Find the perfect app for you and your child!
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!
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.
Oh! the magic drawing app
Inspired by their book, That’s My Hat!” the authors made this companion app. Choose from a long list of colorful shapes in the side bar and drag them out onto the screen and watch them transform, with a few lines automatically added, into a dog or a cloud or a snowman or myriad other characters and objects. Depending on where you place the shape on the screen the object will be different (e.g. a circle in the sky becomes the sun, a circle below the line becomes the top of a tree). You can also tap a shape to rotate it or press and hold to change the color. Rotate your device and your whole scene will change as up becomes down or left or right. Make up a story about the objects in your scene, then snap a photo and save it to your device where you can send it to a friend or family member along with your story. This deceptively simple interface is beautiful, easy for any age to use, and full of creative potential. It’s free to download, but the authors invite you to make a donation if you’d like to support the work they do. Winner of the 2017 Bologna Ragazzi Digital Award.
An app made by kids (with a little help from Fiete!) takes users on a trip through a very creative zoo! The developers invited 30 kids to their offices to help create this app collaboratively. Each kid designed an animal, named it and recorded the sound it would make. Users can now wander the zoo, accompanied by the sailor Fiete, meet all of the animals, hear them make noise and feed them random “food” illustrations that fall from the sky when you press the knife/fork symbol. I love that they’ve honored the children’s illustrations by leaving them unchanged and true to their originals with all “imperfections” carefully preserved. The names are also obviously unedited and range from the literal (there are several fish-shaped animals named “fischi” or some variation thereof) to the pop cultural (the one named King Kong that looks like a purple cat is a favorite of mine) to the human-like names that make me curious (the monkey named Klaus Peter…. Was that the name of a sibling? Or an enemy?). The only thing that would make this app more perfect would be the option to allow users to add their own zoo animal creations along with names and sounds, but even if that’s not an in-app option at the moment, you can always extend the app play by creating and naming cut paper animals on your own!
Sago Mini Planes
It’s time to take a trip and you’re the pilot! Choose your plane (standard or silly like a corn-on-the-cob plane?), choose your travel companions, then take off and explore the skies! You’ll encounter all sorts of giggle-inducing surprises and you can fly for as long as you like. Do you want to fly really high among the stars or closer to earth under friendly blue skies? When you’re done (or want to try out another plane), simply fly down close to the earth and a runway will magically appear wherever you are. After your flight, be sure to check out the souvenir photos of your trip which will include the surprises that you actually encountered on this particular flight and the traveling companions that were with you--a subtle but really nice touch by the app makers. As with all Sago Mini apps, this one is easy and fun for young toddlers but older kids will also gravitate towards it to discover all of the fun details. Try this one the next time you travel or for kiddos who love vehicles!
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!
Reviewed on 09/17/16
Free on | iOS
A line-up of animals invites you to pick which animal matches the verbal clue given. Which one is yawning? Which one is hiding? Whose birthday is it today? A wide varieties of types of clues keep this game interesting for little ones and friendly responses to incorrect guesses make for low-stress play. This app would be a great one to play together with your young child to encourage conversation. The app may ask, “who is yawning?” and you can also ask, “What does a yawn look like? Can you show me a yawn? How do you think the yawning animal feels?” – all excellent examples of the early literacy practice of talking together! The musical soundtrack can be easily turned off on the first page of the app where the animals each introduce themselves. This app would pair perfectly with a reading of the picture book “Who’s Hiding?” by Satoru Onishi or “Who done it?” by Olivier Tallec. Note: as of Fall 2016, the developer Duck Duck Moose has joined forces with Khan Academy and their entire catalog of apps is now free!
Knock-knock with Bato
Reviewed on 06/19/16
Knock-knock, who’s there? Come along with Bato the bat as she collects her friends for a music jamboree! Knock on each door, then guess who lives inside by the sound of the reply. Sometimes it’s an animal, sometimes it’s an instrument, but all are eager to join in the parade back to Bato’s house to make some music together. This app is perfect for very young players as the gameplay is exactly the same each time. The more they practice, the better they get at guessing who lives in each house. If you guess wrong, the resident gives you a little visual clue (like sticking their tail out the window or waving a hoof) and you can guess again as often as you need to. The watercolor illustrations, cheerful catchy music (which increases in complexity as more friends are added to the parade) and Bato’s friendly encouraging personality give this app a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Be sure to check out the parent’s section for some ideas on how to play this game off-screen too!
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!
Red in Bed
One of my favorite book apps! This simple story about colors has the perfect amount of interactivity. There is no spoken narration, but the printed words are available in English, French, Spanish, Magyar and Japanese. The pictures support the text and reinforce the storyline and the interactions lead kids through from beginning to end without distracting from the flow of this simple tale. The sound effects also support the storyline (e.g. while the rest of the colors make a chiming sound when you tap on them, Red (who feels ill) makes more of a honking noise, as though he has a stuffy nose) and emphasize the emotional response to the action. One fun little detail is that the colors, arranged in rainbow order, sound a full octave if you tap on them in order (don't miss out on the little invisible dot at the end of the line!) and if you're musically inclined, you can play a song on them like a xylophone. Great choice for sharing together on your next sick day.