Find the perfect app for you and your child!
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?
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!
Foldify - Create, Print, Fold!
Reviewed on 11/17/16
Paid on | iOS
Design your own printable paper toys! Choose a shape, draw on it, add photos and digital "stickers," then print it, cut it out, glue it togther and you've got your very own designed toy. This great, open-ended creativity app has so many possibilities for all ability levels. Young children will need help with the cutting and construction, but they'll be able to swipe colors across the shape to design it. Some shapes are more complicated to put together than others, so choose carefully. For beginners, there are a few shapes already designed (just print, cut and glue) and a few "coloring book" options with designs drawn on with line drawings ready for you to color in the images as you please. You can also take photos right in the app or use any photos from your camera roll (or save images from the web). Users can also upload their original designs to the app's community and share them with the world! Once your design is complete, you can choose to print it in a small, medium or large size and you can e-mail it to anyone. What a fun treat to send to far-away family! If you love this one, be sure to also check out Foldify Zoo and Foldify Dinosaurs for more paper creatures that you can print, cut, fold & glue together.
An app made by kids (with a little help from Fiete!) takes users on a trip through a very creative zoo! The developers invited 30 kids to their offices to help create this app collaboratively. Each kid designed an animal, named it and recorded the sound it would make. Users can now wander the zoo, accompanied by the sailor Fiete, meet all of the animals, hear them make noise and feed them random “food” illustrations that fall from the sky when you press the knife/fork symbol. I love that they’ve honored the children’s illustrations by leaving them unchanged and true to their originals with all “imperfections” carefully preserved. The names are also obviously unedited and range from the literal (there are several fish-shaped animals named “fischi” or some variation thereof) to the pop cultural (the one named King Kong that looks like a purple cat is a favorite of mine) to the human-like names that make me curious (the monkey named Klaus Peter…. Was that the name of a sibling? Or an enemy?). The only thing that would make this app more perfect would be the option to allow users to add their own zoo animal creations along with names and sounds, but even if that’s not an in-app option at the moment, you can always extend the app play by creating and naming cut paper animals on your own!
Artie's Magic Pencil
Reviewed on 08/20/16
Paid on | iOS
Help Artie use his Magic Pencil to repair all of the destruction caused by a wayward dinosaur! Artie discovers a magic pencil wedged into a rock (like the Sword in the Stone) on a walk through the woods. He is delighted to discover that the objects he draws with the pencil come to life! The drawings in this app are pre-determined and made by combining simple shapes. Players use their finger (or a stylus if you have one) to trace along the lines, connecting the dots to create the images that come to life. Players can also change the color or the patterns decorating the objects. Although the pre-determined drawings don’t allow for open-ended or creative play, tracing the lines and discussing the different shapes used to create the drawings are both excellent pre-writing practice.
Monkey Spot Scavenger Hunts
Photo scavenger hunts ready to play on your mobile device! From hunts to keep your family engaged and entertained in the car or at a restaurant waiting for your food to hunts that lead players through the alphabet or inspire them to act out a detective mystery, this app is packed with open-ended inspiration to keep players working together to capture pictures inspired by the list of clues. Once they find something to photograph in response to a clue, they snap a photo then type answers to one or two short questions (yay, literacy!). The app then incorporates their answers in a caption for the photo. Each of the captioned photos can be downloaded to your device then used however you’d like to use them! If you love this app, more hunts are available for purchase, including a grocery store hunt, look in a book, snow day, number and color hunts and many more!
