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Lola’s Math Train Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 12th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Lola’s Math Train is a cute and fun universal application staring Lola, the cuddly panda that children may be familiar with from other educational Lola apps from BeiZ such as Lola’s Alphabet Train or Lola’s Fruit Shop Sudoku.

Here, join Lola and friends as she drives a train which is propelled by each correct math question answered.

Questions are nicely varied and get more difficult as the game is played and are focused teaching the basic such as counting, ordering small quantities as larger or smaller as well as simple puzzles, differentiating numbers from letters and other activities as well as simple math such as addition and subtraction.

There are other apps available that offer math problems in ways that children may not fully realize that they are practicing their math. As much as I admire these other apps, I also appreciate having children work with simple, basic problems that will better resemble the questions they will most likely face in school. These games are kept dynamic with the use of fun music, train whistles and the train’s movement as one is guided through these math exercises, adding different friendly animals to this train along the way.

Three levels of difficulty are included - which is a nice touch, but it would be great if players could save their progress as children may not be able to finish their entire game with the addition of all the animals to their train in one sitting, and it would be nice to pick up from where they left off.

Having said this, Lola’s Math Train is a nice choice for a fun, interactive educational application, as are the other Lola apps in this series.

Tick Bait’s Universe Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 11th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Tick Bait’s Universe is a wonderful children’s science app for iPad that truly puts the universe into perspective in a way that children can understand, appreciate and enjoy.

Starting out, this app introduces readers a chance to view an ordinary dog, Tick Bait one meter, roughly three feet overhead, as he lays on his back in a backyard typical of many homes. From here, one has a chance to explore the unseen in either direction, zooming in or out closer or further to Tick Bait by the power of ten.

In choosing to investigate Tick Bait closer, the view becomes 1/10 of a meter (about four inches) close to Tick Bait and from here one has a view of the ticks this dog is carrying. Getting still closer makes children aware of the even smaller dog mites that are commonplace - a version of this mite also living on human hosts as well.

Zooming in further reveals the dog mites' cells, and later bacteria and the even smaller viruses as well as even DNA. The app discusses such topics as DNA sequencing and zooms down small enough to atoms, their protons, neutrons, electrons and even the smaller ````quarks which ends this section, as matter can’t be broken down into smaller pieces.

Viewing Tick Bait from higher and higher vantage points is equally impressive, detailing such principles as different levels found within the atmosphere as well as an interesting view of Tick Bait’s house, neighborhood and state in which he lives, pulling out to see the Earth as a whole, later in orbit with the other planets until Earth is seen as simply part of the Milky Way and beyond. It ultimately shows a representation of the entire observable universe, ending this section of this highly engaging and educational app.

Do note that one may want to be view this app in landscape mode to make the most of this application as here, both the images as well as text are available, whereas the image is only seen within portrait mode.

There is so much information to be read about within this thoughtfully conceived application. I admire the structure of this app because of the way that it delivers all the included information. It is as easy to follow as it is engaging - with an abundance of interesting facts as well as fun true or false questions that add related information about topics at hand.

I also admire how one can move back and forth between tenfold distances with the pinch or spreading of fingers, the tap of a button or the scrolling between sections, and I appreciate all the additional information found within this app along the way as well including much about scientific notations and the concept of the power of ten. Because of this, metric measurements are used here but are roughly translated to imperial measurements as well.

Although this app does not contain narration, wonderful sound effects really bring these different vantage points to life, with each sound element well chosen and effective in making this app really come alive, even when simply moving from one tenfold to another, as well as when readers know they have zoomed in and out as far as possible.

This is a perfect science application for older grade school children and beyond, and is an app that adults will genuinely enjoy as well.

Without narration, readers rely on themselves or an adult to read the included text, making this an app possibly not fully suitable for younger children, but with the aid of an adult, I think that bright, curious children as young as late preschool could enjoy this app if it is read to them by an encouraging adult.

I have greatly enjoyed Tick Bait’s Universe, This app is one of a kind and is a wonderful app for home as well as school settings. I am eager to see what other apps the developers at You University Apps may come up with next as this application is top-notch in every way.

Coloring Smart - Fun and Education for Kids Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 22nd, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Coloring Smart is a lovely new coloring book app, bright and colorful, which includes a nice choice of pages to work on using the “paint bucket” style of tapping sections of the included images to fill these spaces in with color - my personal favorite method of coloring apps.

I really enjoy how this app reinforces the knowledge of numbers and shapes as well, using them as a guide for making correct color choices.

This app includes six subjects such as animals, vehicles or flowers. Each of these sections contains three modes to choose from in terms of filling in these coloring pages - specifically two pages each of matching shapes, numbers or simple addition questions each with their correct answers found at the top of the screen, arranged within the color choices of paints - much akin to “paint by numbers.”

I really like how shapes are included in two of the sections that also contain less intricate details and larger spaces to be filled in. Players must look closely at the picture they are coloring, as faint gray shapes can be seen in the background of the different areas that make up this page. Although this is a beginner page with fewer details, I enjoy the use of shapes as it is a little different than other apps like this which commonly sticks to letter or number recognition.

It is also nice that the levels dedicated to numbers and simple math are nicely detailed, including a few that are hard to determine what the final image will look like until completely filled in - something that I enjoy.

I appreciate that this app is universal, but before downloading to my iPhone, I was concerned that the images and individual spaces to be filled in would be too small to comfortably work on with the smaller screen of the iPhone. I am happy to say that this app looks and plays equally well on the iPhone as it does on the iPad.

Intuitive to use, I think children will have a lot of fun with Coloring Smart as do I. Pleasant background music is also included as are congratulatory sounds when pages become complete as well as a few sound effects when selecting and filling spaces with color. It would be nice to mute any of these sounds - specifically the cheering after completing a page to make this app a charming, quiet app as well.

Having said this, Coloring Smart is a very nice coloring book choice. I do hope more pages are included in the future.

MathLands Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 4th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

MathLands is an interesting app for iPad consisting of interactive math-related games that are focused on problem-solving and logic.

