Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Little Monster at School

Little Monster at School was created by Wanderful, Inc. and is based on the book by Mercer Mayer originally published by Living Books and may already be familiar to many of you. It follows Little Monster and his day at school, the lessons he learns there and shows you his friends. It includes a fully functional Spanish version (any text in the illustrations change to Spanish too!), with possibly more languages to come, making the price a little more understandable. Price: $4.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a really cute and relatable story, with some great interactive features. Kids can really take part in the "lessons" at school with Little Monster. When they work with numbers and letters on the chalkboard, kids can tap on the numbers and letters to hear them labeled and practice right along with the class. Aside from the functional interactive features, kids can also follow along with the text highlighting and also tap on individual words to hear them repeated. They've really added some great touches to bring the story alive and give it a different feel from the print version.

Where I do wish there was more is for it to provide prompts or a review at the end for deeper learning. (While it may seem unfair to criticize for this as I've rarely seen this done in e-books, it's time to raise the bar!) The story actually covers a lot here - routines, school lessons, helping friends out, being different, etc. Some of this may not come through with just the story itself.
Rating: 4.5/5 (aim for around 4 years).

Balance: This is really where I was impressed. First, there are two modes - a let me play mode where kids can tap their hearts out and a read to me mode - standard where you just follow along and the some of "interactive parts" automatically go and it becomes a bit more like watching a tv show. This is actually one of the recommendations we (Cooney Center) made after our e-book report. It allows parents and kids to have two different experiences depending on the purpose of the book reading. In addition to the two modes, there are a bunch of settings so parents can further control the type of experience. One of the settings addresses my personal pet peeve of where the tapping on things can interrupt the text reading or overlap with other interactive features. You can actually turn this off so that nothing overlaps. It'll also highlight where all the hotspots are if you want too. In terms of all the features, there actually are a lot. Most are functional and relevant to the plot, but a few aren't - like finding a hidden object on each page. But, that being said, given the modes and settings, at least the distraction level can be controlled in a way. Rating: 4.5/5

Sustainability: This is an award winning story for reason - it really is a good story! I usually try not to comment too much on the quality of the story because I don't consider myself a children's story expert, but I did really enjoy it. And I think the two modes will really stretch the usage of this app. Rating: 5/5

Parental Involvement: There's a big plus and a big minus here. The plus is that some of the "deeper learning" I mentioned earlier is available through a teacher's resource guide that provides extra activities that go along with the story. You can take a free sneak peek but the full guide needs to be purchased. The minus is that you can't turn off the narration! Children's books, to me, is a great and easy way for parents to spend time with their kids. With the narration here, it kinda takes away from that. Sure, parents can still read along, but it's not quite the same. Could just be a simple setting. Rating: 4/5

Total: 18 out of 20 = 5 stars

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Historables: Marie Ant-toinette

Historables: Marie Ant-toinette was created by Base Camp Films, LLC and aims to teach kids using historical figures in a fun, interactive way. I like the premise and play on names (they have other apps in the works with other figures like Teddy Bear Roosevelt). Price: There are three activities here, one comes free, and the other two are in-app purchases for $1.99.

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: So the premise hear is that Marie Ant-toinette lives in a castle and plays on the whole "let them eat cake" thing. So the activities are the kitchen where you make a cake and decorate it (the free activity), a tunnel maze to get more ingredients, and the bedroom where you decorate and arrange the furniture. Although it's centered around the whole cake quote, there's nothing in the app explaining that to kids. If you tap on her portrait, 4 facts pop-up - and they don't leave you feeling like you know about Marie's life. Further, while they are written in a kid-friendly way, they are not read aloud - and this is the ONLY section where any history really appears! Back to the activities - the cake activity is really the only one with any slightly educational content (one could argue that the puzzles help cognition) as you must help measure out the ingredients. The amounts change each time so sometimes it's 2 cups of flour or 4 cups of flour. While this is nice to keep it changing, adding a wee bit of math - it might cause some problems for those who actually want to bake a cake. Once, I got it where you had to put 4 cups of sugar with 1 cup of flour. That would not be a good cake - and all that sugar! Overall, I like the idea and potential of where this could go, but as is - there is not enough educational content here, leaving me disappointed. Rating: 2/5 (Aim for around 5 years)

See trailer here

Balance: The features here obviously tip towards fun rather than learning. But for the most part and for what it is - it's easy to navigate with clear instructions from the Queen herself. The main menu could use some changes as it looks like you can play with the other historical figures, but they are just ads. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: So without offering much in content on this whole historical figure aspect, this app is actually not very unique. At the risk of sounding harsh, there are better cake baking and decorating apps out there and there are better puzzle apps out there. Rating: 2/5

