Archive | May, 2013

Disabling the Home button (and other Guided Access Tricks)

31 May

Have you ever been frustrated by children clicking that oh-so-easily accessible home button and leaving the app you wanted them to be using? Have you ever wanted to disable buttons on the screen so that your child doesn’t keep going to menus, options and other screens?  Then read on, as the answer is already in your iPad settings.

Sadly, you can’t do this on the original iPad as you need iOS 6 or above.  If you have an original iPad and wish to disable the home button, you can try Bubcaps, which are protective covers for the home button.

What is Guided Access

Guided Access is a feature built into iOS 6  that allows you to temporarily disable the home button on your iPad or iPhone so an app cannot be closed, and to disable some functions in that app.  It also has options to prevent the home screen from fading, and motion control.

Setting Up

Guided access is very simple to set up and use.

  • Open your Settings> General.
  • Scroll down the right side of the screen and select Accessibility
  • Scroll down the Accessibility page and select Guided Access (under Learning)
  • Turn Guided Access on. You will need to put in a 4-digit password to use. (Don’t tell the kids!)
  • You can also choose to turn screen sleep on or off. I find it handy to leave it off (default) as sometimes my child might take a while to make a choice.

That’s it: Guided Access is ready to use.

Using Guided Access

After you open an app, press the home button 3 times to show the Guided Access screen. You can then choose to disable parts of the screen (see below) or can press the Start button at the top right to start guided access.

Disabling the Home Button

My toddler loves to read stories with me, both in “real book” and eBook formats. His big thing now is pressing buttons, so when we are sharing a story on the iPad, he can’t resist the urge to press the home button. When the story disappears, he gets upset, but still persists in tapping that oh-so-easily-accessible home button. With Guided Access on, all I have to do is open the app, tap the home button three times, and press Start. He can press that home button all he wants, but he can’t leave the app until I press it three times and enter my password.

You can use this trick to keep your children on task and out of the apps you don’t want them to use. One of my friends wanted to be sure that her children were using the iPad in their homework time for the real homework, and not playing games, so we set up Guided Access on the family iPad.  She now negotiates the app they are going to use, opens it, and then uses Guided Access to disable the home button.  Once the work is completed, Guided Access is turned off and they can have access to their other apps.

This feature might also be handy for people with motor control issues who accidentally hit the home button at inappropriate times. Guided Access means they have to deliberately tap the button in a defined way (three quick taps) plus enter that password, so no more accidental app closures.

Disabling parts of the screen

When you enter an app and turn on Guided Access, you can highlight sections of the screen to disable areas of the screen before you press Start. You do this by simply tracing around the area you want deactivated with your finger.

My toddler’s current favourite iPad storybook is The Adventures of Puppup:  Lost at the Zoo. On each page, a small home button with Puppup’s face is on either the left or right of the screen. Mr Cheeky loves to tap that button, as he has an unbridled passion for all things puppy, so he is always leaving the story and ending up on the home page again. I navigated to the first page of the story and traced my finger around that button, and the place it would appear on the other side of the page. Now, as we read the story, he can tap the cute puppy button and nothing happens. The great thing is that you only have to do this once, and the disabled areas will still be there each time you open the app. You can remove them any time.

This function works best with apps that have consistent placement of buttons, i.e. they are usually found in the same place, such as with our Puppup app. Some uses include:

  • covering up social media links or other external links.
  • keeping children in the main part of an app and on-task.
  • disabling access to mini-games and other activities.
  • disabling the “easy” levels of an activity that the child has already mastered.

Removing these areas takes seconds.  Enter the Guided Access screen and you’ll see a small x on the edge of each disabled area.  Tap that x and the disabled area will disappear.

Sadly, you can’t take screen shots of the Guided Access screens, and my camera is playing up at the moment, so I was reduced to holding my iPad up to the computer’s camera and taking some photos that way.  While I won’t win any photography awards, they should be enough to show how to create those disabled areas.

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The main limitation to this feature is that the disabled areas remain disabled for all screens. An area you disable in one screen might be needed in an activity on another screen. Many years ago I used to set up “Hotspots” on computer screens (for use with switch interfaces and other alternative access devices) using ClickIt! by IntelliTools (no longer available). This program would let me create several sets of hotspots that would change as the screen changed. ClickIt! would watch a tiny section of the screen, changing the hotspot sets to match what appeared in that section. It is a bit difficult to describe in a couple of sentences, but I hope future iOS versions might use this kind of idea so that we disable specific areas on specific screens in each app.

Other Guided Access Settings

There are two other options that appear at the bottom of the Guided Access window when you start it up.

  • Touch – this is set by default to On, which means the user will be able to touch all areas of the screen except for those specifically disabled as outlined above. If you set it to Off, no areas of the screen will respond to touch. This could be useful if you are using a storybook app in Autoplay mode, or watching a video.
  • Motion – this is also set by default to On, but if you turn it off, the iPad will no longer react to motion. This could be a very handy setting where the child tends to move or shake the device.

Guided Access has a lot to offer parents when it comes to child-proofing your iOS devices, or setting them up for use with children who have special needs or very young children.  The great thing is that it is quick and easy to do.  Have a play with it and save yourself some frustration and grey hairs.

Miracles of Jesus – NEST

22 May

NEST MoJMiracles of Jesus is a Christian storybook app by NEST Family Apps. It puts several stories from the Gospel together in an accessible way for children of different ages and abilities.  While I’m happy to have a Christian story app to share with my children, there are a lot of extra features in the app that I was pleased to see. It supportive of early readers, a great resource for educators, and entertaining for all ages.  The developers have put a lot of thought into the design of this app and I really enjoyed reviewing it with my family.


