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Snowflake Station Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 9th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Snowflake Station in a wonderful craft application for iPad that allows children to cut their own paper snowflakes, teaching the concept of symmetry and other skills along the way.

I have always been a huge fan of paper-cut art since I was old enough to pick up a scissors. My love for paper cutting stems, I am sure, from my lack of ability to draw representationally. Yet here, few cuts to a correctly folded paper ever look mistaken, creating an art form that children and adults who lack certain foundation skills in drawing can fully own themselves.

For me, the process of folding and cutting has been more important than the snowflake or other decorative shapes produced, and I have never been a fan of the cleanup associated with paper-cut art. Because of this, I have really been enjoying Snowflake Station which allows children to work in two basic modes - Workshop, where one traces over lines of dots, creating cuts in the paper or Creation Station - where players work freehand to make their own designs.

Workshop includes an impressive amount of templates that one traces with a finger to create snowflakes in a variety of shapes and levels of intricateness. This would be a wonderful app for those just learning how to connect the dots or for children new to scissors and are able to understand the concept of paper cutting but whose fine motor skills are simply not adequately developed to control scissors well enough to make their own designs just yet - such as my son at four years of age.

It is also a nice touch that the dotted lines one traces fade away, leaving one to to remember the basic line one is cutting in the more sophisticated levels, adding a nice element of memorization as well as pointing out how symmetrical images have been created along the way - a wonderful way to teach this important concept.

My favorite section, however, is the Creation Workshop which allows users to choose a style of folded paper, from the simple folded square sheet folded twice, creating four symmetrical panels, to the more delicate octagonal-shaped snowflakes that, when unfolded, reveal 16 equal sides cut into innumerable possibilities.

The cutting of these snowflakes is nice and intuitive as one drags a finger over the folded paper to cut shapes.

It is worth mentioning that most children are used to using scissors during this activity, but this experience is a little different, allowing easy access to the center of these shapes - something not easy to achieve with a scissors as extra folds would be needed to reach the areas not directly touching an edge of the paper. It is as if here, a knife is being used to cut away shapes that can easily fit into any area one wants to cut - be it the center or sides of the folded paper.

Another interesting element found within this app is the fact that when working with scissors, if one cuts the corner of the paper with a single cut, one would expect the corner to fall away, but here one can fully cut through the page and the cut marks will become negative space without the use of gravity removing the effected pieces, adding to the details one can create with ease. To fully cut away pieces, be sure to lasso the piece in question to remove it completely from the page.

I love the inclusion of an undo button styled like a tape dispenser which allows children to fix mistakes they may have made - wonderful for beginner artists new to making paper art.

I also especially enjoy the use of a preview button shaped like an eye that allows children a sneak peak at their creation - intriguing as it is not really possible to unfold and refold to real paper as the lines would never line up in a way that would allow for re-cutting, making this sneak peak interesting and fun.

Watching the paper slowly unfold is always a magical time be it with real paper or within this app. I especially enjoy how this app demonstrates this as the symmetry created is really showcased - a great lesson that is important to understand as the basis of math, touched upon in more detail within the Workshop section.

Another element hard to re-create with paper is the chance to include eight folds, as the paper gets awfully thick and uneven, especially with the basic paper found around one’s home. Because of this, I am really enjoying working on the selections involving eight paper folds, creating 16 uniform surfaces that I have been excising with use of a stylus, creating details so minute that in real life, the paper one is working on would become so fragile that it would fall apart in one’s hands.

Children will also love the choice of colored paper and glitter to use before or after their creations are cut - nice touches to be sure, as is the ability to change these colors over and over again, experimenting with different shades of paper combined with glitter hues.

I like that saving one’s snowflakes to a gallery is possible as is framing these images against a selection of lovely natural landscapes such as trees during a snowfall.

I prefer, however, the setting to create little snowflakes that then fall from the sky using one’s landscape choice as the background.

Other backdrops include the default choice, which is very nice in its own right - that of a natural wood grain which keeps the focal point of the snowflake itself - or a photo of the players choosing from either the iPad’s camera roll or by taking a new photo.

I really appreciate how a shadow is included within the framing of these snowflakes, adding a very nice realistic detail that I greatly enjoy, as I do the ability to make changes to snowflakes kept in the gallery if one chooses to do so.

Music is included that is easy to listen to that can be muted if one chooses, making this app a wonderful quiet activity. I also like that the included narration offering compliments and encouragement can be turned off as well independently of the music - a nice touch.

I have really enjoyed this application, creating my own snowflakes as well as the tutorials that have taught me new shapes that can be cut into paper art. I have quite the gallery of my own work and will continue to make more snowflakes in the future.

I have noticed that sometimes the cutting is less than smooth - reminding me of cutting with dull scissors - an issue I hope can be looked at in the future, but even these rough cuts look interesting as one watches the paper unfold to see one’s work.

This is an app I highly recommend for children and their adults alike.

It is worth noting that this app has been designed by Chicago-based teacher, Frances Judd, developed to teach children about symmetry, which this app does well.

Another application from Mrs. Judd is Chalk Walk, developed to enable children to work on their pincher grip on the iPad, and it is another app that I look forward to reviewing on GiggleApps soon. I am overall very impressed by Snowflake Station, and I will be on the lookout for any new apps by Frances Judd in the future.

