Find the perfect app for you and your child!
Sago Mini Puppy Preschool
I am a huge fan of Sago Mini’s play-based app collection, so when I heard that they were putting out this app with “light educational content” I was skeptical. So skeptical that I actually refused to purchase it or look at it for months. Silly me. I should have trusted that if Sago Mini was going to do “educational” content, they wouldn’t get didactic. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this app is just as entertaining and pleasurable to play with as the rest of the apps they make. The app store description says that it includes “numbers, shape recognition, matching and music fun” but… they don’t mention that the shapes are not just your average square/circle/triangle set, but are instead the shapes of different objects that puppies like to chew on (like socks, shoes, bones and remote controls!) and you toss the objects to the puppies who then chew them to bits or shake them back and forth in a playful manner. They don’t mention that the “matching” is part of a game involving feeding the dogs different colored foods and that sometimes special guests show up alongside the puppies (I will admit to laughing aloud at a few of the guest antics!). They neglect to mention that the “music fun” is in the guise of a dog piano where each key is paired up with a different dog who barks (or howls if you press and hold the key) each pitch. The activity that is the most overtly “educational” is probably the numbers activity in which you pile up to ten dogs into a wading pool for a big bubble bath. This section of the app includes the first linguistic voiceover I remember ever seeing in a Sago Mini app as a child’s voice speaks aloud the number of dogs as you place them into the pool. My favorite part about this is that you can remove multiple puppies at a time if you use multiple fingers, so if you want to count down by twos or threes instead of one at a time, you can do that! As with all Sago Mini apps, there are some subtle little details that add to the quality of the app without distracting (try bouncing the objects in the matching & shape games and listen to the changing pitches!) and there’s plenty of kid-friendly humor throughout to keep kids engaged. Plus, those puppies are all so CUTE!
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.
Sago Mini Planes
It’s time to take a trip and you’re the pilot! Choose your plane (standard or silly like a corn-on-the-cob plane?), choose your travel companions, then take off and explore the skies! You’ll encounter all sorts of giggle-inducing surprises and you can fly for as long as you like. Do you want to fly really high among the stars or closer to earth under friendly blue skies? When you’re done (or want to try out another plane), simply fly down close to the earth and a runway will magically appear wherever you are. After your flight, be sure to check out the souvenir photos of your trip which will include the surprises that you actually encountered on this particular flight and the traveling companions that were with you--a subtle but really nice touch by the app makers. As with all Sago Mini apps, this one is easy and fun for young toddlers but older kids will also gravitate towards it to discover all of the fun details. Try this one the next time you travel or for kiddos who love vehicles!
Toca Life: School
A digital "doll house" that invites open-ended play within the environments typical in a school day. Whether your child is starting kindergarten this year and is a little nervous about what to expect in school or your child is in their last year of elementary school, everyone can find fun things to explore in Toca Life: School. The app includes six different play areas (home, school, playground, cafeteria, after-school youth club and a storage building), tons of objects for kids to interact with and a whole crew of characters to choose from. From food fights in the cafeteria to sitting on the toilet at home or school, there's plenty of giggle-inducing activities and others that can spark conversations. One extra special feature of the app is the ability to record a 2-minute original "movie" using the people and objects on your screen. When you're done, the movie is saved to your device's camera roll and you can share it with whomever you'd like!
Blue Hat, Green Hat
Reviewed on 04/15/16
If you love Sandra Boynton’s board books, try the apps for even more to love! The app developer took a very literal approach when developing this book app--the screen is designed to look like you’re actually picking up one of her printed board books and flipping through the pages. However, when you open the book you’ll discover that there are some new interactive elements not available in the print versions. For instance, on the page where each animal is putting on a shirt, the image starts off with the animals, arms up, halfway into their shirts. You can tap each animal to pull their shirt down over their head. There are some extra hidden surprises on each page, but since studies have shown that too much interaction can distract kids so much that they lose track of the storyline, it’s a good idea to just read the story straight through the first time and then if your child requests a repeat reading (which they usually do!) you can spend more time on each page, exploring all the silly surprises. If you like this app and you’re a fan of this author, rest assured that all of her book apps are of a similar high quality!
Toca Hair Salon Me
Toca Hair Salon Me is actually the third hair styling toy app that Toca Boca has developed and the element that is unique to this version is the ability to add your own photos to the app. This allows you to try out crazy hairstyles on your own head, your mom's head, your baby sister's head, even crazy hairstyles on your pet! Another feature that makes this app unique on the market is that the facial photo that you use actually gets animated. The eyes close when you're adding spray-on hair color, and follow your finger as it moves around the screen, the mouth opens to utter appropriate exclamations (not really word-based, per se, to keep this app accessible to users not matter what language they speak at home), all of which add some really solid humor to this already fun app. There are seven different stations in this hair salon, including cut (and grow, yay!), curl, wash/dry, color, photograph & accessorize. You can change the look as many times as you want, no time limits, no right or wrong way to play. If you enjoy this app, be sure to check out Toca Hair Salon and Toca Hair Salon 2 where the clientele are diverse and open to all of your hair styling recommendations.
Explore your monster’s world, re-designing your monster as you go. Enter a wacky world with cartoonish plants, bugs and fish and let your monster be your guide. As your monster explores the land, sea and sky you will encounter bubbles filled with different monster parts. If you tap on a bubble with a monster nose, that nose will become a part of your monster. Want to explore the sky? Find a bubble with wings in it. Want to swim more quickly underwater? Seek out some fins! There’s also a few magic potions scattered about that will have a temporary and surprising effect and there are other fun little surprises to discover when you tap on some of the plants and animals your monster encounters. A great, wordless and open-ended world for your child to explore to their heart’s content. Bonus: check out this free printable version of the monsters for some hands-on fun!
Become a magician’s assistant as you explore this playful app! You choose the colors, the tricks, the items to combine and then see what magic the bear magician will create. One of my favorites is the star box which allows users to choose 2 objects from a set of 10 options and place each object into a separate box. After waving a magic wand, the boxes slide together and the objects are combined into one new object! (e.g. A frog plus a lemon popsicle turns into a yellow frog on a stick) This particular trick is included in the free “Lite” version. The full version also includes the ability to choose what color the bear’s outfit is, design his magic wand and add three more tricks. Although the gameplay for this app is fairly simple and older kids will be done exploring the whole app rather quickly, it still delights players of all ages and preschool-aged children will find it to be just right.
Design your own fireworks by feeding each blank firework a combination of shapes and patterns. Then, light the fuse with a tap of your finger and watch your creation spout endless fountains of beautiful explosions! This app allows kids to be in control of their own show and might help reduce some of the trepidation that some children feel around loud and unpredictable live fireworks displays. Although you tap on a flame symbol to move from the firework creation scene to the fireworks launching scene, users don’t actually touch a flame to the firework (eliminating the potentially confusing message that it’s fun or okay to play with fire). A nicely-designed, festive app full of open-play possibilities.
Crepes by Suzette
How do you breathe new life into a picture book that’s over a decade old? Turn it into an app! In this excellent book-to-app translation, Monica Wellington’s collaged illustrations come to life with characters that speak the one French word or phrase that’s introduced on each page (I love that you can hear the word spoken by several different voices with slightly different pronunciations!) and you can hear that word or phrase translated into six other languages (including English). If you want to dig even deeper into the content, click on the map symbol in the upper left corner of each screen to discover more options -- a map of Paris showing where Suzette is selling her crepes, photos and/or videos from each location, and more information about the classical art pieces referenced in the text. A feast of information in a well-designed app in which these extra features do not distract from the storyline, but instead enhance the learning when the reader is ready to explore beyond the text.