As the return to school looms, kids bemoan the end of summer fun while parents and teachers focus anew on learning. Vermont software maker Tertl believes the two can coexist quite nicely.
Tertl, which strives to combine a love of learning and ideas with the fun of games, recently released Swamp Talk, a new word game app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Swamp Talk is quickly becoming a favorite of experienced word game lovers, but it also has educational value, according to Tertl founder Chris Hancock.
Unlike other mobile word games which tend to be static, Swamp Talk has the dynamic action and pacing of an arcade game. Players receive a steady stream of letters and must think fast to arrange them into words. Instead of ordering letters from the beginning of a word, players might construct common consonant or vowel combinations and hold those combinations until a complementary letter arrives in the letter stream.
“As they build up words from letter clusters, adding letters in whatever order they arrive, players—especially younger ones—are broadening their perspective on how words are put together,” Hancock says.
They may be learning, but Swamp Talk is first and foremost a fun game. Players have described Swamp Talk as “very engaging” and “the freakishly addictive offspring of Scrabble and Tetris.”
Kids can play Swamp Talk on family car trips, while waiting for their back-to-school doctor’s appointment, or instead of TV. The game encourages players to stay on their toes (well, fingertips) and look for words to build—young children as well as crossword pros can create words at their level. Families can play together and practice spelling skills learned in school, though the kids might not notice the learning part of this fun game!
Swamp Talk features three game modes. One encourages strategic thinking, another requires quick thinking, and a custom mode allows players to design a game that suits their preferences. In all modes, players tap on the screen to place the letter where they want it. Once the letter has been placed, it can’t be moved—meaning that players must think quickly and tap carefully.
Players swipe the touchscreen when they’ve built a word, and sometimes learn new words in the process. A “family” game option ensures ensures that kids don’t inadvertently learn some of the dictionary’s less family-friendly entries.
In a fantastic TED talk in 2010, Jane McGonigal, a researcher with the Institute for the Future, said that young people from countries with robust gaming cultures log 10,000 hours playing games by the time they reach their 21st birthday. In the U.S., students log 10,080 hours in class if they have perfect attendance from grades 5-12. That’s an approximately equal amount of time!
Clearly, young people are spending a lot of time playing games, and we have to assume they’re learning something from gameplay. Parents looking to integrate their kids’ love of technology with an intellectual challenge need look no farther – this is THE back-to-school app for families looking to improve their vocabulary together.