This is a review post of the Smarty Cat Irish language games for kids. Full details of the review are below.
When Spidey was born there were great intentions to make sure that he grew up with a positive attitude about his Irish-ness and the Irish language. Both myself and the hubby left school with good standards of written and spoken Irish, and through work I had even found myself hosting a public meeting to explain all about sewerage schemes and land zoning. In Donegal. In Irish. Sober.
Three kids later, our children have Irish names and a smattering of words (which are oddly the bossy ones like suigh síos, chas timpeall, bualadh bos) but our lofty aspirations of raising bi-lingual brats has come to nothing. Thankfully this means we can still bitch about people / plan a take-away / talk about Santa, without fear of being understood, but it’s a real pity that we have let time pass us by without teaching them more than these cúpla focal.
So, I was quite chuffed when Smarty Cat asked me to review some of their Irish language games for children. These are games developed to help children to learn the language in a fun and informal way through play and activity.
The products on offer include Cluichí Gaeilge, a collection of ten games which are familiar to young children and which also handily complement the themes of the National curriculum. The games can be used in the classroom or at home. They are designed for the 5- to 12-year-old age group. The collection includes games such as:
- Mé Féin – a guessing game where you ask your opponent questions to find out who their chosen character is,
- Biongó – a twist on the game of bingo with words instead of numbers, with variations including a game using words relating to food and another to special occasions,
- Snap – the traditional card game featuring picture images and the Irish words,
- Splot – a game where the objective is to collect a range of television programmes listed on a TV schedule, and
- Iasc – the classic ‘go fish’ game drawing on two separate themes – clothes and the weather, where cards are matched in pairs.
We were given the Snap game which features pictures relating to school – a topical choice considering Spidey is off to National School in just a few days.
The game itself is very high quality. The cards are brightly coloured, well illustrated and attractive enough to hold the interest of my day-dreamers. The writing is clear so for any early readers they will be well able to make out the words. My kids favoured a mash-up of ‘snap’ and matching pairs. When they’d match a pair I’d tell them the English and Irish words and we would repeat them. Within a few rounds they were shouting out their versions of the Irish words. They may not have been linguistic perfection but they were good attempts. Impressively the cards are durable – having been road tested by being soaked in spilt water and chewed on the corner, they stood up to the challenge.
In addition to the card games, Smarty Cat sent us the Chatty Cat Ball to try out. This is a medium-sized inflatable ball that has 21 questions printed on it. The idea is kids throw it to each other and the answer the question that their right hand lands on.
After a quick play around with the Chatty Cat (captured above), Yoda was removed from our first trial of the game early. Not for reason of intellectual ability but because after being hit in the head by the ball three times, she had a meltdown. In high-pitched English.
Anyway Spidey was delighted to keep going and – though the left-right rules were fairly liberally applied, got the hang of it fairly quickly. The questions are great ‘starter’ questions and ideal for younger children. With older children it is easy to see how they can be used to prompt a conversation – say about nicknames, meanings etc. Examples are: Cad is ainm duit? (What is your name?); Cá bhfuil tú i do chónaí? (Where do you live?); and Cé mhéad deartháir agus deirfiúr atá agat? (How many brothers and sisters have you?). Spidey wasn’t able to read them but that was no big deal as I read them out and then explained what they meant. Then I walked through what answer he might give (in English) and then built up the Irish language answer to match. There are also little pictures on the ball too that linked to the images used in the Snap game so he was happy to point and half-remember the words he had learnt earlier.
Later, when he got restless, he road tested the ball for durability. I can confirm that it withstands 22lb of rolling 5-year old and does not burst!
All in all the games are both attractive and interesting. They could definitely hold their own against the mainstream English language learning games. Though Spidey is at the younger end of the recommended age range and can’t yet read, he definitely learnt new words and had fun playing the games. Amazingly, even though she’s only three Yoda too was chatting about ceol, an bosca bruscar and her peann luaidh. I swear that girl will one day rule the world. A few days later, they were still at it!
Snap was great at refreshing my own vocabulary and remembering words that had been so familiar in school, but which I had forgotten. Complementary to this, the great strength of the Chatty Cat was that it made me brush the cobwebs off my Irish and string sentences together to teach Spidey in a more structured way. It was also good fun and a great introduction to the kind of things he’ll be learning in just a few weeks. As each of the children’s words and ability to chatter come on, the Chatty Cat is a game that would have longevity, while Snap is one they’d be happy to play again and again, long after they know the words.
In terms of both games it’s an obvious advantage if parents have some Irish themselves. That said, the Snap game would work as a learning tool for children and parents alike once the words could be pronounced properly. Some of the more basic questions on the Chatty Cat – like name, age, where you live, could be taught with basic Irish but undoubtedly the real aim is for kids, and kids and parents to be able to play and chatter away together.
Smarty Cat games are a lovely product and I think they’d be well used in any home, playgroup, crèche or classroom where play sould be used as such a positive way to teach Irish. As a child of the 1980’s who wasted far too much time in front of a projector watching staid images of Anne and Barry going about their daily (not very interesting) lives, I’m delighted that such a smart business will help my kids to learn our language in a much more dynamic and interesting way.
Imagine that. A living language that is fun and easy to learn. Peig would be spinning in her grave. Good.
I was given a complementary copy of the Smarty Cat Snap and Chatty Cat games for the purposes of review. I was not paid to write this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own and entirely independent.