Find the perfect app for you and your child!
Artie's Magic Pencil
Reviewed on 08/20/16
Paid on | iOS
Help Artie use his Magic Pencil to repair all of the destruction caused by a wayward dinosaur! Artie discovers a magic pencil wedged into a rock (like the Sword in the Stone) on a walk through the woods. He is delighted to discover that the objects he draws with the pencil come to life! The drawings in this app are pre-determined and made by combining simple shapes. Players use their finger (or a stylus if you have one) to trace along the lines, connecting the dots to create the images that come to life. Players can also change the color or the patterns decorating the objects. Although the pre-determined drawings don’t allow for open-ended or creative play, tracing the lines and discussing the different shapes used to create the drawings are both excellent pre-writing practice.
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!
Bla Bla Box
Reviewed on 06/18/16
Paid on | iOS
Hear the words you spell! Does your child like to string letters together and then ask you what they spell? Or are they old enough to write sentences on their own? Either way, they’ll probably enjoy this deceptively simple app. To play, drag letters up from the alphabet at the bottom of the screen onto the “desktop” and the app will read the words you’ve created. The app reads every letter and letter combination that’s placed on the desktop, so if you’re spelling “ROBOT” you’ll also hear pronunciations of “RO,” “ROB,” etc. on the way to the finished word. This is an excellent way for kids to figure out how language works. What letter changes the vowel sound from long to short? What happens when I spell something wrong? (the app will attempt to speak anything remotely pronounceable, and will just say the string of letters if it’s not possible, but if the word is misspelled but still works phonetically, the app will still pronounce it. It’s not a spell-check app and should probably not be used to practice your weekly spelling list.) If users type in a “naughty” word there’s sort of a snide giggle that happens instead of the app reading the word aloud (although I did not test ALL the naughty words!). The app is available in 5 languages. One language (of your choice) is included with the initial app download and if you’d like to access other languages, they’re available as in-app purchases. This app can also work with the wooden letters by Marbotic -- instead of dragging letters up from the bottom of the screen, you can turn those letters off and just tap the screen with the wooden letters instead. Simple, elegant, and a fun way to explore language and spelling!
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.
Become a magician’s assistant as you explore this playful app! You choose the colors, the tricks, the items to combine and then see what magic the bear magician will create. One of my favorites is the star box which allows users to choose 2 objects from a set of 10 options and place each object into a separate box. After waving a magic wand, the boxes slide together and the objects are combined into one new object! (e.g. A frog plus a lemon popsicle turns into a yellow frog on a stick) This particular trick is included in the free “Lite” version. The full version also includes the ability to choose what color the bear’s outfit is, design his magic wand and add three more tricks. Although the gameplay for this app is fairly simple and older kids will be done exploring the whole app rather quickly, it still delights players of all ages and preschool-aged children will find it to be just right.
DipDap, based on a BBC show of the same name, is a hilarious little character who interacts with simple drawings. Users are invited to draw a missing object (faint outlines of the object are given, but the app uses whatever scribble the child produces) which is then dropped into a silly little animation with DipDap. The one in which DipDap mows the lawn and is subsequently chased by the lawnmower brought on repeated peals of laughter in my house. When the app is opened, users are given the choice to draw on a blank page (DipDap’s face peeks over the bottom edge of the screen and his eyes watch the movement of your fingers as they draw) OR to respond to one of DipDap’s sixteen ideas. One of the most funny and motivating drawing apps I’ve encountered.
Monki Chinese Class
Reviewed on 03/06/15
Free on | iOS
Learn how to write words in Mandarin Chinese with this cleanly-designed app. Users are first guided through forming the letters, step-by-step, then once the letter has been traced, it turns into an animated image, illustrating the word. You can also hear the word being pronounced. Two of the first 10 words are created by combining two characters (like “mouth “and “water,” creating “saliva”), so users also gain a bit of understanding about the structure of the written Mandarin language. Additional word lessons are available as an in-app purchase.
Gappy Learns Writing
Most letter-writing apps encourage kids to trace letter shapes but no matter how squiggly their finger traces the pre-determined line, the app creates a perfect-looking letter. Not the case with Gappy Learns Writing which shows the exact lines that that user’s finger has drawn in all its shaky, scratchy, not-quite-right glory. This gives kids a better sense of their progress and a greater sense of accomplishment as they can see their own improvement over time. The app also includes a coloring page element which also doesn’t auto-fill shapes with a block of color, but allows users to color them in with scribbling just like a crayon or marker on paper. Within the settings menu, users can customize their experience not only by choosing between upper or lower case, but also 3 different font options. There’s also an encouraging voice that walks users through the app, step-by-step with gentle prompts. A well-designed app for teaching letter formation.