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Sharon Cohen

Contributing Writer | 148Apps

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Creative Genius on the Go Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 28th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Every summer, my family would get into the car and drive off to some destination chosen by my parents. In some cases, our destinations were days away, and we would spend a great deal of time in the car. Everyone would play car bingo, Twenty Questions and license plate scavenger hunt as well as sing stupid songs from TV shows and movies. Of course, my sister and I also fought and moaned, “When will we get there?” time and time again. With my own family, my two sons sat in the back seat and played with their video games or listened to music with their iPods. Now, children see movies in their SUVs and play games with their iPads and iPods. Some how, the interaction between the kids and among the whole family has diminished. Well, admittedly, there is still “yellow punch buggy,” to get some interaction going!

Remembering these family days in thc car, I was pleased to see the app Creative Genius on the Go. This app offers 150 different scenarios for everyone to consider: 50 “What Ifs?” that prompt the players to describe how the impossible may be possible; 50 “Imagine That,” which are mind-stretching challenges for boosting brainpower and relieving boredom and screams from the back seat, and 50 “Wack-tivities,” or silly diversions for when everyone is tired and can’t wait to stop at a hotel and get something to eat. Here’s an example of one of these silly ones that still make you think: What if cars had feet instead of tires? How would traffic change? What products would be obsolete and what other ones would have to be made? What other changes would take place? What would this car look like?

Here’s a more thought-provoking question: What if you lived during prehistoric times? What would you wear? What would be your activities? How would they be different or the same as now? Would you like living during this time? These questions can be answered as a group or, one player can write a response on the attached notebook.

Besides the fact that I appreciate this app because it can be enjoyed by several people at a time rather than just one person attached to an electronic device, I also am pleased with the creativity and problem-solving skills it offers both children of all ages and adults. Learning and creativity should not be something that comes to an end after the last years in college. It needs to be continually fostered. Activities such as Creative Genius on the Go stimulates new thoughts and ideas. There are an unlimited number of ways that these questions can be answered. It encourages the players to really stretch their minds. With the prehistoric question, for example, it could easily be answered, “I would live in a cave.”

Now, with imagination, the player can describe that cave and how people acted inside. What was it like during different seasons? What about at different ages? Can the players imagine a house where the parents and children ate, played, worked and slept in the same room? Such questions can also move to the here and now and encourage communication among the family. What about the fact that the two brothers, who are playing the game, are sharing a bedroom? What benefits or disadvantages does this offer to them? How can they get along better in their room? Thanks to these developers for making players actually think rather than just react to a crazy bird.

Firehouse Adventure Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 27th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Ah, happily an app that is not an ABC and not about animals on a farm! Instead, it’s about firefighters, which are a favorite with many preschoolers. While showing different situations for firefighting, your child will be getting lessons in app manipulation and eye-and-hand coordination—tapping, tilting, touching and drag and dropping.

Here are the eight games: 1) In Ladder Rescue, your child will need to tilt the device to reach the window to save the animals. When three animals fall without being caught, the game is over; 2) Your child drives the fire truck down the road and needs to tap and vehicle and jump over cars to make its way to the emergency. After three accidents, the game comes to an end; 3) There are animals that need saving in the trees and the firefighter must reach them by tilting the device and not get hit by falling objects. How many animals can be saved before the firefighter is hit three times by these objects?; 4) Fires are in the building and your child needs to touch the screen to make the water spurt out of the truck. The game ends when three fires are left raging; 5) Animals are falling and must be caught by the safety net that your child will drag under them. The game continues until three animals are not saved; 6) Find and Rescue is one of the more difficult games. The firefighters must be moved through a maze by tilting to reach the animals. The game ends when three firefighters come in contact with fire instead of the animals; 7) Helicopter Drop is another somewhat tricky game, since your child needs to anticipate when to tap the helicopter so that it spurts water onto the fire while its flying by. With three misses, the game is over; and 8 ) In Firefighter Gear, it’s necessary to find the right items a firefighter will wear and use in different emergencies. With each game, the children get points every time they are successful until they completely light up the firefighter and win a trophy. Then they are rewarded with some information, such as on fire safety or firefighting tools.

