The Square Panda Phonics Playset by Square Panda which features a bluetooth enabled playset to engage kids in learning a variety of activities from learning letters, spelling, letter sounds, rhymes, learning new vocabulary words and more. The set consists of 45 Smart Letters, a Playset box which you pair to your iPad and holds your device while in use, access to the Square Panda Playground where you can manage a parent account, see information about your child’s progress and additional learning opportunities as well as 4 AA Batteries. The Square Panda Playset requires either iPad 3, iPad 4, iPad Mini, iPad Air 2 or iPad Pro in order to run and you must be running iOS 8.x and above. The Square Panda Phonics Playset provides a multisensory tactile learning experience which combines content on your iPad with letters and visuals within the app. It includes 14 levels of phonics play as well as an integrated dashboard to track progress.
Setup is quick and easy. First, you set up an account on Square Panda with your email and other information. That gives you access to the parental dashboard. After that you can unpack the Phonics Playset, install the 4 included AA batteries, download the apps and be using them within 10 or less minutes. I spent some time in the Square Panda Playground website because I wanted to check out the features there. There are so many great things! You can add your own custom words including your child’s name – and for me when I last had my son use the playset I included words from his spelling list that week! When you enter custom words they are put into your child’s games and you can even upload a picture to go with them! Words must be between 1-8 characters, so more complex spelling words won’t work here, however, it’s a great way to practice. The Square Panda Playground also lets you choose words for specific types of situations like bathroom and body anatomy as well as even excluding a specific letter if you misplaced it from the playset. You can also block specific types of words if you wish which gives you a great level of customization.
The playset includes 45 smart letters. Vowels are yellow and consonants are yellow to make for easier differentiation between the letter types. These all stored inside the playset case when not in use. You can have up to three players per playset, and the content dynamically changes depending on which user is selected so with my 2 year old we are simply working on even identifying letters while with my 8 year old he is working on spelling words and earning badges. The Square Panda Playset includes access to two apps, and one of the two apps Square Panda Lagoon allows you to use the custom words that you have created. Square Panda Bowling (above) has you bowl with your finger to knock down the pins and spell out words. It combines a multi-sensory approach where you do an activity, get a letter with your finger on your iPad and then properly place it in the try to spell the word. Kids are taught to spell words correctly from left to right which is the way that The National Reading Panel recommends as well as the way that reading is taught in school.
First of all – this is not the plastic letters that I grew up with! Many of us may remember growing up and having the magnetized letters that we used to spell things on our refrigerator. I loved that the app required letters to be correct before allowing you to move on. Letters are placed individually in a white box at the bottom of the playset. The must be positioned correctly and placed on the playset in the correct order. The photo above is from Square Panda Lagoon and includes a photo as well as the word below to reinforce learning.
It isn’t often as a mom that I find a toy that both my 2 year old and 8 year old can use. One of my favorite things about the Square Panda Playset is the level of customization that is included especially with the Square Panda Lagoon. I can see it is a great way to practice “trick words” or words my son might be having challenges with at school and having a great way to keep track of what he is learning in terms of letters. With my 2 year old, we can work on understanding letters and teaching him that my iPad is a learning device. I also liked that we could store the letters inside the playset which meant that they were not misplaced the next time we went to use it. I use a Griffin Survivor case on my iPad Mini because even though it’s “mom’s iPad” my kids use it a lot and I loved that we could leave on the protective case even when it was in use with the Square Panda Playset, this isn’t always the case with other products on the market. I really liked the Square Panda Playground where I could keep track of what my kids were doing with the apps – I knew what my 2 year old was doing because we were playing together but with my older son I usually help him learn how to use something and then let him try and figure it out on his own. I liked seeing the badges of the items he accomplished as well as the ability to add in the custom words for his spelling list that week!
In terms of enhancements, I wish that both of the apps included the ability to use custom words, my son enjoyed rolling the bowling ball in Square Panda Bowling more than the Square Panda Lagoon game – I’m not sure why he preferred it more other than he enjoys bowling, so having the two app options was great. Square Panda is planning to add more apps Letter Lab. I hope that they include the ability to use custom words in this app. I’d also like to see a mobile friendly version of the Square Panda Playground – I don’t often get time to sit down at my computer so I was trying to look at it on my iPad and it wasn’t as user friendly as I would have liked.
The Square Panda Phonics Playset is a great demonstration of how you can use your iPad and integrated playset to provide learning both on the screen and using tactile letters to complete a goal – I can’t wait to see what else this company will bring. The Square Panda Phonics Playset retails for $119 USD and includes a standard one year parts and labor if the letters malfunction or the product itself malfunctions. It can be purchased from Square Panda for $119 USD.