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.
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.
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.
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!