Six sections exist, including versions of well-known puzzles where players must use their critical reasoning skills to solve a problem, be it the famous Tower of Hanoi or others, such as The Frog Puzzle, Magic Shapes, The Water Jug Puzzle and the Ravine Crossing. A section of math comics is also included that aids children in understanding word problems, allowing them the chance to interact with objects to help visualize these problems.

Possibly the most well know puzzle of this app - the Tower of Hanoi - includes three pegs and a pyramid of rings. Players must re-stack this pyramid without larger rings being placed on the smaller rings in the process. This puzzle starts out with three rings to move under six moves and has five levels, ultimately including seven rings to stack in 48 moves.

The Frog Puzzle starts out simply enough as one must make the orange and green swap sides, keeping in mind that they can only leap over one frog at a time and can’t move backwards. This puzzle becomes more difficult as the number of frogs is increased in upper levels.

Magic Shapes asks players to add numbers to empty spaces found within the included shapes. Each side of these shapes contains three numbers that when added, the sums of each of these sides found within the shape should match. The first level of this section begins with a triangle, adding more areas to be filled with numbers as the game progresses and ending with a complicated square with no given numbers as all the areas of this square need to be filled in.

The Water Jug is a classic game where one must ultimately fill a jug with a set amount of water by using two differently sized water jugs to measure against as one may fill, empty or pour water between the two jugs to answer these problems.

Crossing the Ravine consists of children who need to be carried over a ravine by balloon. The number over each child’s head is the number of seconds it will take for them to cross. Get each child over in a given time, understanding that a child will have to travel back with two balloons to pick up the others. The difficulty of this game increases as does the number of kids in each round, keeping in mind that one must complete this task within the parameters of the time giver for each level.

My personal favorite section of this app is the word problem cartoons because being able to see these cartoons really helps visualize the problems at hand. There is some humor as well among these problems that are fun to read, lighting the mood for children who may not be huge fans of this style of math.

The questions themselves vary nicely and each includes movable objects that one can use to help think about the problem - a very nice way to help children truly understand these kinds of problems, very much like the kind of doodles I would create on my own when working on math such as this. Of course with the interactive feature, being able to move these pieces around is very helpful in terms of counting and organizing one’s thoughts.

Each of these puzzles is nice to look at and includes subtle, quiet sound effects and a nice level of interaction that one would expect to find within these activities. The rings from the Tower of Hanoi or the frogs from The Frog Puzzle move with a drag most intuitively, but it can be tricky to pour from one jug to another - something to look into for a possible update in the future.

I like how for the most part, these exercises start out simply enough, but I think it is unrealistic that the average seven year old could solve these problems. A bright ten year old may enjoy this app as well as older children and adults.

It greatly disappoints me, however, that no answers are given except for the Magic Shapes section, adding to the probable frustration one may feel when getting stuck on an upper level. At a minimum, the answers should be provided, but better yet, I would like to see an animated clip showing children how these puzzles have been solved.

For many of these sections, one can Google to learn more about the puzzle at hand as they are often variations on classic mathematical logic games, allowing parents or teachers to look up more information if children are interested. I believe, however, that it is the responsibility of the developer of apps such as this to provide the conclusion to the math activities that they have created that children and adults have invested their time in.

It is possible that families or classrooms that gravitate toward this app may have adults who can help solve these puzzles, but I still find the including of proper explanations for those who need them to be extremely worthwhile, especially as this would allow children to enjoy this app by themselves without needing any adult help to work with this application. A hint button would also be a great inclusion for those who just need a little help without having these puzzles solved for them.

The exception to this concern that I have in general is the Magic Puzzles section as the solution is included with the tap of a button - well-done as the correct numbers can be seen only as long as the button is pressed, making a quick peek for a hint a possibility. I hope the other sections of this app can at some point include answers and hints such as this as well.

Although the lack of answer and help among these games bothers me greatly, I do recommend this app for situations where there is an adult who can help children succeed at these math puzzles. I appreciate that one can either power through all 32 levels of these included games or choose the area of interest and level of ability freely in free-play mode. This app contains a lot of game play and will be greatly enjoyed by the right children who already have a good handle on reasoning and logic games, like feeling challenged and are not easily frustrated. For others, this app includes games that will become exercises in futility more than anything else, so do look into this app if it is a good match for the children in your life, or for logic game-loving adults as well.

Mathical Vol.1

Posted by Sarah Reidy on February 29th, 2012

Mathical, developed by StusApps, is a collection of five math games geared toward older elementary school children. With input from primary school teachers, Mathical was created to help children practice their math facts, such as addition/subtraction, multiplication/division, fractions and decimals.

The five games included in this app can be customized to suit your child’s learning level, as you can choose the numbers that you want included (up to 20) as well as the difficulty (1 through 9). These games include:

Missing Number Skydiving: Players must guide the skydiver to targets that display the correct answer to addition and subtraction equations. My daughter (age 10) had no problem with the game play in this game and although she found it boring, it is a good practice tool that requires quick mental calculations.

Fraction Reaction: Players must identify the correct fractions to complete the whole shape and guide the fraction balls to their correct location. Although a good concept, both my daughter and I found the game play to be difficult as we had trouble maneuvering the fraction balls.

Orderly Birds: Players must move chicks sitting on a branch by swiping them with a finger, until the correct number order is formed. I like this game very much, as it is possible to set the difficulty to a level that is suitable for younger children (ordering whole numbers) as well as older children (ordering decimals).

Divider Slider: Players must tap an arrow to move their monster along a branch indicating the correct answer to division facts. This game caught my daughter’s attention as players can choose the monster icon they wish to play with and she thought they were cute. The only issue with this game is that your child is given a certain amount of time to select the right answer and move his or her monster, and this time gets progressively shorter! At times it is nearly impossible to get the monster to the correct position before time runs out. This can be frustrating for the kids who are playing, especially if math isn’t one of their preferred activities.

