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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!
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!
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!
Reviewed on 05/17/16
Paid on | iOS
Kids (and adults) will love to play “store” with this app! There are two modes -- the first mode is virtual shopping in which you fill your cart with the items you want off the shelves, then unload the items onto a conveyor belt at the checkout lane where the items are scanned and the prices rung up. Then, pay them from your virtual wallet. The second mode allows you to actually print paper versions of all of the products available in the virtual store. Each of these paper items also includes a QR code that you can scan (on the screen which has become only a cash register and scanner) and then the receipt prints. Then, pay with paper money (also printed from the app) and the cash register will tell the cashier if any change is required. The sound effects are so satisfyingly realistic! You could also choose to tape the QR codes onto any play food (plastic, wooden, felt, etc.) that you may already own and in that way create yet a third way to play “store.” There are so many possibilities and some excellent math literacy opportunities woven into this fun-to-play app!
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!
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.
Colorful, geometric animal-esque figures build with virtual building blocks to reach the goal and move to the next level of the game. The beautifully simple, clean graphics will catch your eye, but the gameplay will keep you and your child playing this one together for a long time. Each level introduces new challenges--a bouncing spot on the floor, blocks that float, a thunderstorm with gusting winds. If you are connected online while playing, you might see a new animal character arrive on your screen to help--another player who could be from anywhere in the world. You each have only a limited vocabulary (about 9 words) to speak to each other (Hello, Help, Yay…) as you collaborate together to solve the puzzles (if you want to play alone, simply turn off the wireless on your device. Be forewarned that a few of the puzzles cannot be solved by one player alone!). This game is equally challenging and engaging for adults and kids and is safe for all audiences. If you and your child enjoyed Monument Valley, this one may also be popular in your home (though it does sometimes require physical dexterity as you balance one block on top of another.) Truly a gem! Note: As of early 2016, this app is now available to play on PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Wii U, PC, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android.
Reviewed on 05/31/15
Freemium on | iTunes
Learn Spanish vocabulary words, hear both the (Spanish) name of each letter in each word and the sound it makes as you spell it, the hear the word used in a Spanish sentence. Originator has created a Spanish-language version of their popular app, Endless Reader. The new app offers the option to choose between two modes: Spanish Immersion or Spanish with an English translation. Fans of Endless Reader might recognize some of the humorous animations (e.g. they’ve used the same sentence for the word “casa” in this app as the word “house” in Endless Reader), but the opening credits and the little animations between segments are all new for this app and have fun cultural references (a pinata! a bull chasing the little monsters!). There’s even a new mascot monster! Whether you are a Spanish language learner or a native speaker, you will surely love and learn a lot from this fantastic app! (includes more words as an in-app purchase.)
Create Rube Goldberg-like machines in increasingly complex puzzles with multiple correct solutions in this fantastic physics and engineering app. Each puzzle begins with an object that needs to get somewhere else (a cat in a tree whose owner wants it out, for instance), a few pieces of the “machine” already in place, and a tool box at the bottom of the screen stocked with components to help you complete the machine. One of the best parts of the app is the “Create!” section where users have access to a blank scenario and all of the different toolbox components and they are encouraged to design their own original machine. This app is simple enough for young children to enjoy (although some of the puzzles may be too challenging for them to complete on their own), and engaging enough for adults to get hooked on as well -- joint playtime is highly encouraged! The free download includes a generous portion of the app and the rest can be purchased, in-app if your family enjoys playing and wants to solve the rest of the puzzles. Read more about this app on my blog.
Note: If this app is a little too challenging, try their earlier (and still fantastic) app, Pettson's Inventions.