kids app reviews

there’s a whole crop of new apps coming out right now and a big season of traveling ahead of us, so it seems like a good time to post a few new favorite apps we’ve found.

Endless Reader

i am soooooo excited about this one!  my very favoritest ever app (endless alphabet) has developed a sequel that is (if possible) even better than the first.  or at least an excellent sequel.  you really should have them both.  but enough gushing–what does it do?  game play starts off similar to endless alphabet–kids pick a word out of the rolodex in the monster’s mouth, the monsters run through the word, scattering the letters hither and yon and kids put the word back together (listening to the letter sounds and names as they go). here’s where “reader” is different than “alphabet”– once the word has been built, a little flying monster comes along, picks up the whole word, flies it out of the way and a sentence appears that incorporates the word.  the chaos monsters run through the sentence and scatter two  other words and kids have to put the three words back into the sentence where they belong.  when they touch the word to drag it back into the sentence, the word says its name until its dropped back into place in the sentence.  when the whole sentence is reconstructed, an animation illustrating the sentence is played.  many of the words that get scattered are repeats of the words from the “rolodex” so there’s great reinforcement.  this one gets a ton of play in our house and is so delightful that i’m even happy to play it…. if i could ever get it out of the happy little dude’s hands.

My Little Work Garage by Filimundus

The developers of Pettson’s Inventions sent me a free download code to try out their newest app called “My Little Work Garage” awhile back.  Basic premise is that a car drives into a garage with seven different workstations, each with their own service.  The driver requests the services they want.  Kids can either just do the services requested, or can get creative and do a little bit of everything.  When they’re done, the driver pays and drives away.  There is also a racing component of this app, where they can race cars through 3 different tracks or trick out one of four “racing” cars in the garage.  The racing is a bit tricky as you need to find the balance between going fast enough to win and not so fast that you spin off the track.  The first few times we tried this game, I wasn’t quite sold.  it seemed complicated, one or two of the features were just glitchy enough to be frustrating to the happy little dude (those have all been fixed at this point, hooray!), and i thought maybe it was better suited for older kids.  turns out, i just needed to give my kid a chance to really dig into the app by himself for awhile and figure out how it works on his own.  now, he plays it often. i love the graphics and the fact that it’s wordless (translates across any language and kids don’t always listen to spoken instruction anyway.  an app that kids can figure out on their own without text is a well-designed app in my book.) and there seems to be a good mix of “follow the instructions” and “let’s get creative” (for instance, you don’t have to limit yourself only to the requested services on each car.  they could ask for new tires and you could paint flames on their vehicle instead.  Or add a snail shell for a trunk.  if i could add one thing to the developer’s wishlist, at the end of the car’s time in the garage, the driver pays coins for all services rendered during their visit.  Although the cash register shows the new total and if you buy new gadgets and accessories for the garage, it subtracts the proper amount of money from the cashdrawer, it never says how much the driver is paying.  If the attendant could say “28” or “14” or whatever they owe beside a picture of a coin, that would (subtly) add in a solid math component–both addition and subtraction (and budgeting!).   If you have a vehicle fanatic in your house, this might be a good choice.  Available for both Apple and Android.

Breathe/Think/Do by Sesame Street

This simple little app aims to promote emotional intelligence–a lofty goal for an app–and does it well (no surprise, knowing it’s from Sesame Street).  there are 5 scenarios in which  a little monster is feeling strong (uncomfortable) emotions [frustration, nervousness/anxiety (separation), disappointment, impatience, apprehension (bedtime)].  The player is encouraged to help the monster put his hands on his belly and take three slow deep breaths (by tapping the screen for each action).  Then, we “help the monster think of a plan.”  This is the most difficult part of the described process to illustrate in an app.  They chose to illustrate this with some floating bubbles while the monster is thinking and the kid are supposed to pop the bubbles to help him think.  I’m really not sure how this will translate back to the real world, but I don’t have a better suggestion.  Anyway, after popping  a few bubbles, the monster comes up with a plan (and then pop more bubbles until he has three plans).  One of the plans is usually solo, one is with a peer (or just a second solo plan) and one is always with the help of an adult.  The player chooses which of the three plans they’d like the monster to try and then that solution is played out in an animation.  I love the concept of this game and I am eagerly awaiting the day when, in the midst of an actual tantrum, I can actually get him to “Breathe, Think, Do.” (at this point, when I offer the suggestion of putting his hands on his belly and breathing when he’s throwing a fit, the response is generally…. not accommodating.)  Note:  If you’d like to develop this concept further, away from the screen, the Sesame Street site also has these free printables that illustrate the concept.  Also available on Android.

Toca Boca: Lab

Toca Boca has bunch of new apps out since I last wrote reviews.  There’s even a few we haven’t tried yet (see the “looking foward to” list at the bottom of this post).  But when I saw that their newest one (just out today!) features playing with chemicals in a lab and the cutest periodic table of elements I’ve ever seen….. I just had to try it out.  F.A.N.tastic!  (of course, I expect nothing less from Toca Boca, but this one is possibly one of my very favorites from their whole line-up.)  Gameplay:  There are five actions you can do to an element (heat/freeze/centrifuge/pour chemicals on it/zap it with electricity).  Whenever you do one of these actions, the element changes into a different element… or maybe it doesn’t.  You have to experiment to see which actions produce which results and along the way, you’ll “discover” new elements.  I’m assuming that once you’ve played this long enough, you’ll have uncovered all of the elements, but that’s a LOT of different cute anthropomorphized chemicals and gasses!  Originally, I assumed that it was just a made-up table, but I just went to compare it to a real table of elements and… um, it’s actually based on the real thing.  With the real abbreviations and atomic number of each element.  whoa.  but it’s such a subtle part of the game…. now i want to know whether a generation of kids raised on this game will enter chemistry and every time they hear about bromine think of this little brown blob with teeny sticks for arms and a goofy expression.  anyway, there is still much to explore in this game, but it has excellent potential to strengthen STEM skills (experimenting, theorizing, categorizing, predicting…) and it’s also super fun to turn those little elements into ice cubes.

Bellamon:  The Math Tree

Lovely design, lots of scaffolding, and a simple premise drew me to try this app, but it’s earned a review here because i’ve actually seen real-world addition/subtraction learning in my son now that he’s used it for awhile.  i will say that the other night, while he was playing, he apparently got tired of the voiceover’s constant commentary (“eight is too many.” “2 is too few.” “how many birds are in the tree?”) and yelled “stop saying that!” at the phone.  it would be nice if there was an option to turn the sound off.  (although it’s not that unpleasant if you’re not mad at the lady for constantly correcting you…)

we are excited to try: Toca Boca “hair salon me” and “mini“, Sago Mini Ocean Swimmer, Kapu blocks, Cowly Owl’s Little digits

if you’ve made it to the bottom of this post, vote in the comments whether you prefer chatty paragraphs (like the post you just finished reading) or the fill-in-the blank formula i used on my first app-review post?

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