Device Requirements: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Requires iOS 4.0 or later
Developmental Appropriateness: This app focuses solely on one type of phonics task called word ladders. It is when you take a word (cat) and you have to change one letter to create a new word (hat). The app takes you through five levels of this same game, increasing the difficulty by using longer words, or focusing on different parts of the word (i.e. changing the middle or last letters). This is definitely a good task to help preschoolers learn phonics. Dora also helps you by saying the letter-sounds of possible choices and she annunciates the words very clearly so you can hear the different sounds that make up that word. Also, the target words are matched with pictures of those words to help vocabulary as well.
To break up the task, there are three different frog "games" that are pretty easy to play. One of them requires gentle turning some lily pads to line them up for a frog to jump onto - this one probably requires the most skill and may take some practice for young ones to get just right. Rating: 5/5 (aim for around 4 years of age)
Balance: While I think that the skills Dora is teaching are just right, I can't help but be a bit disappointed when playing this game. It's well, a bit a boring! And I don't think it's just because I am an adult and I know my letters. First, the pacing is a bit slow. After completing a few items, Dora gets to jump on a few lily pads to help her get across a lake. Dora is a very slow jumper, and kids can be impatient. I found myself tapping on the lily pads repeatedly like you would when pushing the elevator button. There's also a bit of a pause from item to item. Second, there is only ONE task, so you are doing the same thing over and over again. Yes, there are different levels, but it actually takes completing a lot of items within one level to get to the next (which is basically the same thing). This must be a gigantic lake because it seems like Dora is hopping a lot and getting nowhere.
A plus is that there are no distractors while completing the tasks and the games are presented separately. The look of the illustrations is also very Dora and cute. Rating: 3/5
Sustainability: I was surprised to find no other goal or incentive than to get Dora across the lake. There are no stickers to collect, no high scores, or other modes. The games that are interspersed every two rounds, there are only three types of games. I know kids don't mind repetition, but given the amount of items they have to go through, these three games may start getting boring. Having some sort of score for the games may make kids more excited to see the game again to beat their previous score. This app seems to be relying on Dora's star power alone, and that may not be enough. Rating: 2/5
Parental Involvement: For the game itself, I think Dora provides enough guidance that a parent wouldn't really have a role after the initial "learning what to do" phase. However, a nice touch is that there is a "report card" where parents can read about why this task is useful and what makes each level different. They can also see their child's progress on each level. I'm not sure how helpful this completion rate is - as it seems to just be % completed. That only tells me that my child needs to play more to complete each level. What would be more helpful is if the parent knew what letters to work on more, or was given other activities to work on with their child. Rating: 3.5/5
Total: 13.5 out of 20 = 3 stars
** Correction - Brad Pitt dressed up as a Yo Gabba Gabba character, not Team Umizoomi