Parental Involvement: In terms of the activities, there's not much for parents. Again, I still think there's potential here in that these are topics that I think even adults could learn from and find interesting. But as is, it's not there yet. Rating: 3/5

Total: 11 out of 20 - 2 stars.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Shake-N-Tell was created by Your Name in Cows for true storytelling lovers. I'm always on the look out for unique apps, and this is one of them. This app provides the basics of stories and the rest is up to the storyteller. So if you're looking for an app with all the latest interactive features, this is not it. But if you're looking for an app to guide quality interactive time with your family, this may be it. Price: Free with in-app purchases for more storyboards.

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: I really like the idea of this app. Hey, it's hard coming up with stories, so why not get some idea boosters. The navigation is pretty simple. Pick a title, then read the story. They highlight certain parts to encourage more description and elaboration on those parts. You can hit the shuffle button if you don't like where that page of the plot is taking you to get another option. If you're running short on time, you can fast forward to the end. 

Here's the thing - I am not a good storyteller. I really admire parents and whoever who are great at it, doing voices and sound effects and all. This may not be enough for me. They provide little tips for storytelling, wish there were more, or maybe an example or two showing the difference between the bare basic story and how someone turned it into a great story. I also think some added features would make it easier too. For example, adding a brief synopsis of each story could not only help families to choose the story, but also to help the storyteller prepare. Or a menu system where you could choose specific things for the story - like the genre, characters, setting, etc. These would also be good because some of the stories can be scary so parents can better decide if it's appropriate. This is actually a big point - parents need better indications here for whether the story is appropriate for their kids. But, in the end, is this better than trying to come up something completely on my own? Yes. Does this encourage more interaction for families? Yes. Rating: 3.5/5 (no age rating as I feel the parent is the main user here).

Balance: As I said, this is overall simple - but more features could make it better. Maybe offer suggestions of elaboration. Another suggestion would be a back/main menu button, if folks decide they want a different story. As is, you're pretty much locked in. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: This is a hard one as the quality and effort required is kinda up to the storyteller. With the in-app purchases, there's a variety of stories to choose from. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: This is a strength of the app as it encourages folks to take their eyes off the screen and onto each other. Good storytellers (parents AND kids) can just fly with it, and not-so-great storytellers can use it as practice to get better. At least there are prompts for where to elaborate or get others involved to make it a collaborative story. Rating: 5/5

Total: 16.5 out of 20 = 4 stars

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cartoon ABC

Cartoon ABC was created by Kids Academy Company and is exactly what it sounds like. An app that aims to teach kids the ABC's using cartoon animation. THere are now tons of ABC apps, so where does this one stack up? Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.2 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: With so many alphabet focused apps out there, it's becoming harder and harder to pick out which ones to get. Some of the things I really look for are 1) repetition - the actual letter needs to be repeated over and over, 2) word associations - it's almost given that letters are paired up with words starting with that letter - are there a few different examples? Are the words appropriate? 3) Letter presentation - is it prominent? Does it get lost with the words? and now more and more with apps, 4) how are the interactive elements related? Cartoon ABC addresses my first three criteria really well. There's lots of clear repetition of the letters, it's paired with three different examples where the actual letter is highlighted, and each presentation begins and ends with only the letter. So yes, this is a solid ABC app. However, when compared to some other ones, this one does not capitalize on the affordances of the device - there's not the same interactive quality as seen in other apps - it's more like watching little video clips. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 3 years)

Balance: The animations are simple and cute. My only critique would be with the main menu. It's nice that you can pick any letter to work with, but they are not all labeled on the main menu -some are, some aren't - so kids can't automatically go to a specific letter, without thinking about it (yes, it's in alphabetical order). Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: There's a nice variety of picture and animation. But again, I do think kids are gonna have an expectation for interaction features, which this does not have. So while this app does clearly and nicely present the content, after seeing all the different animations, kids may want to seek more action elsewhere in terms of an app. Rating: 3.5/5

Parental Involvement: There is a parent report section where it shows which letters kids have looked at. Again, I think these types of reports are great starts. This also points at a need for a better main menu labeling system so parents can easily tap on the letters they want their kids to work with next. Rating: 4/5

Total: 15.5 out of 20 - 4 stars

Disclosure - I received this app for free for review purposes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Creative Genius On-The-Go!

