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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.

Noodle Words - Active Game Set 1 Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on January 26th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Noodle Words - Active Game Set 1 is a charming educational app for iPad that is sure to put a smile on the face of users no matter the age, as well as teach the meaning of action works in ways most delightful.

Noodle Words is a very simple app to understand as a box of words is introduced as well as two adorable bugs, Stretch and Squish.

Tap the box for an action word to appear on the screen, which is also narrated.

Now tap this word for a demonstration, as the text itself acts out these verbs such as sprouting veins and ultimately pretty yellow flowers for the word “grow,” or spin around to illustrate the word “spin.”

Do tap the friendly bugs in the bottom left corner as well to further see the word in question demonstrated and do drag these words around the screen as well for fun.

As an adult, I was instantly intrigued and was eager to see how words offered like “Laugh” or “Blow” would be animated, and I have universally been quite pleased with what creative animations this app comes up with.

The animations included contain such whimsy that these words make me smile even after repeated use, such as the letters in the word “eat” eating themselves, turning into the word “ate.”

I think the use of Stretch and Squish is wonderful as well, as these bugs are also seen eating food, making this word less abstract as is the intriguing animation for this word.

Eighteen words are included within this first game set, with presumably more sets to come, something that excited me as I have really enjoyed watching these animated words come to life. The narration here is cute and very clear sounding - something important for a language app such as this.

I think this is a terrific application for language building and overall educational entertainment. This app is geared toward 4-7 year olds, and I think this age group will have a blast with this app, but I think this app would be great for those new to language as well, such as those one or two years old. Even as babies' first app, the interactions are fun and engaging for parents as well as children.

This app would also be perfect for anyone who is learning English as a second language, or for special needs children who need some help learning about language as well. It is also nice that a thoughtfully written section for parents is included, as is a tutorial for children - a very nice touch for this already intuitive children’s app.

I am eager to see what new Game Sets have to offer, as I found this app filled with dynamic interactions, nice to look at and simply a lot of fun.

Feel Electric! Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on January 26th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Feel Electric! is an interesting free, universal educational app aimed at helping children learn about and express emotions in a healthy way.

This app features the cast and content of The New Electric Company, teaching children the meaning of 50 emotional words and further exploring these different feelings with a variety of fun activities.

One area of this app is called My Life and consists of three sections, Mood Dude, Mood Tales and Moodosphere.

Mood Dude allows players to change the eyes, brows, mouth, arms, and color of an avatar reminiscent of an M&M character, allowing one to express how he is feeling. It is nice that both happy and sad choices are included as well as many other emotions.

Mood Tales includes ten story makers that also demonstrate emotions, here used as the tone to these short stories that get filled in with the choice of random words - Mad-Libs style - and include images from this hit PBS T.V. show.

Moodosphere allows children to choose three emotions that best describe their current mood do tap to hear and see proper usage of these words.

I really enjoy the vast selection of eclectic emotions included within this app, such as calm, confused, bored, regretful, jealous or proud, as well as how these words are explained as a tap of a finger opens up a glossary of terms, both written, narrated, and with a photo. I think it is great that the narration also expresses the emotion word in use, really bringing home the meaning of these important words.

The My Games section includes three fun arcade-style mini-games that also focus on children learning to express their emotions through words.

Pets Vs. Monsters is a fun game taking place on a baseball field where the player moves a batter back and forth with a finger trying to hit photo images that correspond with the emotion in question. I enjoy this mini-game, but I found this game a little hard as I tried to match up expressions that did not match 100 % with the emotion at hand but were good choices until the correct, most obvious choice was offered.

Prankster Madness is a tilt game where players tilt their devices to move a skateboarder back and forth matching expressive photos to word balls dropping from the sky, missing incorrect words and other objects in the fast-paced, timed mini-game.

Hey, Catch This is another emotion centric arcade-style game, here allowing players to shoot word balls at moving targets with matching expressions.

My Stuff is a section full of photos, music, and video clips from The New Electric Company. This section allows one to decorate the photos from the My Photos with stickers that also express different emotions. It is nice that a large selection of images, music and video clips from The New Electric Company are included, and I appreciate how this media can be accessed without an internet connection.

Fans of this show will love all of this included content, but I think children not familiar with this series may feel that there is a lot of context missing to fully understand what one is looking at or listening to.

Although this may be the case for this section of this app, it is nice that the other areas of this app are accessible to children who may not watch this show on TV, even if the concepts and characters past the basic gameplay may also be over the heads of those not fans of The New Electric Company.