Slime Climb Multiples: Players must move their slime monster up the wall, popping bubbles that contain the correct number multiples. This is another game that both my kids (10 and 7) were interested in, as they found the graphics to be more interesting. However, the game play itself was very difficult. We discovered that even if your child locates the right answer, controlling the slime monster itself can be tricky and frustrating.

What we liked: We liked the fact that there are five games to choose from and that each one focuses on a different skill and we also liked that the graphics and game play is varied from game to game.

What we didn’t like: My daughter did not like the fact that there is no point system or other kind of reward for successfully completing rounds. This made the games seem repetitive and she lost interest quickly. As the name “Mathical” implies that there might be some magical or mythical elements to the game, this app could have been made more interesting if children could earn new monsters and other “magical” characters as they progress.

Operation Math™ Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on January 20th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Operation Math is an interesting and fun math app for iPad with a fun spy theme that will keep kids engaged.

Kids will enjoy foiling Dr. Odd as he tries to eliminate even numbers from the world as here, the player is a dapper spy much akin to 007 in this dynamic iPad app. Families will appreciate how the games of three players can be kept separate, a nice touch for households or small groups of students.

I really like these missions, as players are briefed by expert narration that explains the task at hand that needs to be completed, as various famous locations are included, photo and all, adding to the richness of this experience.

Over one hundred missions are included, with increasing degrees of difficulty, but the game play remains the same and is easy to learn as math problems are shown across security doors that open with a correct answer. One has 60 seconds to complete each mission, adding to the excitement created here, with the additional elements of collecting different uniforms and gear that keeps this math app interesting and nicely goal-oriented.

Do practice on the included training levels which are also included, and note that children's progress at this sometimes challenging app is also being recorded.

I really appreciated the 15 different locations based on real landmarks and geographical areas that are tracked on the included map. These images, details, wonderful narration and music really keep the game fun, engaging and suspenseful, making this a desirable app for grade school kids to come back to again and again.

The style of this app is simply wonderful, but I am embarrassed to admit that I was not able to get past the last addition level and have had problem passing other levels in the subtraction, multiplication and division that include double digit mathematics - not from a lack of mathematical ability - but from a lack of time.

This app is terrific to get kids to memorize their multiplication tables as this is something children are expected to learn in grade school, but I simply found 60 seconds not enough time to perform some of these series of more complex math problems.

I do not know if the intention here is to help kids memorize past the basics, as it seems there is no time for any other method of problem solving, but to quote Albert Einstein “Never memorize what you can look up in books” or more to my point, don’t spend brain power memorizing what one can figure out by simply doing the math, something I felt necessary to do as I did not have the time to stop and think, let alone do any sort of math in my head.

Honestly frustrated that I hit a wall that I could not pass, be it the last level of addition, I handed this app off to my husband, who is not only good at math but who has also finely developed gamer reflexes for some help, and he got just as stuck, even more frustrated than I.

Personally, I don’t understand the practical application of having do to math so quickly in one’s head, as there is no time to work these problems out on scrap paper, a prerequisite for me to feel comfortable in many mathematical situations or even count on one’s fingers - something looked at as was highly desirable by my favorite math teacher as something that should be encouraged and never looked down upon. Even tricks I use to add quickly in my head were not possible as there is simply no time to do so.

As I re-read this review, It concerns me that I may sound bitter, sulking over not being able to fully succeed at a children’s game, as there is some truth to this statement being that I never got to get as far as I wanted in this game for both review purposes as well as to be able to obtain the super-cool uniforms and gear I was looking forward to.

Out of frustration, it sometimes feels like this app does not reward attention and focus that will be needed in math when the problems get harder.

It is very possible that kids from this generation will have no problem with the speed of this app - that my husband and I are just getting old and not as sharp or fast as we were years ago, and that the use of technology that kids are now exposed to has pre-disposed them to do well under such timed activities in ways I still can't comprehend.

This may be true, but in the future, I would love to see this app contain a Parents section explaining all the aspects of this app, as although the look of this app is quite appealing, I found the navigation here to be a little cumbersome and less than intuitive, as I did not find the addition and multiplication quick reference tables that may have helped my speed within this game.

I would also be overwhelmingly happy if here, parents could choose to add seconds to the base time given for each level if their children feel stuck. I think these levels should be challenging and that it is ok to have to go back and repeat if one needs to, but there may be a time when kids need extra time to be able to succeed, making them able and willing to continue.

It would also be nice to choose to have the time be less of a factor, but still penalized for wrong answers in terms of losing seconds, thus encouraging the correct answer the first time around.

It would also be great if a female spy was also included, as math is unfortunately often though of as a "boy" subject, and the inclusion of a woman who also needs to gather uniforms and gear may really speak to girls who will also enjoy this challenging math app.

I do like very much the the concept of this spy needing to open these doors quickly before time runs out very much and I am not looking to alter this gameplay, but I think that adding the right additional amount of time here could make this math app still challenging for children, just right for various abilities in terms of speed, as my husband said that even five more seconds would have made a difference in being able to complete the final math level.

From the overwhelming positive reviews on iTunes, it is obvious that I am in the minority for having had such issues of trying to beat this 60 second clock. I do love the spy theme, the wonderfully stylized visuals, effective narration and wonderful use of music.

I do recommend this app for children who are speedy at things, as I would never want to get into a typing contest with a kid born in the age of heavy texting, and I think this would be a an especially great choice for gamer children uninterested in studying math in conventional ways.

Parents of younger children should also check out the other apps the developers at Spinlight Studios, as their Alphatots™ and Tallytots™ apps are still huge hits with my son who is now four, and have been for a long time now.

Counting Caterpillar Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 12th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Counting Caterpillar is a fun and engaging universal counting app that kids will enjoy.

Simple to understand, one feeds this tree climbing caterpillar aphids caught in correct order from 1 - 100. This can be done by groups of ten in the easy section, or challenge oneself in counting in intervals of 2, 5, or 10. There is also a difficult section that randomizes the counting method and number that one starts from.

