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?
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.
Reviewed on 12/07/16
Paid on | iOS
Stack the building up as tall as you can before it topples! Based on a card game by German game and toy company, HABA, Rhino Hero challenges players to make the tallest building they can, using blocks of different sizes to represent the different floors of the building. Along the way, you can receive assistance from Rhino Baby who has a pink ray gun that freezes your building to keep it from getting shaky. Villains occasionally fly into the scene and you can call in Rhino Hero to battle with them so that they can’t knock down your building (the battles are short and are mostly a purple cloud of dust and flying fists that leave the villains looking shabby and dejected more than actually hurt). The different blocks that make up the building often have silly scenarios in them and a few have special powers (like a super sticky honey bear one that can even hold blocks stuck to the side of it). Players can choose to stack carefully to build the most stable tower possible or just stack blocks one on top of the other to build up high as fast as they can. There are subtle lessons of physics involved as you work with balance, stability, wind and other forces (from villains) as well as immediate rewards of earning “new” silly blocks to build your tower with. As a parent who has played both the physical and digital version of this game, I’d venture to say that I actually prefer the app!
Reviewed on 08/20/16
Paid on | iOS
Play with the physics of water in a series of increasingly challenging puzzles while saving the life of a cute little goldfish. Starting with simple pipes that are straight or at right angles, then working your way through freefall mazes (gravity plays a role and players must turn their devices accordingly to make the water fall where they want it to go), gates that need to be opened, water cannons, freezers and heaters and sensors that turn on using either water, ice or steam, some of the puzzles can be truly challenging even for an adult, making this an excellent app for a child and parent to work through together, collaboratively. Most puzzles have multiple solutions making this app fun to play over and over again. The best part is that once you’ve completed levels 1-4, you unlock Build Mode when you can create your own maze puzzles for Archie the fish to swim through (and share your levels with your friends)! Fantastic value with tons of play value and learning opportunities!
Reviewed on 08/19/16
Paid on | iOS
Build your own skyline full of towering buildings and explore how the insides work. Players begin with one building. They can add floors to make it as tall as they want (topping out at 50 stories), choose the design for the top of the building and a color scheme and facade for the outside. Once they’re happy with the design of their building, it’s time to explore the inner workings. How do the elevators divide up all the work? What happens if too many people are using high-energy electrical appliances at once? What happens if a toilet gets clogged on one of the floors below yours? There’s also an opportunity to experiment with different kinds of bedrock support systems and earthquakes and extreme weather. How will your tower manage the stress? The people characters inhabiting and working in these skyscrapers are refreshingly diverse in race, gender and body shape. Filled with open-ended content to discover and experiment with and yet, I’m guessing that many kids will get the most enjoyment out of clogging the toilets--hilarious!
Reviewed on 06/24/16
Paid on | iOS
An authentic dashboard for your pretend rocketship! This app invites users to create a play rocketship (they give instructions for making one from cardboard, but of course, you’re welcome to build it however you’d like!) and then use this app as the control panel. It’s got lots of buttons and levers and switches, it makes a whole bunch of different sound effects from calm beeps all the way to a more emergency-sounding alarm buzz. Some of the buttons you press (or levers you pull down or switches that you flip) make a light come on or change something on the control panel. Sometimes those lights change your ability to interact with another part of the control panel. One of the windows opens to reveal a field of stars which are sometimes still (although if you move your tablet around it gives a very 3D effect as though you are looking all around your spaceship) and are sometimes zooming past as though you are traveling at light speed. There is no right or wrong way to interact with this app, no beginning or end to the play possibilities, so users could also make this into the control panel on the front of a robot costume or equipment in a science lab or build a flying saucer or submarine. The sky is the limit!
Help a tiny robot navigate three-dimensional mazes, then create some mazes yourself! If you love Monument Valley, there is a good chance you’ll enjoy Mekorama. This is one of those rare apps that can be equally engaging for both adults and kids and is therefore perfect to play together! In each of the 50 levels provided, a robot needs to find his way towards a red button to advance to the next level. He might need to go underwater, stand on moving mechanisms, avoid getting knocked off of the mechanisms, avoid getting shocked and try to steer clear of the roadblocking red robot. While I enjoyed working my way through the levels and discovering new challenges, I was most excited when I began exploring the options and discovered the DIY section. That’s right--you (or your kids) can create your own mazes, buildings and obstacles for a little yellow robot to explore (I’m pretty sure Minecraft fans will enjoy this part of the app!). You can save the mazes you create and share them with other Mekorama fans (be aware that the app does allow users to instantly share levels via social media, but they can also just be saved as an image of the QR code and then parents can monitor the sharing options). The app creator has also quite generously made this app free to download, but gives users the in-app opportunity to choose-your-own-price if you’d like to support the developer. I will certainly be supporting this developer as I’d like to see him make many more apps in the future!
Developing a deep understanding of the connection between numerals and quantity is an important foundation for all mathematical work. Fiete Math breaks this skill down into very manageable steps and adds a dash of humor to make it more engaging for kids. On an ocean dock, users will find a collection of blocks. If they are single blocks, they are marked with the number 1. If there are two attached blocks, those are marked with a 2 and so on. A boat pulls up to the dock and (with a numeral in the sky above the boat) asks for a certain number of blocks. Players must stick that many blocks together (or slice off enough blocks from a larger group to make the smaller number requested) before they can load the blocks onto the boat. As players progress through the levels, they are sometimes rewarded with new block shapes, still based on a squarish shape, but designed to look like different animals instead of just a square. Keep an eye out for some silly visitors to the dock who are carrying some crazy cargo as they walk by your loading zone!
Trucks and Diggers
Reviewed on 02/15/16
Paid on | iOS
Perfect for the construction site fanatic at your house! This app invites players to first choose one of 6 building plans for whimsical houses. Then, choose which type of digger (everything from a bulldozer to a wood chipper) to use to fill a dumptruck with dirt. When they’re done filling it (whether or not it’s actually full), they can drive the dumptruck to the building site where it dumps the dirt and the house grows! Once the house is finished, choose the paint scheme, add some details (windows, doors, chimney, flamingo for the front yard….) then take a picture of the new owner enjoying their new home. Filled with clever humor, empowering choices and, of course, diggers, this app is sure to be a hit.
Reviewed on 12/11/15
Paid on | iOS
Learn how gears work together to pull weights and share the load in this game that is engaging for kids and adults! With 99 levels that gradually introduce new elements and challenges, this game has a lot of potential for cross-generational fun. With each new level, players are presented with a number of elements (gears, chains, joints, etc.) and they must figure out a way to combine them that will pull the “screen” on the edge across (like pulling a window shade down). Most of the time, players must use all of the elements provided, but sometimes a puzzle can be solved without using every piece. Are the moving gears moving in the direction you need them to go? What can you do to change their direction if not? Physics, logic and the mechanics of simple machines are concepts all woven into this deceptively simple app.