new feature! kid app reviews!

[warning!  this is a verrrrry long post.  if you have no interest in purchasing apps for kids, just skip this one.]  i’ve been researching kid apps to use in my programs at the library in a very scientific manner–i.e. putting them on my phone and letting my own two-year-old play with them.  we have a pretty good collection of apps now, and i thought i’d share our favorites with you (we have these all on our iphone, but they’re all also compatible with itouch and ipads).  i’ll start with the free apps (everyone’s favorite category):

A story before bed

Brief overview:  Record web-cam videos of yourself reading books (on your computer, not from your phone) from their library of 19 free titles and 500+ other books.  When played back, viewers will see both the video and the pages of the book.

App Cost & Requirements:   free!  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later

Hidden costs:  recording some of the books will cost money

Annoying audio?:  only if you have a poor quality microphone in your computer (there’s no music)

Quality of visuals:  Great!  Most of what you see is the book itself.  The majority of the “free” titles to record are public domain text with beautiful original artwork.

Why he likes it:  he gets to listen to stories (read by his mama) over and over, he chooses the book, he can control the page turns if he wants to

Why I like it:  It’s almost as good as snuggling up to read a good book together, except that he can do it while I’m cooking dinner (or snoozing for an extra 5 minutes in the morning).

Educational value:  encourages a love of reading books

Bonus note:  if you’d like to see how i’m using this app at my library (and see samples of me reading), click here!  (you can watch the stories on your computer without the app.) our favorite so far is more bears!

KinderTown

Brief overview:  an app about apps  (okay, this one is not actually for 2-year-olds to use, but it’s essential for adults who are searching for apps for kids!)

App Cost & Requirements:   free!  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

Hidden costs:  nearly all the apps they recommend are not free

Annoying audio?:  no audio

Quality of visuals:  Simple to use, amazingly well-organized

Why I like it:  In the first 5 minutes of browsing through this app, I discovered 3 new favorite apps.  All the apps recommended within this app are reviewed and vetted by professional childhood educators.  They’re organized by target age group, then by broad subject, then narrowed down by narrower subject headings.  A librarian’s dream!

Educational value:  this one points out the educational value in the apps it recommends—priceless!

Toca Kitchen Monsters

Brief overview:  Feed two monsters a choice of 8 foods prepared with 5 different kitchen tools and enjoy their reactions to your culinary skills.

App Cost & Requirements:   free!  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.2 or later.

Hidden costs: you might get addicted to Toca Boca apps (although there are no annoying links to paid apps for your kids to click on within this app—a welcome reprieve!)

Annoying audio?:  the music is subtle and tasteful (if a teensy bit repetitive).  The monsters’ audible reactions to the foods, and the sounds of cooking are … authentic.

Quality of visuals:  Love these!  (along with all the Toca apps—this is one of their strong suits)  Food cooked in a frying pan actually browns, food chopped in a food processor turn into actual mush, the monsters are cute!

Why he likes it:  He loves to cook the foods that make the monsters say “blech.”

Why I like it:  The free play (choose any food!  Cook it any way you want, in whatever order you choose!) encourages pretending

Educational value:  teaches sequencing, trial and error (to see which foods the monsters like. Or don’t like), and engages kids in pretend cooking.

Tizzy Seasons Lite

Brief overview:  Four mini-games, one for each season.

App Cost & Requirements:   free!  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Hidden costs:  after you’ve played all the games, a screen with a link to purchase the full version appears

Annoying audio?:  The music is okay (if slightly odd during the autumn section?), but my son asked today if we could turn off the cheering after each game is completed (not that I can see…).  I am impressed that the birdsong in the Spring section sounds authentic.

Quality of visuals:  Nice.  I like that the children they feature are non-white.

Why he likes it:  the mini-games are intuitive

Why I like it:  It’s a nice app for free, and reinforces the concept of seasons

Educational value:  sequencing (putting winter clothes on in the right order), matching (leaf shapes)

 

Peekaboo Friends

Brief overview:  Free preview versions of several PeekaBoo games from Night & Day Studios.  General concept—player hears a sound coming from inside something (a barn, the fridge, an elevator….), taps on the doors and they are opened, revealing the source of the sound

App Cost & Requirements:   free!  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later

Hidden costs:  plentiful links to the paid versions of these apps

Annoying audio?:  not terrible…

Quality of visuals:  Simple illustrations, clean design

Why he likes it:  Easy gameplay

Why I like it:  PeekaBoo Barn is by far the strongest of these offerings if we’re discussing the player’s ability to predict what’s behind the doors (what sounds do eggs make?  Or a boss?), but they all engage in classic Peek-a-Boo fun

Educational value:  predicting

Bonus story:  the child who does the audio for Peek-a-Boo barn cannot pronounce the letter “r.”  My son (who has no problem with that letter) now calls it “Peekaboo Bahn” and when the rooster comes up, he says, “WOO-stah” in a perfect imitation of the voiceover.  Apparently in the paid full version, you do have the option to choose an adult voice with more proper pronunciation.