Felt Board Review

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

Felt Board is a lovely app for iPad, a charming simulated rendition of a traditional felt board.

I have fond memories of using a felt board as a child, and I was happy to share this experience with my son. Not being crafty enough to create small and intricate pieces of felt myself, I confess that I bought a set from a local craft store on sale for my boy. The felt board was a huge hit, but sadly, even after keeping all the pieces in a zippered bag, the felt board soon became a memory as somehow inexplicably all the pieces vanished even after my son promised to be careful and not lose the pieces, only to randomly find felt bits clinging to clothing and furniture where one least expected to find them.

This digital felt board does not take the place of the traditional activity and cannot replace the magic of children finding out for the first time that this soft fabric sticks to itself without glue or mess, being able to be re-arranged indefinitely. This is a wonderful application, however, for families like mine who simply can’t keep track of all the little pieces or would love to allow their children this experience when traveling or simply out and about as this app, like a classic felt board itself, is a creative and quiet way for children to spend time.

This application is intuitive to use with an abundance of elements to choose from that felt boards in real life would be hard-pressed to include. Nice selections of backgrounds are offered, both basic solid colors as well as landscapes like a beach, ocean view or mountain landscape as well as a theatre, boat, and bedroom scenes. Other backdrops included as well. Like a traditional felt board, the backgrounds are sometimes simple, abstract and effective, and I appreciate the faint soft felt texture seen throughout this app.

Body choices can be made, and as in the classic style, the character pieces are devoid of all details as these can be added later. Six colors can be chosen, including three shades that could roughly represent skin tones of found among a diverse group of people, a nice touch that I would love to see broadened in the future. Do fully explore the selection of hair, beard, mustache and face choices by scrolling through this section with the aid of a scroll bar that unfortunately becomes invisible when not in use - problematic as players may not be aware of the selection of details to choose from within each of these elements that are too numerous to see on any given page.

Parents and teachers of special education children will especially appreciate the different expressions among the face choices such as the placement or shape of the eyebrows and mouth, teaching about these emotional cues along the way.

Cute clothing for all are included, including outfit elements that one may expect for both men and women, as well as plenty of unisex clothing and a few dress-up choices representing knights, a doctor, firefighter and police as well as a Santa suit and astronaut jumpsuit, tux and traditional men’s suit.

Another section consists of all the accessories one could desire such as shoes, mittens, scarves, hats, glasses and extras such as wand, sword, baton or umbrella.

A lovely selection of animals is also included, from butterflies and other insects to traditional farm animals, fantasy creatures and ocean dwellers. Storytellers will appreciate how spider, monkey and speckled frog choices are included to aid in the re-telling of classic stories that involve these characters.

Other objects one may look for to complete their motifs are also thoughtfully included, from flowers, plants and other choices found in nature, to symbols to represent weather, such as sun, moon or rain as well as buildings and other structures which can also be found.

Lastly, letter and number sections are included, each with their own related extras such as punctuation characters, shapes and arrows, which have also been added.

To re-size these elements, pinch or spread of one’s fingers - an element that I appreciate as the fine motor skills of picking up small pieces of felt with one’s fingertips is lost as the swiping of a finger is not as much of a workout for fine motor skills, but the pinching and zooming to re-size can in fact work these same muscles. It is also nice that one can glue down these pieces, aiding in the moving and re-sizing of these characters together as a single unit. Tap the camera icon to take a photo of one’s scene. To remove a piece of felt, simply drag to the recycling bin at the bottom right corner of the page.

I recommend this app to anyone interested in art or craft applications. The selection of felt pieces is wonderful and I enjoy being able to change backgrounds under the other pieces already laid down, something that could never be accomplished with such ease on a traditional board. I can imagine not only a great activity for children, but also in aiding the storytelling for all ages. For these reasons and more, I recommend this app.

Alien Buddies Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 1st, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Alien Buddies is a universal educational app that my son has been really enjoying.

Three activities are included - a very educational matching game that teaches basic colors, shapes, letters and numbers, a well-done dot-to-dot game as well as sticker pages to explore.

My son has really taken to the connect-the-dots activity - something he has been exposed to before, but until now had no interest in. Here, eight silhouettes are offered. Tap to choose the image one is looking to complete. Really nice jazzy music (which parents will be happy to listen to as well) is included as children connect these dots. The night’s sky is the backdrop, complete with floating stars seen in the distance as these images are being transformed from numbers to a complete image once sequenced, reminding me of constellations.

It is especially nice that one can either tap each number in sequence individually or drag a finger around number to number or complete with one continuous movement with a finger, depending on the fine motor skills the player possesses - something my son could use some practice in. As of now, he is only tapping each number, but I hope soon he will be able to drag his fingers to each number as well - a more challenging way to complete these puzzles. If needed, players can also have a hint mode turned on, highlighting the numbers in sequence to make this section easier for young players.

The Matching game is very nice as players drag aliens, labeled with a specific letter, number or the like to the matching pod waiting to carry them to safety. The styling of this section is super-cute as are these colorful aliens who subtly tap their foot or look around nervously waiting for their turn to be saved as they step to the right of the screen.