Although receptive in nature, the look of this app is marvelous with many terrific details and dynamic visual styling, as nothing is flat-looking within this app. The tree the caterpillar climbs has a wonderful texture and shading which adds beauty to the bark of this tree, and I also love the green leaves in the background, adding richness and depth to this app. The caterpillar is adorable, smiling and attractive with a great colored body with subtle batik notes that add to the visual interest.

The butterflies found within this app are beautiful as well, full of interesting color combinations and unique batik-like details reminiscent of the work of Eric Carle, combined with computer-generated images that create a pleasant 3-D effect as these butterflies flap their wings, looking as if they are floating slightly off the page.

My son really enjoys this application, with its quick pace and wonderful artwork. At first, he complained that the speed was too fast, as the aphids fly around the screen and the caterpillar never stops moving. With some practice, though, my son has quickly become a regular user of this app on the pursuit of collecting more butterflies - something that is accomplished regularly as one continues to play.

I appreciate how the butterflies are saved from one encounter to the next, and I like that one can choose to use a hint, that being the correct aphid number colored orange, standing out against the other green bugs seen on the screen.

Upbeat, enjoyable music is used as here, and friendly narration speaks each number as the caterpillar is fed, growing longer as the numbers just ingested become new parts of the caterpillar's body, further adding to the visual style and number sequencing.

I do wish, however, that one had a chance to choose from what number to start from, as my son has enjoyed this app often when he has just a few minutes in which I need him to be distracted.

Because of this, he has counted to 20 or 30 often, also spending time admiring his hoard of butterflies or checking out the other levels - something that I do not begrudge him, but it would be nice for him to start the count at 50, giving him a chance to spend time sequencing the upper half of 100 as well.

It would also be nice that while this app is open, one did not have to start back at one to ten when venturing back to the easy mode after having traveled to another section for a time. This honestly does not bother my son as he is mainly in it to gain more butterflies, but I wish he could keep go back and continue counting higher and higher, even after going back from changing levels.

This app does not only challenge children’s ability to count from 1 to 100 but also gives both fine motor skills and one’s ability to focus amidst the moving creatures found in this app a workout, possibly making this a good choice for special needs children as well.

I am impressed with the rich textures, colors and depth found within Counting Caterpillar. If interested, do look also at Shape-O ABC app from the developers at Bellamon which has a similar use of visual style, to be reviewed here soon at GiggleApps.

TableTots™ Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 6th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

TableTots is a very interesting app for adults designed to create endless activities for children to work on that teach a wide array of basics.

Twelve table-top surfaces are offered, each creating a template which makes it easy to create activities around the included things, shapes, letters, colors and numbers provided. Some “quick sets” have already been created, simplifying the adding of elements to the table that one may be looking to include, and some scenes are also set up and ready to go - a nice inclusion for adults new to this application.

To use this application, it is recommended that the table tab first be opened in order to see the template selection and go from there, but I find it easier to explore the options provided, letting the selection items and concepts that one can teach spark my creativity. From there, after I have some idea of the game or exercise I would like to create, I look at the possible table choices in order to decide what template best represents the game activity I am trying to design.

It is nice that for each of these basic sections, quick sets and scenes of pre-fabricated templates and included items are included, aiding in the set up of activities, which also give adults ideas on how to use this interesting teaching tool. This app really becomes creative when the adult begins to mix and match these items together, such as numbers along with coins, base number blocks, or multiple objects.

I like how in this app’s settings, one can choose both letter names as well as phonic sounds, and it is nice that one can change the color of these table tops as well, and a curtain can be added to these tables that can be pulled back and forth - a nice inclusion to create fun memory-style games where children are given a few seconds to look over the screen before the curtain is pulled back, and they are then quizzed about what they can remember.

The look of this app is bright with bold color choices used throughout the letters and numbers, and it is nice that adults have some pleasant moments of color sections to personalize the look of this app. I especially enjoy the look of the coins, as the front and back of each is thoughtfully offered.

Objects is an interesting section that includes 26 familiar items that correspond to the letters of the alphabet, a number section that includes base counting with the use of counting red blocks grouped into 1, 10, 100, and 1000 counts to use within a money-counting exercise, as well as dominos to teach basic counting, using these dominos as visual cues.

Scenes included here are a money-counting exercise where the player drags a coin to the other side of the table as the type of each coin is narrated. Base 10 Counting allows kids to drag different sized blocks of different amounts of one hundred, ten, or one to help visualize these quantities as the amount of blocks is spoken. The Domino Math exercise allows children to fill in the blanks of an addition question with the use of the included dominos, and Things Matchup allows children to match each item with its corresponding letter as well as hearing each object’s name nicely narrated when tapped.

In Shapes, geometric shapes are taught, and I am happy to say that some less common shapes are included, such as quatrefoil, crescent and curvilinear triangle. These shapes can be offered as a series of single colors, or a variety of colors can also be used at once. A shape-sorting puzzle of sorts is included as well as an exercise involving the placement of colors correctly on the color wheel - my favorite mode in the shapes sections.

In the letters section, each letter is represented with both upper and lower choices, including a quick set of these letters, be it just vowels or every letter, with an adult choosing to focus on upper or lower cases. Other scenes also include practicing to spell three and four-letter words as well as matching upper and lower case letters together.

The math section allows adults to add numbers 1-100 to anywhere on the page, as well as other math and related symbols such as “+,” “$,” or “<." Quick sets offered here include counting by 1, then 2’s, 5’s, or 10’s and also include a basic math scene where one drags numbers and functions into a math problem as well as counting from one to twenty as one arranges these numbers in order with a checkerboard-styled template.

The possibilities are endless here, and I am sure this would be a go-to app for many parents, teachers, and therapists who work with kids and need to create personalized activities for children, all neatly found within this app.

My son loves Spinlight Studio’s other apps including AlphaTots and TallyTots and made a beeline for this app, recognizing their iconic airplane logo on our iPad but did not know what to make of this app. Neither did my husband at first glance. This is in no way a flaw with this wonderfully educational application, but it may be worth noting that to get full use from this application, adults will need to spend some time alone exploring what this app has to offer before sharing with the children in their lives.

