits patiently until you do, sometimes giving a little hint of which letter you need. 

I love that there aren’t assignments or even instructions with these apps, so kids get to just play around and discover. One of my seven-year-old’s favorite things to do with these apps is try her hand at spelling words using the Bla Bla Box app. I’ve never seen anything else that sounds out whatever random letter combinations you try. There’s no chime or reward or anything for spelling an actual word, which gives her complete freedom to play with the letters and figure out what sounds different letter combinations make without any pressure to get anything “right.” 

My three-year-old has the best time sitting at the desk next to mine when I’m working at my computer and just playing independently with these letters and apps, only occasionally needing my assistance to help her find a letter, or switch her to a different mode if she’s accidentally gotten herself into a challenge mode that’s too advanced for her. 

I love how much fun both of my girls have while learning with this set of smart letters and interactive apps. Honestly, the only downside is having to micro-manage whose turn it is and console the one who has to wait to get to play. The combination of old-school wooden blocks with innovative technology is such a hit. I honestly may even purchase the set of number blocks and apps myself because, if they’re anything like the letters, I’m sure my girls and I will love them. 

 -Product review by Heather Kelley, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2017


Another Reviewer’s Perspective:

Smart Letters WITH APP 

My kids love iPad time, but I prefer them to spend more time playing off screen. I never dreamed that I would find an educational product that encouraged both. Enter Smart Letters! Since my younger learners are working on alphabet skills, this has been a wonderful product to help them practice. They get the fun of an app, while playing with actual wooden letters.

Smart Letters included 26 wooden letters (A-Z), and access to three apps. The letters feature a peg on the front to make picking them up simple. On the back of each letter are three little pods that contact the tablet screen to prevent scratching. The letters are about two inches long and an inch-and a-half wide. They are about half-an-inch thick, making them an appropriate size for young learners.

The apps included are Bla Bla Box for Smart Letters, Alphamonster for Smart Letters, and Vocabubble for Smart Letters. They will each need downloaded onto your personal device. I downloaded them from the App Store, but they are also available on Google Play. Once downloaded, you’ll be given instructions on how to unlock the apps. It was a straightforward process requiring three of the wooden letters. There is also a Getting Started guide on the Marbotic website, which is a great reference.

Two of the apps unlocked easily for me. The third did not, even after following the steps in the online guide. I contacted customer support from the vendor’s website, and after a bit of troubleshooting, they helped me gain access.

Smart Letters costs $59.99 and includes the 26 letters, a handy case for carrying them, and access to the three apps. There are downloadable lesson plans found on the vendor’s website, to help you teach your children specific skills with Smart Letters. Multiple languages are available for the Alpahmonster and Vocabubble apps. Only one language is included in your purchase of the Bla Bla Box app.

I had four of my children use this product, working toward different objectives. My two-year-old played mainly with the wooden letters. I dumped them out of the box and had her match each to the plastic slot where they went to put them away. Then we’d sing the ABC song, touching each. As she played, she improved her fine motor skills and attention to detail. She also practiced her letter identification skills. I occasionally had her use the letters with the Alphamonster app, but she typically ended up banging the letters on the screen. The recommended age is 3-6, and I think this is appropriate. You don’t want to end up with a cracked iPad screen or have one of the pods on the back eaten!

My three-year-old enjoyed playing Alphamonster. You put the letter on the monster’s mouth, and it eats the letter. This game reinforces letter identification, letter sounds, and words that start with each letter. It’s an engaging app, and my son really enjoyed playing.

Bla Bla Box was a good fit for my kindergartener, though my older children really enjoyed trying it as well. My kindergartener has been working hard on learning letters and sounds and is beginning to put them together into words. This app encouraged her to do just that. She set a couple of letters down on the tablet while the app was opened, and it sounded out the letters. She loved it, and I appreciated that she was learning more about the connection between letters and sounds. It really encouraged her willingness to try spelling a word, even if she wasn’t quite sure which letters she needed. She also began writing more on her own, without feeling the need to ask me how to spell every single word. Seeing yourself as a writer is so important at this age, and I enjoyed watching her confidence in her invented-spelling soar from this app.

I also had my second grader using Bla Bla Box to reinforce spelling of some long vowel words. He struggles with silent e words, so this was a fun way for him to practice. When the iPad is involved, it doesn’t seem like as much work.

My first and second graders also used Vocabubble to help them learn new words. For this app, you select a letter to start. Then, pictures begin floating on the screen. Using the corresponding wooden letter, you touch each image. Once you touch an image, a larger picture of the image appears, and you can see the full spelling of the word and hear it spoken. There’s also a two-player mode on this app, where each child uses a wooden letter. Then, images that start with each letter appear. You see who can gather all of “their” words first. It was a little confusing at first, but once they figured out how to play my children enjoyed it.

I found all three apps to be engaging. My kids enjoyed playing. The wooden letters were also fun as a standalone product. They held up well to daily use and can easily be wiped clean with a baby wipe or damp cloth if dirty hands handle them.

Some of the words used in the Vocabubble app could be a bit confusing for young learners. For instance, the knight is wearing armor for the letter a. My second grader has worked hard on silent k and knew knight started with a k. It took him a bit to figure out why it was included for the letter a. There are also words from mythology, including the names of some gods and goddesses.

More recently, I was able to download a beta version of Lil’ Reader using Test Flight on the iPad. This was a bit more difficult to download, as it was a beta version. I assume it’ll install as easily as the others once it’s available for purchase.

Lil’ Reader focuses on teaching early key reading skills, to help a child transition from knowing letters to being able to read beginning words. It presents beginning sounds, ending sounds, and middle sounds to help students learn to sound out letters.

My five-year-old and seven-year-old enjoyed this app. They practiced building words with the letters, and then reading them. The letters were each sounded out for them, to help transition them into reading smoothly. Sometime the accent was a little strong for my young learners, but when I provided feedback to the company, they said they’d be sure to address my concerns. I’m looking forward to using this app once it’s out of beta mode.

I appreciated the way the apps and letters worked together to encourage important literacy skills. It turned the passive activity of sitting in front of a screen into an active, engaging way to play. All three apps will remain on our iPad, and we will continue using the letters to play.

-Product review by Lisa Tanner, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2017