Part of me wishes that there were some hazard one is trying to save these aliens from, but instead of negative consequences, children are encouraged to do their best by being rewarded with a new sticker unlocked in the sticker section of this app, adding to the base number of stickers one starts out with that can be used to decorate various landscapes.

I especially like how a just-listening mode is included, where no visual clues for corresponding matches are seen, making players rely on their listening skills, also great for children learning English as a second language or for use with special needs children who may need to focus on the understanding of spoken language. It is also nice that the dot-to-dot and sticker sections require no reading, allowing non-English speaking children to enjoy these sections as well.

The first thing I noticed about this app is how bright and colorful all the images found within are. This is especially true within the landscapes of the sticker section, as each of these eight sticker pages contains very different looking fantasy locations with vivid pinks and oranges, greens and turquoise - many colors really that create backdrops which could be at home in Dr. Seuss stories. Forty stickers can ultimately be utilized, with six stickers included to begin with, allowing players to be able to unlock the others as they succeed at the matching and dot-to-dot activities.

It is endearing how each of these aliens or monsters is cuddly and not at all scary. Parents who have spent some time in the iTunes store will understand the popularity of apps that teach these basics, and because a lot of time will be spent with apps like this, it is important for these apps to be fun and engaging, not only for the child, but for the parent as well.

Recently, a puzzle section has been added to this application, adding even more value to this fun, educational app. Here, eight colorful alien choices are offered. Choose with a tap and the drag pieces where they belong, with subtle jigsaw outlines seen as hints. Fun narration explains this intuitive gameplay, as well as a witty comment that kids will enjoy, such as "Where are my legs?" Players can choose to have these images broken up into 4, 6, or 8 pieces.

I appreciate that these puzzles have a nice level of "grab" to them, as they pull themselves into the correct spaces if the piece becomes close enough, as if by magnetism, "clicking" these pieces into place, along with the use of sound effects create for a satisfying experience. A subtle amount of rotation within these pieces is included that adds to the visual effect but does not effect the placement of these parts within the puzzle, and it is nice that kids can collect stickers for completed puzzles as well.

The bright and lively style of Alien Buddies unique matching game play, well-crafted dot to dot and sticker sections, cool puzzles and nice music will keep children entertained for a long time as well.

Memory Train Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on January 25th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Memory Train is a delightful universal app that helps sharpen children's memory skills as they help Spacey, a charming yet forgetful elephant, remember the various details he sees outside the window of the the train he is riding to the circus.

Game play is simple to understand but difficult to master as this app opens up to a map of train tracks Spacey will follow to get to the circus. Along the way, peanuts can be found that mark different points within this game when the difficulty increases.

After tapping these peanuts in sequence, one by one, the train ride begins, with Spacey looking out the window and becoming perplexed at remembering the details he sees while on his trip to the circus. At first, simple shapes can be seen, and a moment later without fail, this lovely elephant with a poor short-term memory will ask, at first simply what was the color of the shape just seen.

Things progress, and more is asked of the player in terms of focus, as multiple elements need to be focused on, such as remembering both the shape as well as color. Sometimes quirky characters are introduced, mixing things up as one may need to remember the hat, shirt or shoe color worn, and a player never knows what he will be quizzed on, making this game require the player's complete attention to these small details.

Ultimately, a player needs to remember a row of three colored shapes, letters, numbers or the like in their correct order..

I really appreciate how this game self-adjusts the level of difficulty, as this train gains momentum with correct answers and slows down with mistakes made, giving players more time to remember details and select answers. Because of this, this app which can become difficult, even for adults, never becomes too hard or frustrating.

It is also nice that if a mistake is made, the answers to choose from dwindle from three, to two and even to a single choice, allowing players to keep playing and not feel frustrated and stuck.

Motivation is also provided as Spacey becomes happy, grateful and energetic with correct answers while also letting players know when he is mildly disappointed, expressing emotion in a way that is language-neutral as true words are never spoken, making this app great for children who speak different languages.

Players are able to earn stars, badges and trophy peanuts for working hard as well, and there is a cute celebration within the circus when one completes this game. Spacey the elephant is simply adorable throughout this game, and it is nice to see him so happy.

Families will appreciate that the game in progress can be kept separate for up to four players, and it is fun that players get to choose from nine avatars, some being familiar from Pi'ikea St’s popular app Interactive Alphabet as well.

I do think it would be nice, however, if one could add a name to each avatar, making it easier for children to remember which avatar represents their account.

My son really enjoys this app, and I really like how much attention it commands of its players to be able to answer these questions correctly.

We have a few go-to apps that my son gravitates towards when we are out and about, but I find this an especially effective tool to keep my son calm and out of trouble when he is bored in public and on the verge of being most difficult.

I was surprised with how focused this game makes my son, and for the first time, I truly had a hard time getting my phone back, as typically my son is very gracious about returning the iPhone when I need it, or allowing me to help or simply watch him play. Here not so much, but I do not consider this a flaw or an issue with this app as much as a mark for how engaging this memory game really is. This is also the first time my boy has shown any interest in earning stars for his accomplishments, saying proudly, “I did it all myself, and I get all the stars” as he finished the first couple of rounds.

