Making Phonics Fun to Engage All Learners

Updated: Oct 19, 2018

Making Phonics Fun: Square Panda

It can be a challenge to engage differently-wired kids in learning the basics of reading. There are a number of teaching methodologies that teach these skills in multi-sensory, research-based ways, but sometimes even the most highly specialized programs still fail to engage some learners.

Square Panda is a phonics playset that was designed to teach children letter recognition, letter sounds, rhyming, and vocabulary while using a series of free iPad apps to target curriculum through games. I know how some of my students with autism and ADHD are naturally drawn to the iPad for instruction, so I was exciting to try it out!

Exploring Square Panda

When you unbox the Square Panda playset, my initial impression was that it resembled a slantboard in the way that the iPad was positioned on an angle, with the letter tray positioned along the bottom. As an occupational therapist, I appreciated that this design presents the iPad in a way that promotes visual attention and facilitates fine motor development as kids interact with the materials.

Inside the playset is where the purple and yellow-colored letters are stored. Consonants are purple, vowels are yellow - this makes visually scanning the 45 letters a bit easier so kids can locate what they are looking for. While I love that the letters are all contained within the playset, the number of pieces can be a daunting organizational skill for some learners. I found myself grouping letters in sequence to help new or struggling learners find letters without frustration. Depending on the skills of the child, I would suggest offering some strategy to help them organize.

Teaching with Square Panda

For very new learners, I started introducing the materials of the Square Panda using a letter 'placemat' that I roughly made. By making a game out of finding the letters to match the models on the placemat, kids were familiarizing themselves with how I would later organize all of the materials when they played on the apps. Add in a scooter, tunnel, or hide-and-seek blind bag, and therapy sessions incorporated Square Panda materials into our typical OT activities!

Once kids understood how to interact with the letters, I introduced the curriculum apps. There are 10 free games to choose from depending on the skills of your student. I love that the skills are clearly outlined in the Square Panda materials packet so parents and teachers can really understand why these games are important in the development of pre-reading and literacy skills!

Some of the more specific skills targeted in the Square Panda games are:

Making Phonics Fun Square Panda Games
  • word construction

  • word onsets

  • vowel order

  • phonemic sounds

  • writing and tracing

  • print concepts

  • left-to-right directionality

  • word families and rhymes

  • executive functioning skills

  • decoding

If you're a teacher in a classroom of Square Panda users, you know all about the teacher portal that helps streamline data collection to assess skill development. As much of what teachers do each day is data-driven, the ability to create student profiles and access online teacher resources is awesome!

In home, therapy, or classroom situations, Square Panda has the ability to engage learners across the spectrum of abilities. From the basics of letter matching on a placemat, to the more complex skills of pre-reading and pre-writing, the ability to differentiate the use of this program based on individual student needs is impressive!

Many thanks to Square Panda for allowing us the opportunity to explore their program with our differently-wired students! While this post was sponsored by Square Panda, our thoughts and impressions are entirely our own. If you're interested in sharing your product with us @adaptlearn and our Inform. Inspire. Include. blog, please reach out at

#specialeducation #visualprocessing #literacysupports