Showing the work of firefighters is not an easy concept, and I’m sure that the developers needed to give thought about how to depict firefighting situations without the horrible consequences. Animals are used instead of actual people, so that the game becomes less gruesome when the animals fall out of the window and are not saved. The app shows children the different emergencies that confront firefighters and the skills, tools and abilities they need to be successful in their work. Some of the games are easy enough for older toddlers and some are more challenging, even for preschoolers or older children.

As I mentioned earlier, it is good to see an app that is not the typical ABC. The children learn about a profession that intrigues many of them at this young age, especially boys. Which raises a question: The term “firefighters” is used instead of “firemen” for a reason. Although they are significantly lower in their numbers, women also fight fires. Yet, where are the women in this app? Another question: Why do the children need to wait until they win a game before receiving some specific information about firefighting? Why can’t each of the games have a pop up that provides information while the game is being played? This is especially the case in the Firefighter and Gear game. Why wait until the reward for explaining how each tool is used? The last question is one that I would have to give a great deal of thought before knowing the answer. How can firefighting be depicted without animals falling to the ground, firefighters being burned up or hit on the head with flying objects, firetrucks crashing and fires continuing to rage when the water is not extinguished?

Topo USA Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 26th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Either in the higher elementary school grades and/or middle/junior high school, your children will come home with that dreaded homework sheet saying, “Learn the location of the states and their capitals.” I say dreaded, because most of the children do not want to learn them, and you will have to drill them for days to remember all the names and locations. If you already have gone through this routine, you most likely agree with me.

This is why many teachers, who are on the more creative end, will try to come up with a special song or game or, most traditionally, flashcards, to help the students memorize all this information. Geography is not typically a highly enjoyed subject at this younger, anyway, so kids need something to give them some motivation—even if’s a Jeopardy-like game or contest.

The Topo USA app provides students with some of this entertainment and motivation. It’s the same information to memorize, but perhaps a little easier to take the medicine in an app game form. The app tests location of states, state capitals and large cities. A plane flies over the U.S. at varying speeds set by the player and is directed by the player’s finger location on the screen. Flying speed is important: Flying too slowly makes it difficult to complete the task before the time is up, and flying too quickly makes it more difficult to maneuver the plane from one location to the next. Since the plane flies at an aerial level, the player is only seeing part of the U.S. at a time, which also adds to the difficulty. Hints are given, but that also slows the players down.
I was never good at geography or direction. My family knows if I tell them to turn right, they turn should turn left. Perhaps this would have helped me—probably not! In fact, I am embarrassed to say that I did not do well with this game, either. Some of the state and city locations I remembered very quickly. Others I didn’t remember as a kid and I still don’t remember.

This game will help your children learn the location of the states, but not the spelling. Since the names are on the screen, spelling becomes a moot point. For that, you and your child will have to go back to the traditional method of recitation: “What is the capital of Kansas?” “The capital of Kansas is Topeka—T O P E KA—Topeka.” There are some things that are just going to be boring and dreaded in education, and this is one of them. It’s possible to imagine the young boy or girl in the New England one-room schoolhouse spelling each of the names of the 13 colonies. It was surely much easier learning the states then, but not any more intriguing.

Color Buddies Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 14th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Color Buddies is an interesting app, because it combines skills for different ages at the same time. In fact, preschoolers, even in the easy mode, would not be able to do this game by themselves. They could easily find some of the colors when hearing the word, such as “Select color yellow.” They are not going to know some of the other colors at sight, such as “maroon,” or “indigo,” for example. Also, they are too young to read the color of the words or even sound them out. Thus, this color activity is for first or second graders to do by themselves or for younger children to do with older children or adults. This is possible, in fact, since the game calls for either 1 or 2 players.