Pleasant music is included that combine both a train and circus themes while maintaining a quiet game vibe that adults will not mind being in ear shot of, but sounds can also be muted if this is necessary.

My sole issue is that I noticed that the background of these train rides to the circus maintains the same landscapes for each of the ten levels of difficulty. It may be nice to change the scenery, but this game becomes challenging enough so that most players won’t have much time to simply gaze at these backdrops, making this issue a minor one.

I am sure many parents have noticed the abundance of memory game apps within iTunes, commonly in the form of flipping over cards in the interest of making pairs. It is especially nice that focus and concentration can be explored in such a charming unique game such as this, as children will have a lot of fun helping Spacey the elephant along his trip to the circus.

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.

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.

Smart Tot Rattle Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 7th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Smart Tot Rattle is an interesting app for the youngest members of the family, as this app consists of the high-contrast colors of red, black, white, along with the use of geometric shapes all said to be visually stimulating to babies.

Four themes are included and each contains its own highly contrasting background of circles, checkerboard, stars or stripes, presented in black and white and corresponding to the included themes of balls, kites, stars, and flowers. It is nice that these items in the foreground also contain vivid colors such as blue, green, or yellow, making these items really pop.

A physics engine is used here, making the objects included bounce around the screen with the drag of a finger or by moving the iPhone. Pleasant chime sounds are also incorporated and can be heard with the tap of a finger or when these items bump into each other on the screen, and one can feel vibrations when the device is shaken.

Parents have a few selections to choose from, specifically if they want to include the use of sound effects, and how often (if at all) the motifs will change, ranging anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds, and one can leave the app set to one desired background as well.

The look of this application is indeed engaging: I can see how a baby would be interested in looking at this app. It would make an ultimate distraction for doctors' offices when vaccinations and the like are given, and I appreciate the developer's idea from the iTunes description of using this app for tummy-time, especially for babies who are reluctant to spend time in this position - very helpful when traveling as this app packs easier than the activity pads and toys that baby may be used to.

I can also see this app being overly stimulating for some, and I wish the vibrations could be turned off within this app without having to alter the settings of the iPhone itself to do so. This added stimulus seems a bit much, as there is already a lot going on here to look at and listen to.

Personally, I would also recommend the use of “Airplane mode” as a caution when a baby at such a young age may be using one’s iPhone, as well as avoiding a very jarring experience of the phone ringing in the middle of playing with this application.

Whether this app is a good choice for one’s family is a personal decision, but this app is nicely done and worth looking into, especially for those who are intrigued by the use of high-contrast colors for their baby to look at and explore.

WeirdButTrue Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 6th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

WeirdButTrue is a very fun and interesting National Geographic app that brings intriguing facts and an interactive design for both iPad and iPhone.

Very easy to use, the app is a random fact generator filled with interesting tidbits that kids and adults will enjoy. Each page has its own weird but true information, with bright colors and many vivid photos of related images used to illustrate what is being explained, and I also appreciate the creative use of fonts and design in general to fit the text onto the page in most interesting ways possible. These facts can be about animals, the human body, toys and other topics as the app has a plethora of information and it is great fun how varied sound effects are used per each page that in some way relate to the fact being presented.

Although this app is not narrated, I can’t imagine adults not enjoying these interesting facts on their own as they read these pages to their children. Nicely interactive, children will enjoy turning the page as a very satisfying flip sound is heard, as well have the ability for a variety of animals to singularly pop onto the screen saying “That’s Weird,” when a button is tapped from the menu bar to the right of the screen. One can also mark a fact as a favorite, and it is fun that the information is saved within this app with the tap of a heart icon, making the heart bounce around the screen like a ball in a pinball machine - a nice interactive touch. One can also email friends facts if one wishes, and there is a Weird-o-Meter included as well which allows readers to give feedback to National Geographic about how weird one thinks specific facts are. This information is then compiled in the “Top Weird-O-Meter Facts,” letting app users see what others think is the oddest information.

I really enjoy this app. I have always been a fan of this type of information, as I have very fond memories of shows like “In Search Of” and later “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” as a child, and I am happy that this app brings this strange but true information so conveniently to devices.

I also enjoy the facts that National Geographic has chosen to share here, as there is a very nice balance between weird and child-friendly. This app may be an acquired taste of sorts, but I have not found any facts that I think would be inappropriate or too scary for children, except for maybe the most timid of children who are obviously not a good fit for this application.

There are a lot of memorable facts used here, most of which adults will enjoy as much as children will, like how koalas and humans have similar fingerprints, how male ostriches can roar like lions, or that there are 29 different shades of red from Crayola. I enjoy how pithy the text is per page, allowing one to scroll a good number of these pages in a short amount of time - a great distraction for young and old alike. Younger kids will really enjoy having these fun facts read to them as well as interacting with this app.

I also think app would be especially nice for reluctant readers as well, because each of these sentences is short but packs a punch in terms of interest and oddness that will have kids turning each page eager to see what is next, as did I, feeling mildly addicted to this app and spending longer than necessary in reading these facts for review purposes.

It is also nice that one can easily Google for more information about any of these topics, oftentimes with the further details of these stories adding to the strangeness. An example is “Mike the Chicken,” who survived 18 months without a head, something I promptly googled to get the complete story. Used this way, this would be a great resource for teaching grade schoolers how to search online in order to research subjects of interest - a vital skill to learn for today's students.

