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Billy's Coin Visits the Zoo
A simple book app with charming, hand-sewn illustrations and twelve different surprises to encourage repeat play. This is the story of Billy whose coin visits the zoo (although it’s not clear whether Billy himself ever actually gets to the zoo) after being dropped down a grate. The coin bounces along, being tossed from one animal to the next until it finally makes its way back to Billy who uses the coin to buy a ball from a coin-operated dispenser. The ball opens to reveal a wool felted animal. There are twelve different animals to discover in the balls (you get a new ball each time you read the story) and each is accompanied by an interesting fact about the animal. The rhyming story is presented using just two to three short lines of text per page. The illustrations are crafted from a variety of fiber materials with charming imperfections. Users can choose a male or female narrator or can turn off the narration completely for a read-it-yourself experience.
Reviewed on 03/13/17
Freemium on | iTunes
There are many apps for kids about cars, but most of them concentrate on building the car or on painting the car or adding extra wacky accessories to the cars. You might be able to drive the cars around a pre-determined track or you might drive on an imaginary road trip, but to the best of my knowledge, this is the first car-related app for kids that encourages kids to spend time building the road and that's really interesting! How will the vehicle respond to driving on bumpy roads? Or roads with steep hills? Or lots of twisty curves? What if we throw in some imaginary stuff like teleporters or superfast conveyor belts or super bouncy whoopee cushions? What if we do change up the car? What if it was a monster truck instead? Or a tractor? Or a bulldozer? Or even a horse? There are so many different options to explore that they didn't want to overwhelm first time players, so they've designed the app so that when you first encounter it, you have only a small number of options, but as you play, you earn stars and those stars add up to earn you new parts for your road and new vehicles to try out as well. The app is free to download, but if you want to be able to use all of the unlocked items, you'll have to pay a one-time in-app purchase to access the full set of game elements. Sort of like "Minecraft" but with cars, your 6-8 year old child will likey love this one.
Oh! the magic drawing app
Inspired by their book, That’s My Hat!” the authors made this companion app. Choose from a long list of colorful shapes in the side bar and drag them out onto the screen and watch them transform, with a few lines automatically added, into a dog or a cloud or a snowman or myriad other characters and objects. Depending on where you place the shape on the screen the object will be different (e.g. a circle in the sky becomes the sun, a circle below the line becomes the top of a tree). You can also tap a shape to rotate it or press and hold to change the color. Rotate your device and your whole scene will change as up becomes down or left or right. Make up a story about the objects in your scene, then snap a photo and save it to your device where you can send it to a friend or family member along with your story. This deceptively simple interface is beautiful, easy for any age to use, and full of creative potential. It’s free to download, but the authors invite you to make a donation if you’d like to support the work they do. Winner of the 2017 Bologna Ragazzi Digital Award.
If you loved to make tiny crafty things with your hands and household materials and you had the time to make a really elaborate doll house, it might look something like this. Luckily, even if you don’t have the time, skills or inclination to make your own dollhouse, you can play in this virtual doll house for as long as you’d like to! There is a free “lite” version that includes all four dolls and the first floor of the dollhouse, or you can purchase the full version and explore the entire house. Each room is filled with objects for the dolls to interact with, furniture for them to sit on, even logs and a lighter to start a fire in the chiminea (thankfully, you can’t start anything else on fire!). Some of the objects (like the storybook in the bedroom or the fruity drink in the kitchen) allow a closer look and a deeper interaction (you can read through the pages in the book or customize the drink’s flavors, colors and garnishes). There are so many different things to do and explore and it’s quite natural for kids to start talking for the dolls, just like they would with physical dolls. If you ARE crafty and would like to bring parts of this dollhouse to life, be sure to check out their website where you can get knitting instructions to make each of the dolls as well as their nightclothes, plus you can get DIY instructions for many of the handmade toys and artwork featured within the house. There are no right or wrong answers or ways to play with this app, no timers, no cheering or buzzers or other distractions. Just a great, almost tactile open play experience.
Busy Shapes 2
Reviewed on 02/06/17
Paid on | iOS
This sequel to Busy Shapes adds a new dimension to the play. In the first highly rated app, players match shapes to the hole that most closely matches the shape (sometimes just by shape, sometimes also by color, texture or pattern). In this sequel, the holes are often found on different, moving planes than the shapes and players must not only match the shape to the hole, but find a way to get the shape safely past the obstacles and across the moving platforms without falling off. Thankfully, there is still no stress-inducing path to “failure” at this game since a new copy of the shape will reappear in the initial position if your shape falls off the edge of one of the platforms. Part of some of the puzzles involves exploding “bombs” (classic black sphere with a wick), so if those are too violent for your child, avoid this game. There are also catapults, icy spots, rivers and barriers to add to the challenge of moving your shape towards its corresponding hole. Great practice for understanding timing and depth as well as shapes and cause and effect.
