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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.
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 09/26/16
Free on | iOS
Take a photo, add a mouth, then record your voice to make your picture talk! There are a number of apps available that have this function, but this free app by Duck Duck Moose is the most kid-friendly and appropriate version so far. After you’ve made your talking picture, you can apply one of the funky filters, add stickers (like glasses, hats, crazy hair, eyeballs and, oddly, a fairly large selection of Christmas related images), a fancy frame or write your own words onto the photo. Once your masterpiece is complete, save it to your camera roll, then share it with friends and family. Challenge them to craft their reply in the same app and send YOU a silly talking picture. What will you create? A chatty cat? A silly sandwich? A talking toilet? The possibilities are endless!
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!
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
Reviewed on 05/18/16
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!
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.
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.
A workout app designed for kids! Choose whether you want to focus on strength, agility or flexibility and balance, then decide how long you want to workout (between 5 and 60 minutes) and the app will design a series of exercises for your workout. Each exercise is first modeled by a short video clip of a kid doing the exercise (with a very nice variety of age, gender and race represented) and then users repeat the exercise along with the model for the amount of time designated. It’s like working out with a group of virtual friends! When you’re done with your workout, the app tracks your progress and shows you how many calories you burned. Sworkit also has an adult version if you want to do a whole family workout challenge. Parents should be aware that the app does allow you to “share this workout” on social media with no parent permissions required.