It is nice that a “Fact Finder” is included within this app, being a glossary of sorts for organizing the information offered here from A to Z, but I think it would also be nice if in the future, one could search by subject as well. This may make this app less random in general, but this may be a good thing for my son who is sometimes animal-obsessed and other times more interested in fun food facts.

I do hope that in the future this app can be updated. Currently, there are over 300 facts included, making this content-rich and a lot of fun, but I can see heavy users of this app desiring more content in the future. All-in-all, a great choice of educational app for kids of varied ages as well as adults.

Tangram Puzzles Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 12th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Tangram Puzzles is a wonderfully creative and fun educational iPad app. This is a nice companion to the related app by the same developers, MosaicHD. Instead of creating patterns with the use of small colored pegs like in MosaicHD, here the player uses different shapes together to create larger images.

Based on the classic Chinese puzzle game of Tangram, this app uses basic geometrical shapes together to create interesting images, The original Tangram puzzle consisted of seven shapes that together could be fitted side-by-side to create such shapes as a square, triangle, rectangle, as well as objects like a house, boat, or bird. I like that this app contains not only the various triangles, small squares, and parallelogram that were included in the original seven shapes but also includes circles and half-circles.

The interface is very easy to use here, with options including choosing a template, looking at completed work in the gallery, or creating one’s own design free-hand. The templates consist of 18 images that can be copied, ranging from simple to complex. I appreciate the selection offered a great deal as there is a lot to choose from with some very interesting images included such as Clown or Bear in Snowy Forest, as well as some abstract choices like the very ornate Ornament2, giving the player some nice ideas to create their own patterns.

Once the template is chosen, you will have the option to turn on "Help," creating an outline over the template where the pieces fit. It is nice that this option is included, as my son needs this help here as well as in MosaicHD to be successful, but older children and adults may want to tackle these patterns solely by looking at the small reference picture included. The right side of the screen consists of a vertical scroll bar of the shapes to be used in this pattern; tap and drag the chosen piece to where it belongs in the larger image.

It is nice that each shape has a number showing how many pieces of this specific shape are needed to be filled in, counting each piece as it is used being very helpful, especially when the “Help” is off. Like MosaicHD, the templates are based on a grid and while using the Help, the transparent shapes to be filled in do not fully cover up the grid below, allowing the player to see how the various squares of the grid fit into these various shapes to be used, conveying the geometry taught by Tangrams nicely.

The Gallery contains both past finished work as well as the chance to add personal patterns to a public gallery for other app users to peruse, and I really enjoyed looking at other people’s work. One can also share personal patterns by email or Facebook as well.

Freehand gives the player the option of creating his very own patterns. The vertical scroll bar to the right of the screen is filled with every shape found among these templates, and because flipping or rotating these shapes is not possible here, each shape is presented in every possible rotated or mirrored configuration. Ten color choices are available as well, creating complete personalization of any image one can create with the shapes that are offered.

MosaicHD is a favorite app of my son, as he is captivated by creating pictures based on the templates, as well as creating his own images free-hand. Tangrams is equally creative and fun. The music used here is very well done, hypnotic, and relaxing and very pleasant to listen to as one creates an involved pattern. I like that the music volume levels can be changed independently of the other sound effects, specifically the cheering one hears when a template is filled in, as this may be distracting or encouraging - depending on the player.

The use of tangrams with children has long been thought of as a great way to teach geography and math. Younger children will enjoy exploring shapes and colors as they can easily fill in the templates with the “help” feature, encouraging the use of fine motor skills and imagination along the way. I love the creative template choices available, but it would be nice if the classic seven piece tangrams which create the basic square, triangle, or other shapes were also included to help teach the fundamentals of this classic puzzle.

My son owns a few tangram sets himself, and not all of them work well. Many times the pieces slide around the cards he is working from - very frustrating. Other times, pieces are added to the cutouts of a wood puzzle template. This works well, but the images tend to be simplistic. I really like the ease of use and different levels of details involved in this application. It is always an added bonus to have no pieces to lose or to store when game play is over.

I think both Tangram Puzzles as well as Mosaic HD are good choices for families, as children of all ages as well as adults will also enjoy these apps a great deal.

Gingham Games Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 11th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Gingham Games is an interesting iPad application which includes three educational mini games. This app stands out among others like it with its wonderfully rich retro style illustrations that include cherubic, apple-faced kids, creating a wonderful vintage feel.

These wonderful illustrations are the highlight of this application, with images that remind me of such Americana as classic Campbell’s Soup Kids or Shirley Temple.

The three mini-games are nice as well. Ducks in a Row allows the player to count baby ducks in rows on the screen, tapping and dragging them to the bottom of the screen in numerical order. These ducks must be counted from 1 to 10; a tap allows their number to be seen for only a moment, so one must remember where these numbers are found throughout these ducks before time runs out and the ducks run away. This nice, simple game is fun for number sequencing, but also in sharpening one’s memory, a nice touch. The baby ducks used here are cute, yellow and fluffy the way one would expect. I like the polka-dotted background and muted color scene of cream, golden yellow, and sage green which add to the vintage feel as this pattern fades into a scene of a duck habitat of tall leaves, flowers, water, and a mother duck as well, creating a nice style that is found through this app.

