Carissa's App Picks for Kids

Carissa's App Picks for Kids

Busy Shapes 2
Reviewed on 02/06/17
Paid

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.

See all apps for age group: Preschool, Grades K-2
For platform: iOS
Tagged with: Concepts, Games, Math, Puzzles, STEM
Radio Jones and his Robot Dad
Reviewed on 02/06/17
Free

This wordless, animated graphic novel book app takes us on an adventure with a boy and his robot.  When his real dad spends too much time working, our hero, a boy named Radio Jones, decides to create a robot version of his dad who can play with him and take him out for wild escapades.  The app features gorgeous artwork with a muted palette, a subtle but beautiful soundtrack and unobtrusive hints to help readers find the interactive elements of the story. Generally, these are not descriptions that would lead to an app that will appeal to readers ages 6-8, but somehow, in this app, it works.  Maybe it’s the graphic novel layout.  Maybe it’s the slightly edgy shenanigans Radio enjoys with his “robot dad.” Maybe it’s the very satisfying ending of the story.  Maybe it’s all of these elements combining together to make one of the most appealing book apps for older kids that I’ve ever seen.  Especially impressive is how all of the interactive elements help move the storyline forward, they’re not just flashy distractions. This story could have been told as an animated short film, but it works great as a graphic novel because it puts the reader in charge of moving the story forward at their own pace.  This element of requiring input from the user engages kids more deeply than passively watching a movie. It’s also an excellent conversation starter.  What would your child do if they had a robot mom or dad? 

See all apps for age group: Grades 3-5
For platform: iOS
Space
Reviewed on 01/31/17
Paid

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.

See all apps for age group: Preschool, Grades K-2
For platform: iOS
Mulle Meck's Boats
Reviewed on 01/29/17
Paid

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.

See all apps for age group: Preschool, Grades K-2
For platform: iOS
Toontastic 3D
Reviewed on 01/23/17
Free

Create simple animated movies, now with three-dimensional characters and settings! The original Toontastic app has been a gold standard in the land of content creation apps for years.  Now, the creators have put together this new app that takes all of the wonderful features you’ve loved in Toontastic, made them 3D and added a few new fantastic options.  You can still learn a lot about the arc of a storyline by building your movie in several scenes, but now they’ve given you three options for the type of story you want to tell-- short story, classic story and science report!  Each of these options starts by breaking down your movie into scenes (beginning-middle-end or more nuanced divisions like “conflict” or “hypothosis”) and you choose which part of the story you want to tell. Need more than 5 scenes to tell your story?  Add more or take a few away--it’s completely customizable!  Each of the scenes is now larger than just one static screen and your character can walk around inside the scene, zooming in or out. I also appreciate that ALL of the characters can be customized with variations in skin tone and clothing colors as well as adding a photo for character faces.  If you don’t like their pre-made scenery, you can always draw your own original artwork for backgrounds, characters, props, etc.  Get inspired in the “Idea Lab” by watching movies that others have created! A fantastic sequel to a wonderful app, Toontastic 3D is perfect for home, classroom or road trips.  The whole family can work together to create their own original film masterpiece!

See all apps for age group: Grades K-2, Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12
For platform: Android, iOS