Reading Modes – There are three reading modes available:

  • Read to Me – hear the narration and see the words highlighted
  • Read and Learn – hear each page read and interact with different elements on the screen.
  • Just a book – narration, pop-ups and interactive elements are turned off for a quiet reading experience.  This mode is great for “lap time.”

Levels of difficulty – Each of the three reading modes is available in two levels of difficulty:

  • Early Readers – suitable for early primary
  •  Advanced Readers – suitable for middle primary and above.  This mode also features pop-up information panels that give children more background information.
    Miracles of Jesus - Early Readers level

    Miracles of Jesus – Early Readers level

    Miracles of Jesus - Advanced Reader

    Miracles of Jesus – Advanced Reader

Story – I’m sure I won’t be giving any spoilers away if I mention that the book covers several of the Miracles of Jesus from the four Gospels.  These include:

  • The calming of the storm
  • Jesus heals the boy with palsy
  • Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead
  • Jesus walks on the water

If you use the Advanced mode in either the Read to Me or Read and Learn modes, you’ll find the Gospel Chapter and verse references in the pop up information panels.

Supportive Text Features – Text is highlighted as read (except in Just a Book mode) and you can tap on individual words to hear them spoken.  These features are very supportive of early readers.

 Good Narration – The narration by Dean Cooper is well paced, clear and expressive.  His US accent was easy for my children to listen to, even if some of the words are pronounced slightly differently to the way they are pronounced in Australia.

Discussion Starters – At the end of the story is the NEST family chat, which gives you a couple of questions to use as discussion starters as you reflect upon the story.

Colourful Illustrations – The illustrations are clear and colourful, and they seem to come from stills from the NEST animated cartoon of the same name.

Activities – The app comes with a number of extension activities.

  • Word Jumble – two levels of difficulty
  • Word Search – two levels of difficulty
  • Maze – two levels of difficulty
  • Trivia – multiple choice questions about the story that are great for comprehension.  There are no penalties for wrong answers, and children get to try again until they arrive at the correct answer.  Children with reading difficulties might need an adult or older sibling to help them read the questions and possible answers.
  • Trace alphabet
  • Trace words

While I love the way the tracing activities are done, I prefer my children to do writing activities that use the same font they are using in their handwriting at school.  That being said, I think the word tracing activity will be very useful for vocabulary skills.

Painting – There are more features to the painting activity than you might expect.  I was impressed with the variety of paint tools (spray, brush, crayon, chalk or paint bucket,) the number of colour choices, and how easy it was to change the size of the painting tools.  There are 6 line drawings from the story, plus a blank canvas for free-style art.  The black lines in the drawing always stay on top, and painting “outside the lines” is impossible, making it easy for the most un-coordinated artist to create a masterpiece.

We found it a little difficult to paint the lower parts of each screen as the colour options kept popping up over where we were painting.

The YouTube video below will give you an overview of the App and its features.

Other Features

There are external links to social media, the NEST website, and the iTunes Store in the Help section,  however this is not easily accessible to very young children.  You need to enter your birth year in order to access these links and other information.  While I don’t believe young children will bypass this, if you have concerns about  your children accidentally accessing the external links and social media, I suggest putting the app in Airplane mode or turning off WiFi before giving the device to your child.

Wish List

I would like to see an extra information section that lists the different miracles and their Gospel references.  Although these are accessible in the pop up information panels, it would be very handy for parents and teachers to have a summary in the Parent information section.

The trivia activity is excellent, but I’d like to see an option for reading the question and the possible answers so that it is more accessible for children with reading difficulties.

As we found the tools obscuring the screen on occasion in the painting activity, it would be handy to have a little hide/reveal button.


This app is a great resource for Christian families and schools.  Apart from some wonderful stories from the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, the app has features that are supportive of early readers, plus some great activities to assist with comprehension.  There is a lot of attention to detail, making this app useful for children of different ages and abilities and engaging enough for them to return to it frequently.  I look forward to adding more NEST apps to our family collection.

Miracles of Jesus - NEST Family Apps
Publisher: NEST Family Apps
Price: $2.99

You can also purchase Miracles of Jesus for Android from the Amazon Online Store  for $2.99.  For links to the Google Play and Nook versions, plus other NEST Family App titles, please visit the Nest Family Apps App Page.

Write to Read – WriteReader

6 May

writereaderThere are more than 750 000 apps in the iTunes AppStore, with many doing similar things, so it is very exciting to find an app that does something really different.  WriteReader is one of those apps.  The app is based on research that strongly links success in learning to read with learning to write.   The app is aimed at children aged from 3 to 10 years, although I believe it would be suitable for older children who have special needs.  I’d like to thank Sarah Muzzammil, a member of the WriteReader marketing team, for giving me the opportunity to look at this app.

Main Features

writereaderpageApart from the title page for each book you create, each page consists of a picture that you add from your camera roll, and two text entry points: one for children and one for adults.  You can add an audio recording to each page, and you can easily add speech frames, thought bubbles and text boxes to the pictures.  Children select a picture, then write a caption, concentrating on the sounds in the words they wish to use.This might be just a couple of letters for one-word caption, or it might be several words.  Adults then type the correct “adult writing”  in the second box.  This is the way my children do their first writing at school.  I’m sure many readers are familiar with being presented with lovely artwork captioned with (what appears to be) a mishmash of letters, and a teachers’ writing underneath translating it for us.  What is actually happening is that children are trying out their letters and sounds, exploring the process of writing at its very first stages.  By seeing their writing alongside the adult’s writing, children can see their successes. [UPDATE 14/7/2014: The adult writing can be disabled by tapping the large owl.]

WriteReader is more than just a writing app, as it has been designed to be used as part of a whole language approach to help children learn to write while they are also learning to read.  There is a good deal of research behind it from its Danish development team and the Danish School of Education. The publishers write: Continue reading

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