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Sago Mini Puppy Preschool
I am a huge fan of Sago Mini’s play-based app collection, so when I heard that they were putting out this app with “light educational content” I was skeptical. So skeptical that I actually refused to purchase it or look at it for months. Silly me. I should have trusted that if Sago Mini was going to do “educational” content, they wouldn’t get didactic. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this app is just as entertaining and pleasurable to play with as the rest of the apps they make. The app store description says that it includes “numbers, shape recognition, matching and music fun” but… they don’t mention that the shapes are not just your average square/circle/triangle set, but are instead the shapes of different objects that puppies like to chew on (like socks, shoes, bones and remote controls!) and you toss the objects to the puppies who then chew them to bits or shake them back and forth in a playful manner. They don’t mention that the “matching” is part of a game involving feeding the dogs different colored foods and that sometimes special guests show up alongside the puppies (I will admit to laughing aloud at a few of the guest antics!). They neglect to mention that the “music fun” is in the guise of a dog piano where each key is paired up with a different dog who barks (or howls if you press and hold the key) each pitch. The activity that is the most overtly “educational” is probably the numbers activity in which you pile up to ten dogs into a wading pool for a big bubble bath. This section of the app includes the first linguistic voiceover I remember ever seeing in a Sago Mini app as a child’s voice speaks aloud the number of dogs as you place them into the pool. My favorite part about this is that you can remove multiple puppies at a time if you use multiple fingers, so if you want to count down by twos or threes instead of one at a time, you can do that! As with all Sago Mini apps, there are some subtle little details that add to the quality of the app without distracting (try bouncing the objects in the matching & shape games and listen to the changing pitches!) and there’s plenty of kid-friendly humor throughout to keep kids engaged. Plus, those puppies are all so CUTE!
Reviewed on 03/13/17
Freemium on | iTunes
There are many apps for kids about cars, but most of them concentrate on building the car or on painting the car or adding extra wacky accessories to the cars. You might be able to drive the cars around a pre-determined track or you might drive on an imaginary road trip, but to the best of my knowledge, this is the first car-related app for kids that encourages kids to spend time building the road and that's really interesting! How will the vehicle respond to driving on bumpy roads? Or roads with steep hills? Or lots of twisty curves? What if we throw in some imaginary stuff like teleporters or superfast conveyor belts or super bouncy whoopee cushions? What if we do change up the car? What if it was a monster truck instead? Or a tractor? Or a bulldozer? Or even a horse? There are so many different options to explore that they didn't want to overwhelm first time players, so they've designed the app so that when you first encounter it, you have only a small number of options, but as you play, you earn stars and those stars add up to earn you new parts for your road and new vehicles to try out as well. The app is free to download, but if you want to be able to use all of the unlocked items, you'll have to pay a one-time in-app purchase to access the full set of game elements. Sort of like "Minecraft" but with cars, your 6-8 year old child will likey love this one.
Busy Shapes 2
Reviewed on 02/06/17
Paid on | iOS
This sequel to Busy Shapes adds a new dimension to the play. In the first highly rated app, players match shapes to the hole that most closely matches the shape (sometimes just by shape, sometimes also by color, texture or pattern). In this sequel, the holes are often found on different, moving planes than the shapes and players must not only match the shape to the hole, but find a way to get the shape safely past the obstacles and across the moving platforms without falling off. Thankfully, there is still no stress-inducing path to “failure” at this game since a new copy of the shape will reappear in the initial position if your shape falls off the edge of one of the platforms. Part of some of the puzzles involves exploding “bombs” (classic black sphere with a wick), so if those are too violent for your child, avoid this game. There are also catapults, icy spots, rivers and barriers to add to the challenge of moving your shape towards its corresponding hole. Great practice for understanding timing and depth as well as shapes and cause and effect.
Reviewed on 01/31/17
Paid on | iOS
Explore our solar system with this app by Tinybop. Visit each planet and drop objects (like a snowman or a tin can or a rock) onto the planet’s surface and check the results. Does the object melt? Sink? Burn up in the atmosphere? Crash and create a crater? Each of those results teaches users something about the individual characteristics of each planet, but without giant paragraphs of text (a welcome change from most space education apps). Check out a cross-section of each planet to see what’s below the surface. Is it molten rock or a diamond sea? Fly over the surface of each planet or past all of the moons in your space craft and look at them up close. You can also compare the size of any two planets (or the sun) side by side or weigh two on a balance scale to see which is heavier. There is also a measuring page where you can gauge how many “Astronomical Units” each planet is away from the sun. If your child enjoys reading the discrete facts about each planet don’t miss the Dashboard where they have created an excellent handbook full of facts and discussion questions to delve deeper into an exploration of this topic. Once again, an incredible app by the Tinybop team! This one encourages exploration and learning through actions. Highly recommended.
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!
Add this app to your bedtime story routine for an easy way to let kids know that math is part of everyday life. Every day (I mean, night) features a new topic with three related math challenges at different skill levels (wee ones, little kids, big kids). There's also a really tricky challenge question under a cloud labelled "The Sky's the Limit" if all of the other questions feel too easy. The app does NOT include a "read-to-me" option which gives great incentive for parents and children to use this app together. Parents read the introductory information to learn about a new topic, then kids can choose which level of question they'd like to answer. The questions are never simple flashcards, but instead do a nice job of working a math question into a story-like scenario. Click on the "Get the Answer" star to see the answer when you think you know what it is. If you don't like the math challenge of the day, feel free to search for a different one--they are searchable by subject. Answering the questions doesn't take a lot of time, but if done daily, it builds those math skills and is a healthy habit to get into! Note: the app now includes both English AND Spanish language options!
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!
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.