Age group: Grades K-2, Grades 3-5
Tags: Alphabet, Animals, Art, Concepts, Creativity, Early Literacy, Family Play, Games, Google Play, Growing Up, Nature, NBC15, Science, Technology, Things that Go, Vocabulary
Attributes by Math Doodles
Reviewed on 07/22/16
Paid on | iOS
A hand-drawn app about math skills with surprisingly few numerals. Daren Carstens of Carstens Studios wanted to show kids how genuinely fun and engaging math could be and so he designed this app. Users choose one of seven different puzzles, whether to play in a timed mode or not, they can choose the types of images or let the selection be random AND (and this is surprisingly rare in kids’ logic-related puzzle apps) they get to choose the level of difficulty they’d like to start at. Almost every other puzzle-type app on the market slowly builds the user’s skills by introducing new elements as the user progresses through the levels. This is excellent in theory, but in practice it can mean that if you’re feeling confident about your abilities and you want to jump ahead to the more challenging levels, there’s no way to do that without putting in the hours to play through the easier levels to “unlock” the more difficult ones. This self-determination of leveling is a feature that really sets this app above the rest because even if users try a level that’s too challenging, that just motivates them to back a little bit and see what they’ll need to learn to be able to solve the “too difficult” puzzle! The seven different puzzles themselves range in difficulty from relatively simple (pattern circles) to tricky to get the hang of (Category Stack was a bit challenging for me!). Some of the drawings are easier to differentiate than others (buttons of different shapes, colors and patterns are easy, complicated robots are a little harder), but since you can always opt to choose which drawings are used, you can always opt out of any that are frustrating to you. All-in-all, this is a beautiful app with very thoughtful design features and if you’re looking for an attractive way to get kids some math skills practice, this is an excellent choice.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Creative Play
Reviewed on 07/04/16
Paid on | iOS
Play around with the textures and colors of Eric Carle’s classic collage illustrations in this unique art-making app. Choose from a number of templates depicting favorite Eric Carle characters like Brown Bear, The Mixed-Up Chameleon, and (of course) the Very Hungry Caterpillar himself or choose a blank page and create an original piece of art. Art techniques include “cutting” shapes from Carle’s brilliantly textured “paper,” painting (with a brush or finger painting), or drawing with a pencil. Completed pictures are hung in the Caterpillar’s in-app gallery, but can also be saved to your device to share with friends and family. I’ve seen many variations of DIY art apps for kids, but the textures (especially in the collage options) make this art experience unique and very inviting for kids (and adults!). The templates help users who might feel intimidated by a blank page, but the option to also just use a blank page is very welcome. I’ve also seen a variety of apps inspired by the Very Hungry Caterpillar and this one is by far my favorite for its interactive and creative nature. The tracing and other fine motor skills required for this app are great for early literacy pre-writing practice!
A new (not macabre!) interpretation of the classic game of HangMan, plus a story studio and the opportunity to illustrate the words yourself -- this app packs in a lot of value! First of all, they’re reimagined the “hanging man” of the classic game as a person hanging from a monkey bar or chin-up bar instead of from a gallows. If you don’t guess the word in time, the person loses their grip on the bar (rather than dying). Players are also given an illustrated hint that grows more elaborate with each guess to help guide them to the correct answer. Those illustrations have been carefully chosen to reflect our diverse world in the most wonderful way (e.g. “queen” = Cleopatra, “farmer” = Cesar Chavez), but if kids would rather create their own illustrations, once they’ve finished a word correctly, they’re allowed to go into the “word gallery” and create their own artwork to illustrate that word instead (you can also switch back and forth with the original illustration--it doesn’t get lost). And because kids learn words best in the context of a sentence or story, the app developer has also included a Story Studio where you can combine all of the words that you’ve successfully “won” and rearrange them to create a story which you can record yourself narrating. The app also includes a dyslexic-friendly font and users can select either the uppercase or lowercase alphabet which they then trace to practice their handwriting skills. The app’s website also includes a fantastic parents guide full of information about the app as well as suggestions for ways to engage with your child as they use the app.
Red in Bed
One of my favorite book apps! This simple story about colors has the perfect amount of interactivity. There is no spoken narration, but the printed words are available in English, French, Spanish, Magyar and Japanese. The pictures support the text and reinforce the storyline and the interactions lead kids through from beginning to end without distracting from the flow of this simple tale. The sound effects also support the storyline (e.g. while the rest of the colors make a chiming sound when you tap on them, Red (who feels ill) makes more of a honking noise, as though he has a stuffy nose) and emphasize the emotional response to the action. One fun little detail is that the colors, arranged in rainbow order, sound a full octave if you tap on them in order (don't miss out on the little invisible dot at the end of the line!) and if you're musically inclined, you can play a song on them like a xylophone. Great choice for sharing together on your next sick day.