Paid Games that get the most play at our house (sorted from least expensive to most)

Toca Band

Brief overview:  Build your own unique band from sixteen musical characters.

App Cost & Requirements:   $0.99  Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

Hidden costs:  the front page has a link to the other Toca Boca apps

Annoying audio?:  a few of the characters can get obnoxious if they’re played loud and long enough  (I’m looking at you, Figara the opera singer!)

Quality of visuals:  Super cute!

Why he likes it:  He likes to make the rapper, Stikk Figga say silly things (he’s begun repeating S.F.’s phrases which is sort of hilarious), and mix up his own band

Why I like it:  There are so many hidden learning opportunities in this game!  (hidden because they feel like play, not like music education)  Each character has four speeds that they perform music at, depending on which level of the stage you place them on.  The mix of rhythm vs. tonal patterns vs. melodies can be combined in infinite ways, but never sounds discordant.

Educational value:  music skills galore!

 

Toca Train

Brief overview:  You’re the driver of the train!

App Cost & Requirements: $0.99  Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

Hidden costs:  the front page has a link to the other Toca Boca apps

Annoying audio?:  cutesy but unobtrusive repetitive soundtrack.

Quality of visuals:  Cartoony cuteness

Why he likes it:  It has TRAINS! (with which he is obsessed)

Why I like it:  Great pretending opportunities.  You can make the train go the speed you want, you look out of the train from the driver’s viewpoint, you can blow the whistle, stop to pick up/drop off passengers, etc. and instructions for new games are clearly explained non-verbally

Educational value:  first-person creative play

Trucks (by Duck Duck Moose)

Brief overview:  Five mini games, featuring different trucks, focus on pretending

App Cost & Requirements:   $1.99  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later

Hidden costs:  a link on the front page to their other apps

Annoying audio?:  gah.  Cartoony versions of classic “kid songs” including at least one Christmas tune and they all grate on my picky nerves.  the kid voiceovers are fine.

Quality of visuals:  Bubbly, cartoony cute

Why he likes it:  It has TRUCKS!  And hidden characters doing silly things!  (like the shark that you can poke in the car wash to make him play a riff on an electric guitar)

Why I like it:  I like the pretend play value, but I will say that the game play is fairly linear and predictable

Educational value:  pretend?  Sequencing?  There’s a sorting game in the garbage truck section, where kids are supposed to sort the garbage, compost and trash, but that’s far beyond the capabilities of my two year old and he gets frustrated with it.

Kapu Forest

Brief overview:  Ten mini-games in a retro-cute forest

App Cost & Requirements:   $1.99  Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Hidden costs:  none

Annoying audio?:  I find the music in this one utterly charming and I have yet to get tired of listening to it.

Quality of visuals:  Gorgeous!  Really, just super eye-candy.

Why he likes it:  He enjoys playing the games (although the firefly one spooked him the first few times he encountered it)

Why I like it:  I am a sucker for pretty packaging.  A few of the games have educational value, the rest engage in pretending activities (feeding animals, growing and plucking carrots, etc.)

Educational value:  shape matching, mazes

Faces iMake (premium)

Brief overview:  Create a picture using found objects combined in an infinite variety of ways, based on the artwork of children’s book illustrator, Hanoch Piven.

App Cost & Requirements:  $1.99  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later

Hidden costs:  none!

Annoying audio?:  There is one song sung over and over which can get a bit annoying after 10 minutes of repetition

Quality of visuals:  fantastic photographs of the objects and general game design is elegant.

Why he likes it:  This is one I think he’ll gradually get more and more out of.  Current favorite ways to interact with the app are watching the well-made demo videos and just exploring the menus to see what “stuff” is available to play with.

Why I like it:  There are soooo many ways to play with this app.  It truly has freeplay and the instructive videos encourage participants to just play around with the objects, not worrying about doing it right or wrong.  This app is entertaining for ALL ages.  Because of that, I invested in the “premium” version, but there’s a “lite” version for $0.99 if you don’t want to pay for the full version.  I’m not sure what the difference is–I’d guess there are less options for objects to use in the artwork?

Educational value:  creativity, visual organizing

 

Bert’s Bag

Brief overview:  Sesame Street’s Bert has a brown paper bag with a surprise inside—what could it be?  Something to count!

App Cost & Requirements: $2.99  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

Hidden costs:  none

Annoying audio?:  The soundtrack is very Bert-like (accordion-esque, plodding) and can get annoying if your child plays the game for more than 10 minutes in a row (likely).  Also, I find it odd that when you’re done counting stuff, Bert says something like, “Nine!  Nine erasers!  All together!” – the phrasing rhythm is stilted and that part is extremely repetitive.  I do appreciate that Bert has several different phrases that he employs between rounds of opening the bag to find something new inside.

Quality of visuals:  If you love Sesame Street, you will love the visuals in this app.