If one it looking to simply download an app to share immediately with an impatient child by his side, AlphaTots or TallyTots may be better choices for this moment.

I am impressed by what a creative adult mind could come up with to entertain and teach children both with special needs as well as those typically developed. I like how narration is included saying the name, number, or letter of the item being tapped, and it is great how a “quick reward” button can be included because a tap here will send an airplane and flag image across the screen, reminiscent of their other educational apps.

I do, However, find it difficult to re-create the whimsy of the other apps in this series. I like how there is a satisfying click sound when a domino is moved, but I miss the “click" and "grab” sounds and reactions found among our favorite puzzle apps, something not included with the shape-sorting game as here, these pieces are not easy to line up into the included template as simple finger movements push the objects around just enough that accuracy within these puzzles becomes an issue.

This app will prove to be an invaluable teaching resource to both parents, teachers and other adults. I can see this app becoming popular among home-schooling families in particular and a huge hit with kids, especially those without tremendous experience with other applications. I do think that kids exposed to highly interactive and thematic apps may be less impressed by the game play found among the activities created here by their adults compared to other favorite apps, but what can be produced here will ultimately be more engaging that the worksheets this app could replace. This app did take some time to get into. Nevertheless, a tremendous educational potential is included here. Do take the time to explore this app and see what is being offered. Those who do so will not be disappointed.

Fashion Math Pro

Posted by Sarah Reidy on November 30th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

When my daughter found out that an expectation of being in the 4th grade was that she would have to memorize her multiplication tables, she said to me, “But mom, I don’t know how to memorize!” I explained to her that all of her learning up to this point has required some form of memorization, just never quite in this way. “Once you learn them, you will never forget,” I told her. I, too memorized my multiplication tables in the 4th grade and you know what? I still remember them as clear as day. Looking for something to boost her confidence, I ran for my iPod.

My daughter likes dress-up games, so I was immediately intrigued by the Fashion Math Pro app, by Jon Hoffman. As I learned my “times tables” with flashcards, I liked the flashcard-like style of this math app. You can personalize the preferences for your child by choosing the type of equation (addition, subtraction, multiplication or division) as well as choosing what numbers you would like included in the equations (1 through 99). As my daughter is working on multiplying numbers up to 12, I am able to customize it for her needs.

How it works:

In each round, your child will be given math problems to solve and will earn credits for each answer they get right. They can then use these credits to purchase clothing and accessories from the virtual store, which keeps them motivated. The thing I like the best about this game is that when your child gets a problem right, they hear clapping and cheering or a magic wand type of sound. When they get an answer wrong, they hear one of several silly sound effects, like a buzzer or the sound of breaking glass (but nothing too terrible).

I have found Fashion Math Pro to be a very effective learning tool. When my daughter first started playing, she was getting less than half correct in each round. Now she is getting nearly all correct, up to the number 6. When she has mastered that, I will increase the numbers to 7,8,9, etc. The trickier the problem, the more credits she earns. The faster she solves the equation, the more points she earns as well.

My daughter says, “It is educational because you are learning your math facts. Plus you can earn credits for stuff, so it’s fun, too. The clothes and accessories are cute, so it’s a really good game.” All in all, I am very pleased with Fashion Math Pro and my daughter is too, giving it a two-thumbs up.

Eddy’s Number Party! HD Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 22nd, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Eddy’s Number Party! HD is a fun and engaging iPad application which teaches beginning math concepts such as counting and number matching as well as sharpening children’s memory and listening skills.

Help celebrate Eddy the Dog’s birthday by inviting his friends and supplying the party with presents, balloons and other decorations as each section of this app completed brings young players one step closer to throwing a wonderful party for their friends.

My son really enjoys this app. He was instantly engaged the moment he began playing this game as he loves the idea of helping put on a dogcentric birthday party. The basic look of this app is wonderful, bight and colorful. The quality of the animation used here is quite high and work seamlessly with the included interactions.

A variety of math activities are included, such as in level one where players count balloons, matching this number to the dog wearing the correct number on its collar. Level two has players match the number found on a collar to the number on a present to take to the party. Correctly select, pull down and let go as the package sits on a catapult of sorts and will be hurled over the fence to a dog waiting to catch this gift to bring to the party. This is my son's favorite area of this app as he really enjoys watching the spring being pulled back as he prepares to send this present over the fence, having compared this section to the gameplay in the app Angry Birds. To an adult, this correlation may be slim, but I appreciate where my son is coming from in his comparison.

Level 3 consists of players matching bugs or caterpillars both with corresponding number as well as the same amount of dots. Later, this game is played "memory” style as the number values are face down, and one must remember where the corresponding number and leaves with the same amount of dots can be found in the interest of making matches. Be it helping the bugs bring flowers to the party, or finding hidden presents under the leaves in the “memory" style game, it is nice that these sections have children playing against a snail who could win these rounds if the answers are incorrect too many times, but if this happens, children will simply be given the chance to re-play these games later.

Throughout these levels, shorter mini-games are used to break up these activities, such as “Hat Swap,” a variety of three card monty, as one looks for the ladybug hiding under a party hat as the hats move about the screen, as well as “Bark counting,” where a dog who has lost her collar tells players what number she is missing by listening to and counting her barks. I like how here, when the correct collar is chosen, this friendly dog thanks the player by coming close to the screen of the iPad and presumably the player as well, a nice touch. “Finger Counting” is also included where one must match the correct number to the number of fingers the dog is holding up to get back this dog’s collar as well. Stickers are also used through this game to keep kids motivated.

Adults will appreciate the lengthy section just for them that goes over the different levels of this app, and reports on how well the player is progressing through these sections and how to reinforce what is being learned in everyday life. Information on cognitive development and neuroscience research is also included as it pertains to this app in this thoughtfully written section.