My personal favorite area of this app is the What’s the Word section, a glossary of emotional words used throughout this app. Here, one can study the faces that make up each expression close up, also listening to the explanation of each word expressed in a way that demonstrates each word really well. This is a great area to compare similar yet different words as it pertains to how these expressions are demonstrated on the faces of those who possess these emotions. It would be nice to be able to see these photos blow up to even larger images, and it would be nice to choose words that are similar and be able to compare these images side by side.

Feel Electric! is also part of the website, Military Families Near and Far which aids children in expressing their emotions and keeping in contact with family. This is a wonderful application for allowing children to express their feelings especially while being faced with the challenges of deployed family members.

I would also like to recommend this app to families with special needs children who will gain a lot by the images of expressive faces and verbal cues offered about a variety of emotions. Jessica Ruiz and Danny Rebus, the teen cast members who star in this app as well as The New Electric Company do an outstanding job expressing these emotions in a way that is exaggerated enough for these feelings to register clearly, while still being grounded in reality.

Parents and teachers may also appreciate how this app keeps a log of the various emotions chosen on different days, allowing adults and children to look back and discuss the feelings that were previously felt.

It is impressive that an app of this caliber is free, as it is bright, colorful and a lot of fun, also including some fun, up-beat music used throughout.

Because of this fact, I would think many families would enjoy downloading this app and seeing what it is all about, as I can imagine young children not associated with military families, or those who have special needs, can gain a great deal of new vocabulary words, making this a good app for toddlers who can peruse the emotional faces and new words found throughout the What’s the Word section, making it a great first app where kids will grow into the other sections.

Toca Kitchen Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on January 9th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Toca Boca has done it again by developing a new digital toy that kids will love. Toca Kitchen, as the name implies, is a creative, fun and open-ended cooking toy for kids.

Here, players can choose one of four characters to cook for and feed. Male and female characters are included, as well as a cat and a cow.

To the left of the screen one finds the refrigerator full of 12 different food choices. Once a choice is made, place on the plate in front of the character that one is looking to feed.

From here, children can start feeding the chosen food in raw form or move to the right of the screen where the cooking implements are kept on a shelf. Options include a knife for cutting, food processor, pot for boiling, pan for frying and a microwave.

It is quite tempting to write about the players and their favorite foods, as each character wonderfully has unique likes and dislikes that make this game so fun and utterly Toca Boca. However, I will resist this temptation as I would not want to spoil the chance to allow one to find these preferences by oneself. I do love that both animal and people are included, and thoroughly enjoy the cow becoming disgruntled by being fed steak - something he is unwilling to try for obvious reasons.

I have often been impressed by the ability of special needs children to learn from Toca Boca’s apps in terms of social awareness. This too is a digital toy that can be used by children who would benefit from learning about social cues.

In this app, the characters express their personal feelings with regard to what they are being fed, and children can then try their best to find foods that these characters like.

I appreciate that these characters have strong feelings expressed, such as the cat either salivating with pleasure, or hissing with distain, as well as more subtle feelings of “it's...ok” or "ummm...no" that kids will also need to interpret, as these reactions are expressed in a language-neutral way that children from all backgrounds can understand, and I love how it is both fun and realistic how these characters will prefer foods cooked a certain way such as potatoes fried vs. served raw, having been macerated in the food processor.

Since receiving a review copy of this app, my son has spent a great deal of time playing Toca Kitchen. My boy has played with play food and his kitchen and has fed his dolls and animals daily for almost two solid years now, so I was not surprised by his reaction as he loves to cook and feed these characters - especially the cat.

I enjoy how he can have some basic experiences, be it simulated, with boiling food, as the look down into the pot with a rolling bottle, or with an up close view of food in a pan frying - are both things he has never really gotten a good view at as I still worry about him being around the stove as I cook.

I do wish, however, that one could cut the food into more pieces than just four, and I would love to see one be able to flip over what is being fried in order to cook both sides the way I can with my more adult-oriented simulated cooking apps.

Anyone who knows me well knows that food safety issues are a huge pet peeve of mine, and for this reason, I would very much like to see the raw meat, sausage and fish placed on the bottom shelf of the fridge in order to not drip onto the other food on the shelves below, something my son and other children will never be too young to learn about.

