Carissa's App Picks for Kids

Carissa's App Picks for Kids

Oh! the magic drawing app
Reviewed on 03/03/17
Free

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.

See all apps for age group: Baby/toddler, Preschool, Grades K-2
For platform: Android, Chrome, iOS, Windows
Fuzzy House
Reviewed on 02/28/17
Paid
Free
Freemium (free w/ paid upgrade)

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.

See all apps for age group: Preschool
For platform: Android, iOS
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