There is a lot I really like about this app, but both my husband and I think it takes forever to progress throughout these levels, although my son does not complain about this. These activities, although cute, charming and fun, become monotonous for us adults as the same tasks are focused on over and over again well beyond the point of simply trying to keep kids' attention. I encourage the developers to let parents decide how many rounds of the same game need to be finished before moving on. It is great that one can pick up from where this app was previously left off, but it would be wonderful to have the information of multiple players saved so this app could be enjoyed by different children in different stages of this application, and I think some kids may want the option off choosing specific games as well.

Even without these changes made, my son loves playing with Eddy’s Number Party. The level of difficulty is perfect for my first year pre-schooler who is already expressing an aptitude in math, and we love the friendly narration which nicely explains and will later prompt children if help is needed how to play these levels, making this app very intuitive for young players without needing help from adults. I think kids will really enjoy this app. Parents will feel good about the obvious educational content provided, but it would be nice to be able to possibly choose what sections to explore and how long these levels last before moving on to other actives.

Toca Store Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 20th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Toca Store is another fabulously creative, open-ended digital game - here a universal app for both iPad and iPhone.

Toca Store transforms one’s device into a department store where kids can take turns playing both shopkeeper as well as patron. This app opens up to a store before the doors open, giving kids the chance to peruse a catalogue of product choices that they can sell in their store, that range from food stuff - both fresh produce as well as packaged foods, home goods like a hair dryer or fabric softener, and a nice selection of toys. I also enjoy seeing a few crossover items from other apps, such as a robot from robot lab, carrot cake mix from the tea shop, and Toca Tees for sale, complete with their iconic logo, as well as others. It is also nice that the last page of this catalogue has some empty spaces available - room, I hope, for additional items in a future update.

It is nice that five items are sold at once, neatly arranged in baskets of different shapes and colors which liven up this storefront a bit. Once everything has been selected, a screen pops up, prompting one to invite a customer to store, also demonstrating that the best position of the device for game play is between the two players who face each other.

Now the shopper has a chance to decide what he would like to purchase, tapping and dragging an item onto the mat by the cash register, as a silhouette of the chosen object is also shown, guiding the customer where to place the item.

Next, the shop owner decides how much he is going to charge for the chosen item and rings it up on the cash register, with the numbers 1-5 being options. It may be helpful to know that the shopper has 10 coins in his purse to spend, allowing one to shop for 2 to 10 items depending how the money is split among purchases. After the cost has been determined, the shopper is prompted to open his purse with a tap and pay by tapping and dragging the said amount to a pop-open drawer on the register that nicely highlights the number of coins being asked for. The purchase is complete as the grocer taps a button which allows that sale to be added to the receipt, and the purchase is then added to the customer’s re-usable shopping tote. This process is repeated until the customer has emptied his purse of the 10 coins, but if he needs a few extra to complete the last purchase, this is also taken care of as the purse magically will refill with more money to cover the cost. The receipt, which has been keeping a tally of purchases made, is torn and offered to the shopper where he can see exactly where the money went, itemized nicely.

As one can tell, this is a wonderfully open-ended game that is best suited for two players, but don’t tell my son this as he is happy to play with an adult as much as with an animal friend, giving him the responsibilities of both the shopkeeper and the customer.

This digital toy is especially nice for socialization by getting the players to converse together. Even their famed Tea Party app, another personal favorite of ours, which I have only good things to say about, can be used by less social children as a parallel play toy because it is possible to eat and drink side-by-side without much interaction if one chooses. Here, the players really must work together with a lot of give and take, as the prompts guide the players through this toy that has a nice level of routine.

Any child pre-school age and older, along with the adults in their lives will enjoy this app, but based on the social nature of this application, I think it is an especially important tool for special needs kids, as it not only compels conversation and teamwork also but some real world sequencing - important concepts that may not come naturally to all children. I think this is also a great game to work on counting skills as well as to discuss the management of money, as the purse has only 10 coins to spend, but also includes the added whimsy of the purse re-filling if more money is needed. The conversation of virtual allowance can be worked into game play by parents if they so wish.

My son, husband, and I all really enjoy this app, sometimes calling it a prelude to the Tea Party app as well, as one can purchase carrot cake mix to make the carrot cake that we love to serve and eat while playing tea party. Toca Store suits my son’s likes especially well as he has played this game in real life for countless hours with play food and a toy cash register, and although not meant to take the place of playing with tangible toys, this app nicely provides much the same experience without the endless numbers pieces of play food that clutter our house and which are not always put away in a timely fashion. This app is great to play in bed before sleep as well with no mess to clean and no risk of turning over onto a piece of wooden watermelon later that night. This app would be a great choice for travel as well, both on long car trips as well as simple waits such as in restaurants or doctors' offices.

Like with the other Toca Boca apps, fun, ambient sounds are used throughout to capture the sounds of a store, from the simple sounds outside that filter their way in when the door opens for the shopper to the specific sounds used to illustrate the handling of store products, be it metallic or glass-sounding, or a more thuddy tone of a sack of bananas being rung up. It is also fun how some of these items have a variety to choose from, such as different flavors of jam, colors of toothbrushes, or colors of dinosaurs or doll styles, as a player can rummage through these baskets for the specific item one is looking for. I also really like the receipt one is given at the end of the shopping trip, complete with the cute details of which color of an item was chosen from the selection, as well as how much was paid for each object, all of which may add up to 10 or more if the purse had to add some coins to help make the last purchase - an element that makes my son smile, as the gift of more coins has some nice fanfare of confetti, and a wink from the purse herself. Music is also played - a delightfully appropriate muzak-like soft jazzy sound that works in this store setting as well as being pleasant to listen to while playing. It is also nice to know that these sounds can be turned off if one chooses to as well.

Kids will also enjoy the other whimsical details Toca Boca is well known for. Here, the purse, shopping tote and register have faces that blink and make cute expressions both as encouragement as well as prompts which lead kids through game play. Children will also find especially interesting how the face is recognizable from both players' point-of-view as seen on the cash register that also changes expressions correlating to specific gameplay. Parents will enjoy how this app allows kids to experience two separate but related experiences as kids turn around the device, taking turns doing both shopping and selling.