Radio Jones and his Robot Dad
Reviewed on 02/06/17
Free on | iOS
This wordless, animated graphic novel book app takes us on an adventure with a boy and his robot. When his real dad spends too much time working, our hero, a boy named Radio Jones, decides to create a robot version of his dad who can play with him and take him out for wild escapades. The app features gorgeous artwork with a muted palette, a subtle but beautiful soundtrack and unobtrusive hints to help readers find the interactive elements of the story. Generally, these are not descriptions that would lead to an app that will appeal to readers ages 6-8, but somehow, in this app, it works. Maybe it’s the graphic novel layout. Maybe it’s the slightly edgy shenanigans Radio enjoys with his “robot dad.” Maybe it’s the very satisfying ending of the story. Maybe it’s all of these elements combining together to make one of the most appealing book apps for older kids that I’ve ever seen. Especially impressive is how all of the interactive elements help move the storyline forward, they’re not just flashy distractions. This story could have been told as an animated short film, but it works great as a graphic novel because it puts the reader in charge of moving the story forward at their own pace. This element of requiring input from the user engages kids more deeply than passively watching a movie. It’s also an excellent conversation starter. What would your child do if they had a robot mom or dad?
Reviewed on 01/31/17
Paid on | iOS
Explore our solar system with this app by Tinybop. Visit each planet and drop objects (like a snowman or a tin can or a rock) onto the planet’s surface and check the results. Does the object melt? Sink? Burn up in the atmosphere? Crash and create a crater? Each of those results teaches users something about the individual characteristics of each planet, but without giant paragraphs of text (a welcome change from most space education apps). Check out a cross-section of each planet to see what’s below the surface. Is it molten rock or a diamond sea? Fly over the surface of each planet or past all of the moons in your space craft and look at them up close. You can also compare the size of any two planets (or the sun) side by side or weigh two on a balance scale to see which is heavier. There is also a measuring page where you can gauge how many “Astronomical Units” each planet is away from the sun. If your child enjoys reading the discrete facts about each planet don’t miss the Dashboard where they have created an excellent handbook full of facts and discussion questions to delve deeper into an exploration of this topic. Once again, an incredible app by the Tinybop team! This one encourages exploration and learning through actions. Highly recommended.
Mulle Meck's Boats
Reviewed on 01/29/17
Paid on | iOS
Build a boat with Swedish book character, Mulle Meck! Players may choose which style of boat they’d like to use, add a cabin (various designs available) and then decide how their boat will move. Will they choose large and colorful sails? An outboard motor? A steam engine? There are many options and all of them work differently within the app. Finally, paint your boat and you’re ready to head out on the open water. Load up a package to deliver across the lake, then start your engines (or set your sails!) and see how your boat fares on the water. Dragging your finger across the screen can create a strong wind and rough waters, but Mulle Meck never looks worried! Once your parcel is delivered safely, the game rewards you with a new boat component to add to your menu of options. Beautifully designed game, simple enough for even very young children to succeed, but the constant addition of new components makes it fresh each time even for older players. What’s the wackiest boat you can build? How fast can you get across the lake? How choppy can you make the water and still make progress? A well-made app with lots of details to experiment with and no right or wrong answers makes this a great option for open-ended play that will spark interesting conversations.
Create simple animated movies, now with three-dimensional characters and settings! The original Toontastic app has been a gold standard in the land of content creation apps for years. Now, the creators have put together this new app that takes all of the wonderful features you’ve loved in Toontastic, made them 3D and added a few new fantastic options. You can still learn a lot about the arc of a storyline by building your movie in several scenes, but now they’ve given you three options for the type of story you want to tell-- short story, classic story and science report! Each of these options starts by breaking down your movie into scenes (beginning-middle-end or more nuanced divisions like “conflict” or “hypothosis”) and you choose which part of the story you want to tell. Need more than 5 scenes to tell your story? Add more or take a few away--it’s completely customizable! Each of the scenes is now larger than just one static screen and your character can walk around inside the scene, zooming in or out. I also appreciate that ALL of the characters can be customized with variations in skin tone and clothing colors as well as adding a photo for character faces. If you don’t like their pre-made scenery, you can always draw your own original artwork for backgrounds, characters, props, etc. Get inspired in the “Idea Lab” by watching movies that others have created! A fantastic sequel to a wonderful app, Toontastic 3D is perfect for home, classroom or road trips. The whole family can work together to create their own original film masterpiece!
Mussila Musical Monster Adventure
Reviewed on 12/07/16
Paid on | iOS
Learn musical concepts through this monster adventure app! Travel along a game board and hone your skills through different challenges. Some challenges ask you to identify which instrument is making the sound you’re hearing. Others have rhythm challenges, melodic challenges or ask you to repeat short measures of music played on a keyboard (the keys that you’re supposed to play light up). Most of the challenges are listening and identifying rather than creating music yourself, but there’s also a fun play area where you can choose the players, the instruments, then they play a basic tune while you can play your own made-up addition to the band on a keyboard or on rhythm instruments. There are many apps that claim to teach your child how to play music, but this is one of my favorites!