In Apple Toss, the player moves a girl across the screen to catch falling apples, learning about alphabet letter sequencing along the way. I like that these apples bounce from the girl's open hands into the basket, and a near miss can be bumped repeatedly until it makes its way into the basket as well. Note that each time the player misses an apple, leaves begin to fill the screen from bottom up, and one has three lives to use before the leaves fill the screen and the game is over. The apples are tossed by a boy in a tree, and his basic arm movement that tosses the apples is very simple, reminding me of the moving pieces seen in an antique toy or bank from very long ago, adding to the vintage feel, something I appreciate.

Shape Catcher is our personal favorite, where the player chooses one of five color and shapes lures that are used to catch corresponding fish off a dock. When the correct fish is seen, line up the lure to catch the fish by tapping the button closest to the direction in which the fish is swimming. There are three rows of fish to focus on, with buttons on either side of the water. I like that one must be patient to catch a fish and then act quickly, lining up things right to make a catch, then continue on until each of the five lures is used. This mini-game makes good use of colors, shapes, and matching, as well as some basic logic to understand which button the fish is swimming towards, something my son enjoys. I appreciate how the boy and this scene in general remind me of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Each of these games is narrated by a child who either counts the ducks, recites the alphabet as the apples are tossed, or names the color and shape of the fish that is caught. These voices include a lot of character one may expect to hear in a young child’s voice, which may be slightly hard to understand by some children. Other than this slight issue, this is a very nice app as the games are cute and the illustrations are wonderfully vintage, slightly kitschy and extremely well-done, appealing to children as well as adults, especially those who collect or appreciate Americana from days past.

Fruit Memory HD Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 23rd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Fruit Memory HD is, in my opinion, one of the nicest Memory-type games available on the app store, and is one that my daughters and I have a ton of fun with on a regular basis.

The thing that first caught my eye with Fruit Memory was its very clean and attractive art style that really stands out on the app store in comparison to other apps of its type. That, plus, it was all of a dollar. And because of the price, I didn't have huge expectations as all I wanted was a simple, attractive memory game. But once I loaded it up and started playing it with my daughters, I realized very quickly that every now and then a dollar provides a lot more than a dollar's worth of fun and entertainment.

When you start up Fruit Memory you're presented with an selection page that contains quite a few options, but is incredibly easy to navigate. The game can start with as few as 12 cards or as many as 40, scaling the cards in size to accommodate.

The next option allows for the selection of players. You can play on your own and keep a local leader board of how long it took to complete as well as how many moves it takes. There are separate entries for 12, 28 and 40 cards, and there are unique fruits to be found even at the 40 card level.

Once you start everything up, you get to pick your character, avatar, however you want to describe it. There are 16 options and, wouldn't you know it my twins always argue about which character they want to pick. The character designs don't seem like they make much of an impact, but they really do. The faces are made up of various internet emoticons (>.<, o.O, ^_^, T_T) and so on. Very, very cute.

The options make it really easy for even younger children who are not able to read to start up the game. The buttons are large, and very clearly marked, making it very easy for even a 2 year old to set up a game.

After you're done and you jump into the game, the layout is, simply, perfect. Each person has a tab at the bottom of the screen showing their avatar and their score. If you get a match in a turn, you can go again, otherwise it moves to the next player. It's designed nicely for a tabletop mode, and when you have 4 players it becomes 2 on 2, just great for families. One thing that I absolutely love is that each time you guess right, your avatar jumps up and down in happiness. Again, it's a simple touch, but it adds to the attractiveness of the app.

The card backs are, as the title suggests, fruits. The shapes are easy to recognize and differentiate and are very colorful. There will be no issues if your child is color-blind, either, as there is no repetition based on fruit color.

I've had my hands on quite a few other memory apps, some that are much more expensive or much fancier, just out of curiosity to see if they improve upon Fruit Memory and, at this point, I've yet to find one that I would pick in its place. The clean, simple and very visually pleasing aesthetic of the app combined with the attractive sound effects and adorable "characters" is something that is a huge hit with my whole family and, without a doubt, will be for yours too. Heck, it's a buck! You can't go wrong!

PBS KIDS Videos for iPad Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 22nd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

PBS KIDS Videos for iPad is full of fun and a highly educational collection of segments from favorite PBS Kids television shows.

These video clips are all nicely arranged with a simple interface that I am sure kids will have no problems navigating. To the right of the screen is a vertical scroll bar containing many of kids' and parents' favorite PBS kids shows. Tap to select, and one can slide out a menu as well giving the child a choice of many video clips from this TV show. The bottom left hand corner contains parents' information about the specific show and clip being watched as well as other info. The rest of the center screen is where these videos will play; tapping will fill the iPad with a larger letter-boxed version of these clips, removing the other menus.

Kids have the option of selecting many varied choices in video clips, but it also nice that they can relax and watch all the selections from a specific show as they play in order from the menu; the choice is theirs.