Creative Genius On-the Go! was created by Jr Imagination. It's a set of cards that have "What if's," "Imagine That!" scenarios and "Wack-tivities" that let kids' and families' imaginations run wild. Price: $0.99

Device Requirements:  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a fun game - who hasn't come up with crazy scenarios to pass the time on a road trip or something? But I never really thought of it as "educational" or as "creative thinking." But I guess it is! There's a nice explanation of skills included in the app, and it's kinda convinced me. BUT - of course the extent of learning/thinking depends on the players. You can get really into it and think of all these possibilities, but if you're not into it, this doesn't really inspire you to get into it. It's really just basically a bunch of cards with the scenarios and some possible discussion questions. There's no sound/narration either, so this is really meant for parents to play with their kids, at least the younger kids. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 8)

Balance: So this is where I ask the question again, is this better as an app? I actually owned board games similar to "what ifs" and "imagine that", but they both had more of a game element to them. This app doesn't capture that game feel. It's just more of a launching pad for conversation. There aren't really any features that capitalize on the affordances of the device. You can take notes or save a specific card as a favorite - but that's really it. What about being about to draw or incorporating videos - make the scenarios come alive. Rating: 2/5

Sustainability: So, really, I don't need this app to play this game. These are scenarios that people have come up with on their own, or heard about from another person or game. Also, once you've read the scenarios here, you can just remember them and not need the app. What is here that makes me come back to this app? Rating: 2/5

Parental Involvement: This is a nice group game. There's a setting to make it show only scenarios for a specific number of people. The discussion questions are also good to help someone lead the conversation. Rating: 5/5

Total: 13 out of 20 = 3 stars

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Classical Kids

Classical Kids was created by The Children's Group. It's a series of stories that mixes music, history, and storytelling. There's actually a students edition that initial comes free but you have to purchase each story and a teachers edition that comes with all the stories and also notes for teachers on how to incorporate the stories into their lessons. Price: The in-app story purchases are $3.99 each and the complete teachers edition is $49.99.

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: In this day and age, learning about Mozart and Bach is kinda lost in our curricula. Music classes in elementary school where kids learn to play instruments are hard to come by, so learning about great composers and their life stories is practically non-existent. So Classical Kids is a great idea that can help fill a void in our education system. The original stories were written in 1988 and have sold well as recordings. The question here is, does it work better as an app? I'm afraid my answer is no. It's not that the stories aren't appropriate or that it's worse than the recordings - its just not any better. It does not take advantage of the affordances of a tablet and its interactivity. Each story is about 45 minutes and kids listen to it like a track while looking at static pictures that don't really tell a story on it's own. That's it. There's no text to follow, interactive elements relevant to the plot, animation, nothing. Again, that's fine - but when you consider the length, I'm not sure this will hold a child's attention. If you think about it, most kids' shows are around 20 minutes plus commercials, or if they are longer shows, they are broken up into many independent segments. Yes, the stories here are broken into mini tracks, but the story from beginning to end is pretty long. I think in it's original conception - kids listen, teachers ask questions - it works fine. It's just that the app version doesn't go beyond that. There was great potential to add a great visual elements and interactivity - especially since classical music probably isn't the most popular topic among children. The pictures here aren't the best. The kids look way older than their age and other things just don't match like Bach's wife died at the age of 35, but the picture shows an old woman with gray hair. Details matter, especially when there's nothing else to do but look at the pics! I'm glad to see that they've switched up the pricing a bit, cause otherwise, it may have been better to just stick with the original recordings. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 8 years).

Balance: There were some attempts made to incorporate some extra features. But those too fall short. First, there's a quiz, but it's really like a fill in the blank worksheet meant for teachers to print out. Kids cannot actually fill in the answers on the device. There's a metronome, but no instrument to play. There's a recording, but again, not music to make. Yes, obviously, it's meant to be used in class with real instruments. But why not both? What's the point of putting it on an iPad then? Rating: 2/5

Sustainability: I would love to see kids more interested in composers. Does this app make that happen? I'm not sure. The stories themselves are nice - they are told in a very conversational way and make a great audio book (which honestly, is what I basically ended up using it as) - but I'm reviewing this as an app, not as the original audiobook. I think kids now have a certain expectation for an app and the iPad. And this does not fulfill it. Unless kids have been assigned to listen to the story as homework, I don't see kids returning to this one on their own, given their other app options. Rating: 2/5

Parental Involvement: The teacher notes is great. It breaks each story down and gives plenty of discussion questions. However, it only comes with the teacher's edition, which is quite pricey. Improvements to the quiz section would also make this better for parents, especially those who may not have the time to carry out a "lesson." Rating: 4/5

Total: 11.5 out of 20 = 2 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for free for review purposes.