It is worth explaining that while playing this app on the iPad, the baskets one can shop from are arranged together on one main page whereas on the iPhone, the baskets are scrolled through as though they are on a conveyer, complete with subtle mechanical noises. Because of this difference, the images do not look small on the iPhone but in fact work quite well within the smaller screen. Given two equally pleasant toy experiences unique to the different devices may explain the slightly higher cost of this app at full price, but in my opinion, this app is well worth it. Do also take the time to read the “Letter from the play designer” found in the Parents section, as this link located at top left of the title page offers ways of making this app a great educational experience.

My only wish is that one could look inside the purse without actively spending money in case the players want to work together on spending only the 10 coins offered without needing to be given extra.

I have yet not to be super-impressed with the selection of brilliant Toca Boca apps so far. Hearing about a new release is a big happening in my family, and we can’t wait for more good news to come.

Meteor Math Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 18th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Meteor Math is a great universal math game that expertly adds an arcade feel which will keeps kids engaged as they learn basic mathematics.

The premise of this app is simple. The player here is given a number and then must collide meteors together that each have a number value of its own that combined will create the sum in question. This can be done by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing these meteors - depending on what is being asked of the player.

The look of this app will appeal to arcade- enthusiastic children nicely, as this app opens up with a view of the night’s sky, presumably looking through the radar screen of a space ship or the like, based on the subtle grid also seen that quivers as these meteors collide. As the player progresses and “levels up,” the sky gets lighter and lighter, showing various stages of a beautiful sunrise through clouds. The speed of this game will be enjoyed by kids who are into arcade- style games as at times it can get pretty intense, but not in a frustrating way, an aspect that is supported by the included music, as it is upbeat and contains the right level of intensity without making the player feel overwhelmed or overly rushed.

As stated before, this app includes addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division and each concept can be chosen to be practiced one-by-one in the “practice” or “compete” sections, or randomly in “survival” mode.

Both time and wrong answers are factors in whether one will “level up” or “level down,” and I do wish that more information about this were offered. I am sure that real gamer kids will understand what is going on more easily that I do or other children who are not as used to this type of game, but I did find myself asking a lot of questions in the beginning of playing this app, such as the difference between “complete” and “survival” sections or what to do if I tap the wrong number and then change my mind (tap again to de-select). Many of the answers I was looking were solved through trial and error, but as a parent, I would like to be able to answer my child’s questions since not being able to tends to frustrate both of us.

I do think this is a great game for kids, especially those who would rather play video games than study math as I don’t think this game condescends to young arcade enthusiasts. I wonder sometimes if a child new to math and in need of studying the basics would find the speed at times difficult, but I think I may be underestimating the abilities of young grade school children, especially those who are already used to speedy gameplay.

This app may not only benefit those who are studying beginner math, but those who are into more advanced math as well, such as long multiplication or division, because being truly comfortable with the basics can make the more time-consuming problems with a lot of columns a little less grueling.

My old sophomore math teacher would not like me saying this, but from the way I see it, all of math no matter how advanced still has a foundation in the most basic of mathematics, as I was one who never showed the “appropriate” work for him as I got my answers using basic adding and subtracting and not “algebraically,” although my answers were consistently correct. My favorite retort was that all a computer does is add and subtract zeros and ones.

Although parents may not directly buy this app for their older kids in middle school and high school, I think there is something to be said for any age group - even adults - working with this app and strengthening their math foundations, as all math is based on these fundamentals.

I found it interesting that in addition or multiplication, either number can be added or multiplied by first for the same outcome, but the same cannot be said for subtraction as one may venture into negative number territory if one arbitrarily subtracts one number into another and chaos can ensue if one does not focus on what specific number will be divided into the other. In this app, in the interest of simplification, the number order in question does not make a difference and 8÷2 as well as 2÷8 will be correct for when the answer in question is “4."

It would be a very nice inclusion for a later update to give players the choice of this more simplified style of math, or if the incorrect number for a given math problem is tapped first is counted an an mistake, adding to further study of math in a way that will make a difference when they work with math in school and beyond, and it would also be interesting if one could combine more than one meteor to equal the sum, such as 1+2+2=5, possibly for more points and bigger explosions.

During game play, I also had a few unresponsive moments where tapping a meter did not select it for collision, a minor note as it did not happen often but did occur, sometime at inopportune moments. I hope this can be looked at in an update. It would also be nice if a “relax” or “beginner” mode could be added, slowing down the action for those who enjoy this concept but don’t like the timed element, be it child or adult.

All-in-all, I do think this is a great choice for children who would rather play video games than work on math as this is a game both children and adults will feel good about. I will be saving this app for my son for when he is older, as I am sure he will enjoy this app when he is ready to play it, and I am happy that he will be studying math this way as well.

Love to Count by Pirate Trio Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 14th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Love to Count by Pirate Trio is a really cute and super-fun universal math app that my son really enjoys.

Love to Count by Pirate Trio has a fun pirate theme that grabbed my son's attention right off the bat as he found this app himself, looking within my folder of apps to be reviewed. Seeing the image of a boy wearing a pirate hat had him asking to play this game with great enthusiasm.

This app boasts 700 math tasks, and I really appreciate how addictive this app is to my son, as he answers these questions and goes on to the next page again and again, engrossed in play, but also realizing that he is practicing mathematics. It is also nice that more than one child can use this app without altering one's data, as parents can keep tabs on children's progress here if they so wish. A reward system is also included where kids can ultimately chose a virtual prize for their hard work and correct answers.

The look of this app is very cute indeed, with bright colors and settings such as a pirate ship, beach front, and ocean, all keeping within this pirate theme. This app is very interactive, asking children to do anything from basic counting and subtracting, to the concepts of fractions by having the player choose food stuff like an orange or watermelon that can be shared among a specific number of children, or by evening out a scale with the correct use of weights.