Why he likes it:  He loves Bert, the gameplay is simple, and he likes to see what different things are in the bag (there’s quite a variety, and when the objects do begin to repeat, they’re in different amounts than before)

Why I like it:  Because kids have to swipe their finger through the pile of objects to send them, one at a time onto the tabletop, and when they do, they hear Bert count aloud, they’re really learning how to count objects

Educational value:  one-to-one correspondence 

Grover’s Number Special

Brief overview:  Grover the waiter is back and needs your help to gather the ingredients for today’s “special,” as ordered by the Blue Guy

App Cost & Requirements:  $2.99  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

Hidden costs:  none!

Annoying audio?:  a chime-y song during the food-catching scenes can get a bit repetitive if played too long.

Quality of visuals:  Classic Sesame Street quality

Why he likes it:  Grover says silly things (and drops food all the time, hilarious!)

Why I like it:  Although he hasn’t quite figured out the whole “tilt the screen to make the tray move to catch the ingredients” concept, there is still counting practice and simple recipe instruction. (and the foods do eventually drop on the tray, even if you don’t tilt it.)

Educational value:  one-to-one correspondence, sequencing

 

Elmo’s Monster Maker

Brief overview:  Pick a blank muppet, add eyes, nose and headgear, then Elmo will play with your monster

App Cost & Requirements:  $3.99 (yikes!)  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

Hidden costs:  none!

Annoying audio?:  I love this music!

Quality of visuals:  If you love Sesame Street, you’ll love this app design!

Why he likes it:  Hilarious interaction between Elmo and the created Muppets (dancing, saying “boo!” and scaring them to pieces, silly eye/nose/hat options)

Why I like it:  I think this app gets re-designed each season (right now, it’s pretty autumnal) which adds significant value to this pricey app since the new designs come packaged as app updates.

Educational value:  although it touts “decision-making” skills and “art and creativity” I’d say this one is best at just being fun!

Other apps worth mentioning:

Paper Town Friends

Although he hasn’t played with this one a lot, I LOVE the cut paper visuals, lack of soundtrack and simple “paper doll” game play. $1.99  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later

The Singing Alphabet (by Ministry of Letters)

This one makes much more sense after watching the accompanying video.  It also appears to be based on a British picture book.  Toca Band is a better execution of this same concept, but I do love the illustrations!  $0.99  Compatible with iPad (there’s a separate iPhone version). Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

My PlayHome

Although this one doesn’t get played with a lot at our house, I could see other kids really enjoying it.  It’s about as close to playing with a dollhouse as you can get on a phone app.  The music is subtle and the characters are a range of ethnicities. $3.99 (or try out two rooms and an all-white family for free here!)  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

 

ABC Wildlife

This app is a solid favorite with my son, but I have mixed feelings about it (and the whole series of related apps).  I do love the navigation features  (click on any letter to go to a listing of animals whose names begin with that letter), but is it really worth the money to buy an app whose main feature is pulling in videos from youtube?  The videos they choose are of a vast range of qualities (from home movies of someone’s pet to zoo-made videos to national geographic clips) and I’m not 100% certain of the legalities of using the videos in this way.  That being said, he has some favorite animal videos that we watch over and over and he’s learned a lot about the animals, plus the vocabulary words, “incredible!” and “fantastic!” from the voiceovers during the “gameplay” portion of the app (usually scribbling your finger all over the screen to “uncover” an animal).  $2.99  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

whew!  that’s it for my first wrap-up.  i’d love to hear from you–was this a helpful post?  what information would you like to see included in future app reviews?  do you have favorite apps that you don’t see listed here?  if you’re a librarian–do you use apps in your work and if so, how do you incorporate them?  if you’re a parent of a young child, do you allow your child to play with apps on your phone?  do you set a daily time limit?

This entry was posted in apps for kids, kid stuff, library stuff, reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to new feature! kid app reviews!

  1. Jen K. says:

    Usually I am quite content with my “dumb” phone. Lately I’ve had a bit of a hankering for an iPad or other i-thingy. This just made it worse. :-)

    I love it when people pass along their great finds and give in-depth explanations about them. Especially when they are reviewed by safe and respected reviewers! Thank you. I will tuck this away for future reference… who knows, maybe I’ll need to pull it up again after Christmas!

  2. Daniel Ori says:

    Dear Happy Stuff,

    I hope all is well.

    We’ve been very busy developing our latest app and it is finally released!

    JAZZY WORLD TOUR – A Musical Journey for Kids – available on iPad.

    Join our two kittens on a magical journey as they travel the world in a hot air balloon. Visit Brazil, Spain, India, Australia and more, as we explore each country’s unique music and culture. Play the different musical instruments with interactive fun pages filled with entertaining sounds and vivid illustrations. From the sandy pyramids of Egypt to the wildlife of Kenya, Jazzy World Tour is an adventure that is sure to broaden your child’s horizon.

    There is much excitement around this new Jazzy app and we’d like to get some early press. Your thoughts are very important to us, and it would be amazing to have you review our app. I’m happy to send a promo code.

    Jazzy World Tour on the iTunes store

    Jazzy World Tour on our website

    I’m really hoping we can make this happen.

    Thanks and very best wishes,

    Daniel


    Daniel Ori
    Creative Director || The Melody Book
    T: 1+ 857.488.0127 || E:daniel@themelodybook.com || W: http://themelodybook.com
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