In addition to reviewing the standard colors and learning some new ones that are not used as frequently, this app teaches a couple of other skills. The first is graphing. Remember the aptitude tests where it was necessary to put certain icons or words in various parts of a map or chart? The square would be divided into four equal parts. On the top two squares left to right you see the numbers “1” and “2.” On the left top and bottom, you see the letters “A” and “B.” You would be asked to put a circle in the 1A area, or the top left quadrant. The easiest mode for Color Buddies is the square divided into four sections. The hardest is a rectangle divided into 25 different boxes up to E5.

You choose from a variety of different topics, such as zoo animals. Then you are presented with a blank screen divided into the number of different quadrants. The female narrator (with a very bland but easy-to-understand voice) asks you to select a certain color of paint. When you have done that correctly, she asks you to put that color in a certain box, for example, 1C. Then part of that box is colored. Slowly, as you find different colors, your picture builds up. It is fun to guess what the final picture is going to be as parts of it are colored and become more and more visible. This is a great cognitive test. Once again, the older children will do better filling in the missing parts in their mind than the younger ones. Perhaps once the adult or older child knows what picture is being drawn, he or she can give clues to the younger player.

Color Buddies is not as mindless as some “shoot down the balloon” games, so expect that your children may need to give some serious thought to their response. The narrator nicely tells them to “try again.” They are going to be challenged and will need help. After a while, however, they will get the hang of it, depending on their age and cognitive abilities, and enjoy the challenges.

ABC Aliens Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 13th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

When it comes to the ABCs and apps, you can find almost every form of alphabet game and educational lesson possible. Most likely this is because these alphabet apps are easy to develop from a technical standpoint and because all developers know that parents are going to want to teach kids their ABCs. So, ABC Aliens is another variation on the theme, except that instead of humans or animals at a zoo or farm, colorful illustrated beings from outer space are teaching the letters.

The app is developed by Cambridge English Online, which states it has a decade of experience in creating cutting-edge online and mobile resources by online and mobile education specialists. With that much experience and supposed “cutting-edge” creativity, I would expect something more advanced than this. There is nothing wrong with the concept; it just is nothing new and will not retain a child’s interest for very long.

The app is geared toward either American or British English and has four different activities—purposely, I’m not calling them “games.” The first is on phonetics or the sound of the letters. The second is just hearing the alphabet as it is typically said. You have a choice of hearing the letters said in a cartoonish alien voice or with a child’s voice. You can also record a voice saying the letters and then play it back. Your children can also hear the letters when they are in the upper or lower case form.

The other two activities are for fun and learning. I played these on my iPod Touch, so the characters are quite small and it is difficult to see the letters on the aliens’ chests. This is one of those apps that is much better suited for the iPad, which has a considerably larger screen area. In these two activities, children are timed on how quickly they can tap each of the aliens in the order of their ABCs either forward or backward. Doing this in the given 30 seconds is quite a feat, especially for young learners. It was not easy, by any means, even for me. Again, this had to do with the size, but also in some cases the colors of the letters and the background; the “e,” for example is a light blue on the chest of a little bit darker blue alien. The differentiation between the two colors is slight.

That’s it. There are no spelling games, no find the hidden letter games, no think of some words that start with a certain letter game. The app says this gives kids a head start on the road to literacy success: I would say that this is an overstatement. There are also some bugs, such as losing the sound and having to signoff and back in again to get it back. I also don’t notice too much of a difference between the British and American pronunciation, since they are only saying letters. There are some tips for additional learning, such as asking the child to spell his or her name with the letters. However, since the letters are only pronounced and not actually written in word form, this does not provide much learning. Overall, I’d say that you could find many other ABC apps that are equivalent or better than this one.

Treasure Kai App Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 8th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island brings me back to the “Choose Your Adventure” books I used to read with my kids. This ability to change order is one of the features that is so easy to do with an app, so I’m surprised that we don’t see more books for kids where they can cut from one part of the book to another depending on what door, or in this case which chest, they choose to open.

