General
23 May 2011

New technology to help young children's reading

Researchers at The Open University have created a free 'app' to help parents teach their children to read.

Our Story has been designed to be used on mobile devices, such as the iphone or iPad. The app incorporates research findings and theory to provide the experiences known to develop the abilities and motivation for reading. Parents can easily create their own personal picture books, stories and games and in doing so support vocabulary development and reading skills.

David Messer, Professor of Education in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies, explained: "Reading, even in the digital age, is probably one of the most important skills that children can acquire. It’s an important source of enjoyment and helps children to develop vital language and social skills. Indeed, it can open up whole new worlds by providing the means to access an enormous range of information and knowledge.

"Research has indicated that building a story based on a child’s own life has been proven to increase their confidence and social skills. What Our Story does is build on this to produce an app that provides an easy to use means for parents to take their own photos and ideas and create personalised story books and games for their children. This use of familiar pictures and scenarios helps children to relate to the content and thus become more engaged in learning. Not only does this provide a foundation in reading for children, but it means parents can really take part in creative storytelling activities. In fact, some of the most famous children’s books were initially written by authors for their own children."

The app has been developed by a team of child psychologists and education specialists at The Open University including Professor David Messer, Natalia Kucirkova and Dr. Denise Whitelock. Using Our Story, parents can create stories for their children by putting pictures, sounds, speech and text on 'ecards' to build storyboards which can be based on anything from real life events and trips, to stories that focus on family and community. Trials have shown that young children enjoy both listening to a story using the app and/or taking part in the creation of a story.

The app is suitable for ages one year and upwards and can be adapted to various levels of a child's ability. This makes it flexible and a sensitive way to target each child's needs and differences.

Our Story is free to download from the Apple store.

For a short video showing the app in action, please see link (right).

Notes to editors

The Open University (OU) is the largest higher education institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.7 million students and has more than 264,000 current students, including 20,000 overseas, learning in their own time using course materials, online activities and content, web-based forums and tutorials and through tutor groups and residential schools.

The OU has been highly rated for teaching quality, and has been at the top of student satisfaction rankings in the National Student Survey since it was introduced in 2005. 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and three out of four FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.

The OU supports a vibrant research portfolio and in the UK's latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008), the University climbed 23 places to 43rd, securing a place in the UK's top 50 higher education institutions.

Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units on OpenLearn, which has had more than 11 million unique visitors, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded over 31 million downloads. The OU has a 40 year partnership with the BBC which has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to prime-time programmes such as Life, Bang Goes the Theory, James May’s Big Ideas, Can Gerry Robinson Save Dementia Care Homes?, Saving Britain’s Past and The Money Programme.

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