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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.
Mussila Musical Monster Adventure
Reviewed on 12/07/16
Paid on | iOS
Learn musical concepts through this monster adventure app! Travel along a game board and hone your skills through different challenges. Some challenges ask you to identify which instrument is making the sound you’re hearing. Others have rhythm challenges, melodic challenges or ask you to repeat short measures of music played on a keyboard (the keys that you’re supposed to play light up). Most of the challenges are listening and identifying rather than creating music yourself, but there’s also a fun play area where you can choose the players, the instruments, then they play a basic tune while you can play your own made-up addition to the band on a keyboard or on rhythm instruments. There are many apps that claim to teach your child how to play music, but this is one of my favorites!
Sago Mini Music Box
A music box that allows users to choose the pace and rhythm of songs. Tap with one finger and hear one note at a time (played in a higher register if you tap the upper part of the screen, in a lower register if you tap lower on the screen), tap with multiple fingers to hear more complex orchestration. You can tap in the song's traditional rhythm, or syncopated for a jazzy version or just tap along and enjoy making musical sounds with your fingers. Each tap on the screen pops up a new image (clouds in the sky, flowers on the ground, etc.) and sometimes you get surprises! To slow down the movement across the screen, try holding your fingertip down on the screen or draw slow circles. Because there are no sung lyrics and these are well-known traditional children's tunes, this app provides an excellent opportunity for you to sing together with your child. Singing slows down language and helps kids to hear the smaller parts in words--an excellent early literacy skill to build!
Reviewed on 09/11/15
Free on | iOS
An astounding amount of interesting information and inspiring invitations to create and share your own ideas are packed into this fantastic app. With content curated by educators and well-organized into subject areas, there’s something for everyone here! Want to learn about robots? Or see how to create silly faces in public places using only two wiggle eyes? Or learn how to design a tree house? The videos and creativity prompts are engaging for kids and adults alike! Because there is a coin-earning element (you earn coins for doing any of the activities and you spend coins to “buy” parts for the creations you make), a safe social “sharing” element and occasional text (that isn’t read aloud) this app is more appropriate for older kids or for a parent to use alongside younger kids. A great way to spark ideas for rainy-day activities! (note: this app was originally called Wonderbox. The name changed in August of 2016 when the developer partnered with Khan Academy.)
Hooked on Phonics--The Big Reading Show
Reviewed on 05/13/15
Freemium on | iTunes
This app is divided into thirteen “episodes” each featuring two letters of the alphabet (so all 26 are covered) and a lot of laughs. Episodes are organized around themes (Pirate Day! Castle Day!) and each episode has 9 segments which are unlocked as each segment is completed the first time. The animated segments include three check-ins with the perky bird and rhino co-hosts of the show, Lou and Ella, doing sketch comedy related to the theme of the episode, games with a comforting amount of repetition that will reinforce the lessons found in each, and hilarious animated musical videos that had us both giggling out loud. The songs are all very catchy and well-sung and the lyrics are clever enough to encourage close listening. The game also incorporates some “coins” and “stars” but they aren’t a large focus of the app and are used constructively (not just to “buy” stuff within the app). Overall, a really well-made app with a ton of quality content, this app reminded me of the PBS shows of my youth, but with interactive elements that actually require kids to respond, strengthening their potential to learn the content. Well worth the in-app purchase price!
Caspar Babypants: Music Time
Reviewed on 03/06/15
Paid on | iOS
Caspar Babypants is the most prolific indie kids’ musician of recent years and his music is consistently high quality and enjoyable for listeners of all ages. You can now enjoy his music while singing and playing along via this well-designed app. If you’ve never heard his music, buying the app will gain you access to two songs from each of his published albums. If you’re already a die-hard fan and own all of his albums, you can add all of the songs from your personal collection into the app as well. Each song gives users the option to play along on a xylophone, guitar or rhythm instruments (all tuned to the song as it progresses, so it always sounds harmonious). For families who like to create their own music with physical instruments, there’s an option to see the lyrics and chords as they play (you can even slow it down to practice while you’re learning a song). Despite an occasional typo in the lyrics, in a field of other music-making apps, this one stands out for its clean, simple design and ease of use.
Little Fox Music Box
This app features three songs (Old MacDonald, London Bridge and Evening Song). For each song, you can either listen to the recorded voices singing OR record yourself or your child singing the song OR choose the "Karaoke" option on the main page and just listen to the instrumental version. While you listen (or sing along) you can interact with some small, silly animations on the screen that relate to the song. In the Old MacDonald screen, you can choose which season you want the scene to be. You can also choose to hear all of the songs in German instead of English. My favorite area of the app is the "Fox Studio" that allows users to play around with various "musical" objects and create their own original song! A great app to encourage singing together--one of the five early literacy practices!
Sago Mini Sound Box
Beautifully simple design by a highly respected app-developer. This one is actually REALLY easy to use (even babies just tapping randomly on the screen will produce delightful results) but also interesting enough to engage adults (depending on where you tap the screen, the pitches may be higher or lower, so you can work on playing a scale or even a song if you want to!). The balls also roll to one side of the screen or the other if you tip the iPad creating a cascade of sounds as all the balls make their noise together. Try holding your finger on a ball for a surprise!
Reviewed on 10/24/14
Free on | iOS
Singing is an important early literacy activity because it helps kids to hear the different syllables in words as they are sung. This app reinforces that lesson with a physical motion for each syllable as the notes for the song, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" are played -- one note for each time the device is shaken. Players therefore control not only the tempo of the song, but also the rhythm. Want to hear the song syncopated? Want to hear it super fast or sleepy slow? You decide! The visuals for this game are charmingly quirky cut paper designs that have minimal reaction to the screen being tapped, keeping the focus on the shaking and the music. Although the game is available on both tablet and phone, young children will have an easier time shaking the smaller device.
Reviewed on 10/24/14
Free on | iOS
The Allen County Public Library created this excellent free app, full of helpful literacy-based information for families with young children in a fun, kid-friendly package. The app includes librarian-recommended, themed booklists; a reading timer (useful if you need to track how many minutes or hours you're reading); tips and facts arranged by age (babies through 5th grade); and library events (aimed at local users). Probably the most entertaining section of the app is one called "READY on the GO" which features short videos of librarians talking to viewers about activities, songs and rhymes that encourage the five early literacy practices: Read, Write, Talk, Sing and Play. Live action is augmented with occasional animated elements to make video clips that kids will love listening to and the adults who watch with them will learn quick literacy tips along the way.