I always liked this type of “choose your own adventure” book, since children can make some of their own decisions on plot. Naturally, the readers eventually go through all of the different adventure permutations, but at their own pace and direction. This book was written by the Australia-based Treasure Bound Books, but Kai's accent is easy to understand. It’s a fun read, similar to an Indiana Jones movie, where there is always an adventure but, of course, he hero always gets free without being any worse for wear.

Typical of most e-book apps, this book has both a “read to me” and a self read” option, as well as being able to be read with or without an interactive mode. The interactivity includes a variety of sound effects and animations. At each chosen adventure, there is a different activity and poem on the problem that Kai faces. Because each time a path is chosen the result differs, hundreds of various storylines and experiences are presented. This allows for hours of creative education and entertainment. For kids who want to know more about the sites they see along the way, the Treasure Bound Book website includes additional information.

The story starts off with “Treasure Kai,” so named because of his love of searching for chests of gold, drifting to sleep as he dreams of his future adventures. Eight different chests are on the bottom of the screen. When one is tapped, the reader is whisked off to that escapade. The actual chest of gold may be found within the first couple of activities or, depending on random order, it may take several different chances. No matter: Instead of getting gold, the children are having fun. They may have to find the picture of the right snake in the maze, hide from head hunters or duck falling rock slides. Whatever the situation, imagination is encouraged. Two new apps, The Seven Cities of Gold, and King Tut’s Treasure, are on their way.

Have fun going on an adventure with your son or daughter or watching your children read along on their own and enjoy the challenges they face along the way.

Mom's Garden: A Handmade Story Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 7th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

For many reasons, storytelling is important for children of all ages—and, even adults. Long before writing and way before the invention of the printing press, people would pass their history and culture from one generation to the next with storytelling. Consider the many different skills involved for the participants. The storytellers needed a rich vocabulary, excellent memory of facts and information, imagination, acting ability and body language. The viewers required many of the same skills: vocabulary, memory and imagination. They were learning the stories in order to pass them on to others.

Children hear many stories today. In fact, they are bombarded with stories from everything they watch, read and play. I truly am a fan of today’s technology and all that it offers children for education and entertainment. Yet, as with any new technology, there are always pros and cons. In many cases, the TV shows, videos, and computer games stifle creativity and imagination. It is not necessary to imagine a character’s appearance or what it is like to fly on a dragon. The players can actually see that character or get on the dragon and fly to different locations. The videos spoon feed stories, plots and endings.

This whole introduction brings me to the app Mom’s Garden: A Handmade Story. I greatly appreciate this app for several reasons. First, it encourages parents and children to spend time together. Especially for younger children, this is not an app that can be enjoyed alone. Most important, it requires making up a story. Your children can choose a character(s) and background and move the character around anywhere in that background. They can also change the expression on this character. Then you need to create a story about this character by actually typing in the words. The sentences can be placed anywhere in the background, as well.

Here’s a very simple story I made up. I chose the castle as the background. I then added a boy and girl as characters and placed them smiling side-by-side in front of the castle. I saved that page and went to page two. I showed only the boy and typed in, “Do you want to play with me?” On the third page, I showed only the girl and typed in “Ok.” Finally, on the fourth page, I showed both the boy and girl together again. Yes, a very simple story, but a story none the less. The child needs to decide where the story occurs, who will be in the story and what takes place. The parent can ask the child to relate what is happening to the characters and type in very simple words and sentences. Older children will be able to read these words and even help their parents spell or type them on the page.

I would like to see additional backgrounds in a future app version. The background buttons are difficult to see, because they are very light. The boy and girl characters need to be more ethnically diverse. The author definitely needs someone to proof the copy and correct the spelling errors. However, I love the idea of this app and would very much like to see more like it.