I am very pleased with the wonderful shows offered in this app, including our family's favorite show, Sesame Street, as well as other shows my son is familiar with such as Martha Speaks and Super Why, plus many others new to us. I appreciate that there is something for every age of grade school child, including the health- based show Fizzy’s Lunch Lab whose target age range is 6-10, geared to children older than the preschool set whom I commonly think of when PBS kid shows come to mind, primarily, no doubt, because this is my son’s age. Having watched many of these clips, I am sure that older kids will enjoy this app as well, and it can certainly be shared between different-aged children.

There will always be people who think TV is bad for children, and I am sure that the idea of handing your child a portable television per the iPad seems like an even worse idea to some. As a parent, I find that these shows from PBS are undeniably educational, smart, age-appropriate and very socially aware, so I have no issues with my son watching small amounts of his favorite show Sesame Street, unlike unspecific cartoons from a random cable channel, something I would not allow.

This is a wonderful resource for parents, especially when traveling and wanting to keep their children distracted in places like an airport or the airplane itself is of the utmost importance. For at-home use, I do prefer my son to spend his screen time working on puzzles, playing games, creating artwork or listening to a story, much of this time being spend with a parent who is equally involved with the app at hand.

This time with our son is precious family time, but when traveling, I don’t really want to have to entertain my child with “together time” the entire length of the trip, and I think this app would honestly keep him quiet and distracted, keeping my boy happy and not bothering others with the banter that comes along with many of his favorite apps.

We have not traveled a lot as a family yet, one reason being not knowing how good a traveler my sometimes wild child would be, but I think this video player may just be the trick to keep my boy as well as the other passengers sane over a long flight or delay at the airport, as long as I don’t forget to purchase a set of kid-friendly headsets.

Having an older model iPad, I do not know how these videos play on 3G. For us, the use of this app is only in areas that offer WiFi, but I am happy to report that these video clips play effortlessly, which is nice because I do have problems loading clips from other apps that take the viewer directly to youtube.

In all honesty, this is an application that I have not asked my son to test for me, because if I did, I would never hear the end of his asking for this app and I really want his iPad experience to be as varied as possible. We went through this when we first go the “Netflix” app which I had to finally bury in a file, telling my son it stopped working. I know this app would be an even huger hit, which is wonderful in some ways and problematic in others.

I really appreciate the info provided in the parents' section. Here, the name of the show and specific clip are listed, as well as a basic premise of the show, its goals, and age range. If you like a specific clip, you can email yourself a link or post it to Facebook or Twitter. Options for buying the video associated with specific shows as well as info and links to their PBS Kids Apps are included. I am not a fan of in app purchases, but nicely tucked away in a parent's info section is acceptable to me, as well as something many parents may find helpful. You can “favorite’ a show, bringing them higher on the list of shows available, but it would be nice to have a section on the app of previously watched and chosen clips as well. I would also love to see all the names of celebrity guests from Sesame Street as part of the info given about these clips, as not all of them have this information. I know most of these faces but when I can’t place one, I would really like to be able to reference the clip’s info to see who it is. I also like that one can look up local listings for favorite shows as well, very helpful to those staying in hotels away from home.

In the end, it will be the parents' decision regarding when and how much access their children will have to this app. Having said this, this free app is a simply wonderful collection of very special video clips from children’s shows. I think that this would be my son’s new favorite app, something I will keep in mind when I am looking for the ultimate distraction.

Halli Galli Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 3rd, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

I know, Halli Galli is probably one of the silliest names for a game on the app store, but I urge you to look past that and spend some time with a simple and incredibly fun set-collection card game for the entire family.

I have to say that this is one of the most frequently played and one of our most requested. Its execution, while simple, provides flexibility that will work as a great challenge for adults, but is easily played with children as young as 3 years old.

Halli Galli is broken into 3 modes, and although the goal in each version is to collect all the cards, how you go about it varies. In each game, you have a split set of cards, and each turn one card from every player's deck is placed on the board. When playing against other players, it's a race to ring the bell, and I'll explain further how each mode works below:

Junior mode - Our MOST played mode and the most accessible mode in the game. In this mode, you watch the cards until you see 2 smiling clowns that are of the same color. If you're wrong, you give one card to each other player. If you run out of cards, you're out of the game and the first player to collect all the cards, wins.

For more complex playing and for older kids and adults, the other 2 modes are great.

Classic - In this mode, each card is of a type of fruit and has a specific number of fruits on each card. Once you see a a set of cards that totals exactly 5 fruits of one kind you ring the bell. The same rules for Junior apply for winning.

Extreme - This is where it gets really complex and challenging. The cards deal faster than other modes, and you ring the bell when you see 2 identical cards or when a monkey appears and there are no lemons, an elephant appears and there are no strawberries and when only a pig appears. Another difference is if you're wrong, you "Go to Jail" and your cards get placed under the bell. The next round you win, you only get your jail cards back. Lose a round while in jail you're out. Everything else is the same.

Each version has 3 different modes. Arcade, Single Player and Multiplayer. With Arcade, you're the only player and if you're wrong, you lose 3 cards (there's no Jail in Extreme). Single Player pits you against 4 computer players with 3 difficulty levels and Multiplayer allows you to play with 2 - 4 people.

I have had so much fun playing this with my 6 year old twins. Huddling around the iPad makes you realize just how perfect a platform it is for these types of games. And it's great, you don't have to set up any cards, you don't have to worry about the bell not working, or someone missing hitting it. You just get to really bond as a family and play a unique and fun game.