Many math games allow the player to just tap the correct answer from multiple choices at the bottom of the screen, and some of these questions involving basic addition work this way as well, but this app also allows for a more immersive experience that keeps my son coming back for more. Be it dragging stars onto a fish's back, adding weights to a scale in the interest of balancing, or sequencing dominos correctly, there is a lot of interactivity that is not seem in many apps such as this.

I think it is nice that although my boy can answer many of these questions correctly on his own, he needs some help with others as some of these concepts are new to him, such as "second-from-the-right," as he is looking for a specific child or object to tap, and we have begun to work on the correct placement of the numbers missing from an analogue clock as well.

It is a good choice that for more sophisticated questions, children must tap a “done” button, giving them time to work out the correct answer without worry that the first answer they may touch is used as the final answer, i.e., such as working to even out a scale with the use of weights. I like that players can try again at their own speed to find the correct answer, but a hint button may also be nice for when kids are stuck on a section more involved that a multiple choice question that could be answered by the process of elimination.

As of now, these mini-games are random within this app, which I think my son finds exciting, but I think that it would be nice to select a specific section like addition or subtraction, or by skill level as this app ranges from basic number sequencing to more challenging concepts like fractions, and I can see some kids wanting to focus on the more advanced questions - or not - depending on math ability.

So far, my son has shown an early affinity for math, and I do give credit to the early use of educational apps such as this. If one is looking for a really cute and fun app to teach about mathematics, or simply have a child who loves pirates, this would be a very nice choice.

100 Butterflies Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 18th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

100 Butterflies is a very nice universal application which focuses on number recognition from 1 to 100 with a lovely butterfly theme.

I enjoy the very simple premise that this app has to offer, as this app opens up to a tree filled with sleeping caterpillars who each awake with a tap, becoming a beautiful butterfly and flying away, having first been labeled with a specific number that is also narrated. The tree is arranged with five butterflies per side, and after every ten butterflies are tapped, one travels up the tree until the goal of 100 is reached.

Two modes are included here - a “Free Play” section and "Quest Mode." In free play, any cocoon can be tapped to see and hear the number being counted throughout this series of numbers, whereas in Quest Mode, each caterpillar is numbered, and one needs to find the correct sequence of these numbers from 1 to 100.

I really like this fun, simple app. I have used a lot of apps that deal with number recognition both for my son and for review purposes, and have noticed that they commonly go up to the number 10. My son can easily count to the mid 40’s on his own before he becomes distracted and moves on to something else, so I really like the recognition of higher numbers being
re-enforced within this app.

Of note about this app is how pretty it is, with soft pastels filling the page and charming caterpillars which transform into beautiful butterflies that take off and fly away. I also like how the background used throughout slowly changes as the numbers progress between daytime and night, with nice details found in the sky as well, making this a very attractive app to look
at. I appreciate how this app opens with a fun fact about butterflies - something I would love to hear more of, but I can see how additional narration could distract from the counting.

This app will be enjoyed by children up through preschool or any age where children are still learning how to count to 100, but I think that this would make an especially nice first app for the youngest players as well who are just learning how to tap a touch screen. For these players, the free play mode would be a perfect way to immerse themselves in number learning, and it is nice that children can grow into the use of “Quest Mode” as well.

I really like the fact that many developers these days are making their apps universal. It is worth pointing out that here I have noticed that the numbers on the chests of these butterflies look a little small when on the iPhone, but I have not heard any complaints from my son, who enjoyed this app.

All-in-all, a very nice counting experience from 100 Butterflies. I am glad to see an application that takes on the teaching of numbers past 10.

Zachy the Robot - Episode 1: The Leaning Tower of Robocity Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 13th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Zachy the Robot - Episode 1: The Leaning Tower of Robocity is an excellent universal interactive educational app that combines very well-done cartoon sections with interactive areas that nicely explain basic engineering concepts to children 3-7 years.

This wonderful app takes place in Robocity where boy robot, Zachy, his sister Nikki, and their friends have the task of fixing things that break in the city around them. The app expertly infuses S.T.E.M concepts (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) into this interactive cartoon, here specifically engineering - fixing things as they break, such as a lamppost
that is tipping to one side or a building that is also leaning, giving the player choices on what supports are needed to steady these structures.

I really appreciate how varied the support choices are, such as a triangle or circular support, as well as other choices that are too small or just right. The best part about these interactive sections is that the wrong choices are able to be played out and to see how these choices would effect the structure using the appropriate gravity and physics. The wrong answers
are explained very thoughtfully in a way that kids will comprehend - a very important feature as many times a person learns more from his mistakes than from correct answers, which are also nicely explained. I am very impressed by the ability of this app to explain these engineering concepts in such an articulate fashion.

It is also good how the tasks at hand are also varied in term of problems to solve. Later, after the small job of fixing a lamp pole is complete, the gang must tackle a larger problem of a building on the verge of collapse, and photos of real landmarks like the pyramids or the Eiffel Tower are used to learn some other basic engineering concepts about building structures, like how the bottom of the structure is wider at the base than at the top. There is also a great lesson to be learned when a robot stretches himself high in order to support the building in question and he himself needs some supports as stretching makes him prone to toppling over as well.

Not only is this app educational, but the cartoon section is excellent as well, reminding me of the best programming PBS has to offer - high praise to be sure. The animation is excellent and colors used are very bright and engaging, as are the narration and music that are used. Of note is the use of five fingers per hand on these robots - something not commonly seen in animation, a detail that stands out, adding to the richness that make these robots seem utterly human and relatable.

I really like how the interactive sections and the photos used of real structures have a subtle windowpane pattern, reminiscent of grid paper used in drafting which can be faintly seen, all the better to see which end of a building is wider, or the tipping of a structure - a very nice touch.

If you ask an engineer what toys they had growing up that had encouraged an interest in science later in life, a typical answer may be erector set or a working gears toy. I think this application can be added to the list of activities that can create an invaluable appreciation in science and engineering. I am very excited to share this app with my son, and I can’t want for the other chapters of Zachy the Robot to come out as well, focusing on other S.T.E.M subjects.