Giggle Bear Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 6th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Many of the newest children’s apps now have 3-D visuals, which add considerably to the game or book’s interest. Giggle Bear, a virtual adaption of the Build-a-Bear concept in the stores, is a three-dimensional rabbit, bear or moose that is created by your child. In fact, this app was developed by a tweenager, Brooklyn Cly, who wanted children to have something that takes longer than five minutes to play. Apparently, Cly’s dad challenged her to produce an app that would be more imaginative and bring in some added income. Surprisingly, to everyone, Brooklyn accepted the challenge. Sitting in the back seat of the car as the family drove from a visit in Ohio back to New York, Brooklyn sketched out her idea. She went to her friends for help with some of the features and then started looking for a developer.

In the app, children have several different options to design their own animal and then bring it to life with a birth certificate. The app teaches a step-by-step process, since the bear can only be built in one designated way. On the other hand, your child has the opportunity to customize the animal and make it his or her own. First the child chooses the animal and its facial expression from a range of different faces. It is then stuffed and adorned with a heart and named. You can even record a special giggle for the animal.
Once your animal is born, your child can give it a bath in the right water temperature, pick a song on the radio and buy some clothes to wear, which depend on whether the bear is a girl or boy. It is then on to the playroom for the more creative part of the app. It is always interesting to compare what can be done in the virtual world versus the real one. In this activity, the stuffed animal can be thrown around as high in the air as possible, swung and even thrown against walls and floors. All the while, it continues to laugh and have fun.

Next, the app includes four different games that combine education with entertainment. Each one, “Memory,” “Balloon Toss,” “Stargazer,” and “Music Match,” has different ability levels and a scoring system that hands out trophies and records the highest score. Since this is a virtual game, the points can be used to purchase accessories without actually spending real money. Because the app has a radio, any music that has been previously recorded can be played.

While she was creating the app, Brooklyn’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. After treatments, she was on the road to recovery. The Clys decided to have a portion of the proceeds from Brooklyn’s game go to breast cancer research. The Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer will receive up to $50,000. So far, Giggle Bear, similar to most of the other apps with the Apple Store, has not brought in loads of money. Yet this is a great example of a very young entrepreneur taking present-day technology and using it to benefit others.

Word Ball App Preview

Posted by Sharon Cohen on June 22nd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: WORD UP :: Read Review »

OK. I have to admit it. Where other people are addicted to physics games, such as Angry Bird, or target or math games, I’m addicted to word games. So, whether I play Word Ball with or without my kids, I will play language games like Word Ball. For kids, it’s a great way to learn new and find old words and expand those cognitive wheels inside their heads. It's also a great way to teach spelling. For adults, it’s a great way to remember old words and keep those cognitive wheels going inside their heads. In addition, you really need to be quick on the draw, since the more words you make the better will be your score.

It’s a simple concept. Just think of balloons that are floating up and around the screen. The balloons, in this case, are balls with an individual letter. As the balls move slowly or more quickly (depending on which option chosen) across the screen, the player needs to tap on the ones that make a word and then enter that word for play. The longer the word found, the more points received. No words can be used twice. In this game, the players do not receive a list of words that they have to find. You have to draw upon the words in your head and find the letters that spell those words. Sometimes, you may start with a word in mind and then find it is necessary to spell a different word when the letter needed is not seen on the screen.

This is not a game that should be played when you or your children are tired, frustrated or angry. It only leads to more of the same. Nor, is it a game for younger children, unless the parents play along and ask questions along the way, “What goes, Meow? That’s right, ‘Cat.’ How do you spell cat? Let’s find the letters ‘C,’ ‘A’ and ‘T’. Can you help me?” Younger children will only be able to think of three- or four-letter words, so will keep on repeating the same ones.

As you go from one level to another, the letters move faster, shrink in size and disappear when not used. Of course, this makes it all the harder to form the words in your head. With fewer and fewer letters available, it becomes quite difficult to think of any new words.

Players can compete against themselves and try to continually improve their own skills or choose Game Center integration that allows comparing scores with the rest of the world’s players and to win trophies. However, beware. There are players, younger and older, who know how to spell longer and winning words such as exaggeration and onomatopoeia! After each game, players see a display of statistics, which includes a comprehensive list of every single word they made.