I also think it's an excellent educational tool that will get your kids (and you!) to really learn to focus your mind to watch for matches, and is a great way to improve your reflexes and hand-eye coordination.

I cannot recommend Halli Galli highly enough, it's a game that will grow with your family no matter how old they are. And most importantly at the time of this writing both the iPhone and iPad version are on sale for $0.99. You can't even buy a plain deck of cards for that price!

Kidz World Pro Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 12th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

With thousands and thousands of apps available for adults and children, there will be some great ones, some that are so-so and some that are poor. And, of course, an app that one person loves another person will not think is that great. This happens with food, books, TV shows, and, well, just about everything. This the way that I am going to review Kidz World Pro: First, let me tell you my overall thoughts about the app. Then, I’ll take the other side and find some positive things to say.

Kidz World Pro calls itself a “creative application” that will keep your children busy. Its description of the app talks about the “the love and feelings between a parent and a child,” “bliss” “euphoria,” “alphabets are the first thing children recognize before they speak their first word” and, finally, “we hope that you’ll find another memory to cherish with this application.” Based on this description, I thought that this app would provide a “blissful” way for parents and children to interact and learn together. This is great. I believe that there should be many more apps adults and children can enjoy with one another, instead of the child just playing or learning alone. Then I tried out the app. Basically, Kidz World Pro is the same as many library books for toddlers and pre-schoolers that show different pictures of letters, numbers and objects. I remember sitting down with my sons with some of these books when they were learning to talk. I pointed to the picture and said, “This is a ball.” When they were a little older, I pointed to the picture and said, “What is this?”

Kidz World Pro includes the alphabet with a picture for each letter, pictures of fruits and their names in no special order and the same with vegetables, numbers, shapes with the number of sides, and colors that do not show how mixing colors make another color. There is also a series of children’s rhymes and the Jungle Baby story with difficult-to-read type. There is no interaction with the visuals on the pages. I would much rather go to the library and get a word book and look at the pictures. This is especially true since some of the fruit and vegetable names are not correct in American English, such as “bilberries” for blueberries.

That being said, I promised the other perspective. This app would be educational to use when you go to the grocery store and are looking at all the vegetables and fruits. Your toddler or preschooler can look at the pictures and keep busy while in the grocery cart.
When my kids were young, I used our time together in the car as a learning experience. Your child can look at the app while you’re driving along, and you can count together, talk about the colors and what things he/she sees outside with the same color, or talk about favorite fruits or vegetables. There are lots of games you can make up using the app as an added educational tool. The app would also be helpful for people who are learning the English language either in the U.S. or another country.

Learning to Draw is Fun Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 10th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Learning to Draw is Fun is an interesting app that helps kids learn to draw simple objects, later letting them color in their creations. There are 20 objects to choose from and each one is split into 4 simple steps that kids can easily follow, taking recognizable shapes and turning them into things such as a butterfly, house, or flower.

I can’t draw at all. I have a very good eye behind a camera, but my foundation drawing skills has never surpassed that of an early grade schooler, much to my frustration as well as my son's. He was not more that two when he realized that my bears and dogs all look the same, my people are barely past being stick figures and nothing like what he expected after being exposed to beautiful story books. Sadly, he learned at a very early age that his mom is not perfect and can’t do everything well.

This is a fun app that teaches how to draw very simple drawings in four steps, adding shapes until the drawing is complete. My son still does not have the dexterity to draw representationally, but he did have fun coloring in my creations, tapping to choose a color and then using his finger as a paintbrush to fill in the drawings. It is nice that a variety of line sizes are available to control the size of the marks made while coloring, and white is included which can also be used as an eraser, a nice touch. I also like that there are no right answers here, and kids can add their own creative touches to their drawings that are not part of the original image.

It would also be nice if the 20 drawings one can choose were separated by difficulty, as some are great for beginners and use only the most common of shapes like circles, triangles or squares while other drawings are more advanced in nature and difficult for me to make the way I want them too, although they were fine by my son's standards.

I did have moments where I wish I could erase a specific mistake made in my drawing, wishing I could "undo" a line or two, or "go back" one step, but the only option is to erase the whole drawing at once, overkill when I just want to make a few tweeks.

Please note: there is also an option to print one's work but I have tried this as our iPad is not connected in a way to make this possible. An option to email artwork would a nice addition in a future update, making the printing easier. I do appreciate that final drawing are saved in a gallery to color in later that my son can color in on his own.

We have enjoyed this app, and I was glad that I could follow along, although my finished piece did not look nearly as polished as what I was copying. My scale is many times off and I did not find that I was able to draw as accurately with a finger as I would wish, so circles and other shapes don't close the way I would want them to, but my son was very happy to work on this app with me and told me that "you did a very good job" at these drawings, and I did not get looks of confusion and disappointment the way I have in the past when I have drawn on command, which is a step in the right direction.

I would recommend this to all but the most easily frustrated of children, who may not want to compare their finished product to the original. Having said this, I do think that most preschool and grade school kids will enjoy this app.

If interested, also check out this developer's other apps, as there are some great first "wooden" puzzles that my son has really taken to.