Jump Out App Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on June 15th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

The app Angry Birds has become a big winner with all ages, but it is by far not the only game like this. A number of different apps work on what is considered the “physics” principle. That is, determining what direction to launch a character, in this case a bug, in order to land in the designated location. As many similar games, Jump Out has multiple levels, so can be played by children as well as adults. Since the game takes logic, planning and strategy to move forward, the game is rated for the age of eight and above. In total, the game has 75 levels, four characters with different looks and personality traits—from a cute little squeaky bug to a sort of shrimp-looking being--and eight objects. New levels are being added all the time.

In the game Jump Out, as its name implies, players need to help the bugs leap out of different types of perilous situations while rotating on sprockets, such as being stuck in cardboard boxes and computers. When helping these little critters, winning players are awarded and can collect stars. This can be done by launching—tapping and dragging a finger away from the bug--and releasing. The result is the bug leaping off the sprockets. Another reason for older children playing—the losing bugs, for example, curl up and die or fall to the bottom of the screen like they have been hit with Raid.

When you drag your finger, a thin line appears to let you know the general direction that the bug will travel in its launch. This makes the physics a little bit easier, since you have some idea on any obstacles in the path and how you are lining up with the final destination. It is also possible to ignore the bugs that are too difficult to launch, since you only have to send one critter on its way to move onto the next level.

The characters are lovable enough that you want to save them. The insects, which are the easiest to launch, are as cute “as a bug in a rug.” The crickets, which can bounce from place to place make little eye movements, and the shrimp moves along in a bubble. The insect says “hallo,” when tapped.

Gaming aficionados, or those people who are addicted to this type of game and play each one that is available, say that Jump Out is not as difficult as some of the other available apps. Yet, for an older elementary schooler and even tweenager, it’s a fun game. In fact, I admit to playing it even after I had finished writing this review.

Piano Ball App Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on June 14th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The app Piano Ball is a great way to begin to bring colors and sounds into your babies’ and toddlers’ lives, especially since they can make their own music with just a simple swipe or tap of their little hand. Young children are not very coordinated at this young age, so something as simple to use as this app, is just the key for little ones. It’s an easy way to develop motor skills. Older babies can just shake the iPhone or iPod, hear an array of musical notes and see a shower of stars. Then a random musical picture pops up on the page and its word repeated, “drum.”

You can introduce your young ones to new sounds by letting them listen to you playing the drums, horn, piano or xylophone. As they get older, you can tell them the names of these instruments. (I remember as a kid how I thought there were only two “X” words in the alphabet: X-ray and xylophone.)

The app has a variety of choices. First, there are four different balls: Color Ball, Tune Ball, Rainbow Ball and Instrument Ball. The piano keyboard is transformed into different colored pallets with the Color Ball, so the young musicians can learn their colors. With the Tune Ball, older children can play five popular songs by following the lit-up stars—and then get a rousing applause for their efforts. Then the song is played again for listening. More songs are to come in the future.

Or, if your children want to be more creative, they can play their own songs as the stars swirl around the keys. They can also change instruments, to the jazzy drum for example, and make up a song. If parents want to keep toddlers from switching from one mode to another every two seconds, there is a feature lock. This way, the child can be focused for what? About three minutes, which is par for a two-year-old. The Rainbow Ball turns the keyboard multihued. The tiny little arrow in the back left corner brings to back to the menu.

Of course, this app actually does not teach music. There are no notes, scales or musical letters. However, it’s a fun way to stimulate your child’s auditory and visual senses. The app says it’s for players nine months to five years of age. Think more along the lines of the younger ages. With all the other musical apps available, your five-year-old will be ready for something more challenging.

Dylan Monkey & Squishy Face Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on June 10th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

There are many children’s storybooks being published for the iPhone and iPad, and Dylan Monkey & Squishy Face is a cute and clever addition. It’s an innovate story about Dylan Monkey wanting to give his brother Squishy Face some additional hands. This way, Squishy Face would be able to hold his bottle and do other things, like crawl around, at the same time.

You and your child can enjoy the book in several ways: Reading the book yourself, listening to the narrator read while interacting with the pages, and autoplay. With the first mode, you read the story and all the sounds, interactions and animations remain. With the second, the narrator reads and your child listens while interacting with the pages. With the third, autoplay, your child listens to the story without interactivity; this mode is good for quiet time.

The story, itself, is fun to read. Dylan tries many ways, some of them very unusual, to make extra hands for his brother. It encourages children to be imaginative, explore new ideas and think up new approaches. At the end of the story, Dylan realizes that he could help his brother by using his own hands—a nice way of talking about sharing and helping others.

You and your child can discuss the storyline in a variety of ways. Why are some of Dylan’s ideas not working? What’s it like to have a plan? How did Dylan feel about his brother; what in the story shows this? What are ideas? I also like that Dylan’s mother Frazzle Dazzle (yet a strange name for a mom) lets Dylan try his ideas, even when she knows some of them won’t work. It’s only when he may be injured by a hot oven that she says, “No. That’s not a good idea.” At the end of the story, the author provides some starting questions for you and your child to discuss.

Besides the storyline, I like the colorful illustrations and the imaginative characters. I wish that a turn-the-page marker would be added to know where to swipe. Sometimes I had difficulty turning the page and found myself going backward instead of forward. Also, it would be helpful if there was some kind of quick locator of the items on the page where interaction can occur. The interactions are easy to start with a tap and fun, and the sound effects, like Squishy Face laughing or giving kisses, are a joy.

Tilly's Petting Farm Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on June 8th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

With Tilly’s Petting Farm, we are back to the farm again. There is some regret here. I do like some parts of this app, as you will see below. I would just like to have some different venues for children’s apps besides the zoo and farm and something different for them to see than animals. How about looking at buildings, or plants or vehicles? With that said, this app does teach the children about the animals on the farm and their purpose. They learn that cheese and butter are made from milk, for instance.

There are four different scenes of the farm, some with different animals. The children are either asked to point out a certain animal, “Where is the cow?” or something about what they see, “Where do you find the eggs?” When the children tap on the right answer, they are given a positive answer. When wrong, they get several more tries with clues. The animal artwork is cute and colorful, as is the animation. I also like the fact that the children need to answer questions, which teaches listening skills as well as vocabulary. The narrator even says, “Pay attention,” before asking the question.

Overall, the app is easy for a preschooler to use. A toddler is going to need more help. It’s just a tap on the right answer. In some cases, it is difficult to see the item; the hay, or what is called “dried grass,” is way in the distance in one farm setting, for example. When learning about each animal, there is a good amount of variety in the animation and the answers. The app developers say that there are 300 sentences or questions included in the app, which provides greater variety as well.

The narrator has an easy-to-understand English accent. If you speak American English, you will find some differences in the words and the questions. For example, instead of “Where is the male goat?” the question is “Where is the man goat?” The narrator asks, “Which plant is shaped like a cigar?” This question is not cross-cultural. For several reasons, you should do this app with your child the first time around. First, there are many new words, such as “buck” and “heron.” Also, some of the questions can be tricky, such as “Where is the female goat?” It is difficult to tell if the baby goat is male or female. When it asks, “Which animal brays?” I would have liked to hear the bray. You may need to make some of these sound effects.

Tilly's was a favorite Dutch app when it was first introduced. Your children will learn some new facts that are not typically included in farm apps, such as different birds like “heron” and “crane.” It’s a good way for you to talk about some of these new words, animals and activities taking place in a farm setting.

SATLadder App Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on June 1st, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

The controversy whether or not to rely heavily on results of the Scholastic Aptitude Test for college applications continues, and increasing numbers of schools are either not requiring SAT results or are giving greater weight to other criteria. That being said, SAT scores are still important for many colleges and universities. This is why there are so many SAT iPhone and iPod apps. Some of them focus on mathematics or vocabulary, others have a more general approach. Mark Anestis, a tutor for the last 13 years at a test preparation company and author of several test prep books, has jumped into the app market with the SATLadder.

Recognizing that many teenagers are not into the standard SAT computer learning programs because they are too much like schoolwork, Anestis decided to make an app that would turn the learning into a game. It was also important for the students to determine and enhance their strengths and identify and work on their weaknesses through practice and review. “I wanted to produce a test preparation product that capitalizes on the fact that teenagers like to compete and at the same time help them accomplish their goals.”

Users can play the solo mode and participate in five-round matches against the SATLadder app. Each of these rounds consists of questions in mixed areas of math, reading and writing, and all questions are automatically kept on the student’s profile page at www.SATLadder.com for later review. Students are told when they answer incorrectly and which answer is right. They are also see the length of time it took them to answer each question.

Students can also play in the head-to-head mode and have either friendly or SATLadder matches against specific or randomly chosen competitors and then be ranked on the SATLadder on performance level. The students can work toward making their way up the ladder to get up to the #1 spot. The SATLadder app includes more than 2,000 questions with answer explanations and definitions to over 1,000 high-frequency SAT words.

Admittedly, when I was reviewing the app, I kept on saying, “I’ll stop after the next set of questions…” and found myself wanting to see if I would get the next and then the next series right or wrong. Although I always had high grades in school, I never was a good test taker. I wouldn’t have minded having an iPhone game that I could play off and on during the school day to prep me a little. I don’t know if my score would have greatly increased, but every new thing learned would have been in my favor.

Kids on the Farm Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 31st, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Putting aside the fact that there are many apps and games about farms these days, Kids on the Farm is a cute, fun game for preschoolers to play by themselves with some initial guidance and parents to play together with their toddlers. It combines simple games with such skills as counting, colors, matching, size and sounds. The graphics are very simple, so it is easy for a young child to differentiate elements on the screen. In some cases, the children receive positive reinforcement “Great Job!” when responding correctly and a mild “Try Again” when they do not have the right answer. However, as I will explain, the app needs some revisions.

Each screen has a separate problem to solve with farm animals. In the counting screen, the child has to find the “cows” or “horses,” which are added up as they are found. Unfortunately, there are inconsistencies that need to be revised on the next go around. For example, the counting headline says, “Touch 4 Calves” and the child narrator says, “Touch the calves.” If a child only touches two of the four calves and then hits the arrow to go on to the next page, the narrator does not say, “Touch more calves,” or “You have some calves to find.” This is when it would be good for you to jump in and say, “Whoops. Can you find any more calves before we go on?”

In addition, especially with younger children, parents should also review the different names of each animal. For example, pictures of cows are also called “bulls” and “calves.” Similarly, sine screens ask the child to touch an animal of certain color. Or, a screen may ask the child to touch all the animals that make a certain sound that is made. Once again, the headline and narrator may say, “Which animal makes this sound?” and the animal shown may only be in the same family. The screen always shows baby chicks, for instance. When your child hears a rooster’s crow and is asked “What makes this sound?” it is necessary to equate the baby chick to the grown male hen.

In one of the games, the child has to find the “small” animals. Here, size does not equate to what the animal is in real life, such as a big horse next to a small chick. Rather, size is based on the graphic shown, for example, the horse may be shrunk down in size and the lamb enlarged. Sometimes, the difference in size between the animals is minor, so it may be difficult for a younger child to know which animal is larger. When making the right choice, the child hears that animal’s sound. The matching game consists of pairing up the right mother and baby and the “Which Animal Comes Next,” is a pattern game, such as dog, cow, dog, “what comes next?”

All the games get progressively more difficult, which is good way to continue learning and keeping the child’s attention. Overall, the educational concepts of Kids on the Farm are important for children of this age to learn. With improvements, some noted here, this could be a better learning tool.