I also have the urge to cook food way too long, burning the steak and other foods. As a result, these characters could refuse to eat their favorite foods if cooked too long, bringing some other educational aspects to this game as kids will need to learn when to remove the foods from the heat based on color to serve something worth eating.

It is great how characters here will give cooking tips if offered food raw, an element I would love to see more of, and I am confused as to if the eggs offered are raw or hard boiled as the eggs can be fried or boiled, yet can be cut or mashed up like a boiled egg as well, a discrepancy I have mixed feelings about.

More discerning characters would also be interesting, as sometimes as my son often fries or boils eggs previously pulverized in the food processor, shell and all, to be served with no issue from the eater.

Basic extras, such as sugar, salt or pepper and maybe condiments like ketchup, mustard or hot sauce could be interesting additions as well.

As of now, some characters enjoy eating lemons if ground up - a food I wish could be made even more palatable with some sweetness, also allowing characters to like foods less if they become too sweet, salty, or spicy, making it possible to teach the concept of how much is too much and that sometimes less can be more.

Other foods would be wonderful as well, and although one can have multiple foods on a plate, players can’t cook more than one food at a time - something I would love to see. Being able to sauté broccoli along with potatoes or to blend multiple fruits together to make smoothies would make the possibilities here truly endless.

I enjoy the kitchen tools available, but it would love to see more methods of preparation, such as stirring, peeling, grating or whisking, and it would be terrific if one could scroll down the kitchenette section to find a working oven to bake in as well. Desserts would also be a welcome inclusion, as my son has a play food cookie baking obsession - something that I encourage as I don’t really want to bake sweets for him too often.

Having said this, I have seen a dramatic shift in my son asking again for the iPad when he has alone time after Toca Kitchen was downloaded, as the iPad is an item that sometimes wanes as my son gets involved with other toys, as much as he still enjoys apps when we are in the car, shopping or when I make a special point of sharing an app with him for review purposes.

I do find the physics engine used to make the food move and bounce with a touch a bit sensitive for my taste, as these foods react as if they were in more of a zero gravity situation than earth-bound, bouncing around in a way that is kind of unnatural and even at times distracting. I have heard no complaints, however, from my son about any aspect of this app - something he is not shy about sharing.

It is also worth mentioning that my son enjoys playing other Toca apps as an extension of Toca Kitchen, his idea that I am enamored by. I would love to see even more crossovers included through out Toca Kitchen, such as foods one can buy from Toca Store available to cook, or deserts from Toca Tea Party available to bake as well.

Not only is the gameplay enjoyable, but the subtle ambient sounds and fun details Toca Boca is so good at are also included here including the hum of the fridge which can be heard when opened, Toca magnets lovingly displayed, and the words "Love" and "open" found intersected crossword style found on the door briefly seen when opened, as well as the basic restaurant sounds used within, but it would be nice if the fun jazzy music included - very Toca sounding - were louder in comparison to the other sounds included, just something to think about for a future update.

I hope I do not come across as overly critical of my son’s favorite new app, as this application as it is has kept my son quite busy with no end in sight, as I am happy to say that Toca Boca is a developer that takes the comments and criticisms of their fans very seriously, encouraging me to give notes that could make this great app even better.

I give Toca Boca credit for keeping their fans in the loop regarding their new apps, as well as asking followers what kinds of apps their children would like to see, as well as keeping their digital toys affordable by most. So far Toca Boca has created applications that my son is super-engaged by, based on his favorite toys and activities, and this app is no different. We greatly look forward to hearing about more Toca Boca apps in the future.

Let's Learn How to Draw Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 29th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Let's Learn How to Draw is an interesting universal drawing app - a little different from other apps out there like this.

Here, one can choose to draw a series of trains or monsters - interesting choices that may appeal to adults and children looking to broaden their drawing choices past the simplistic cat or dog selections typical of apps like this that lead themselves invariably to images that may seem “babyish” to some.

What makes this app unique is that after drawing over the template that one traces piece by piece used to ultimately form the complete image, the tracings that a player creates are not actually used, as a prefab, corrected image takes the place of the drawing one has just completed.

This may not seem like fun to some, but as a non-drawer, I actually appreciate this approach. For whatever reason, my drawing abilities are so lacking that even after tracing over a template, my image never looks like what I have tried to create and even as an adult, this frustrates me, leaving me with nothing I would bother coloring in beyond doing so for review purposes.

Because of this, I like how in this app, the focus is on the process of drawing these elements, with less emphasis on the finished product that was truly drawn by the user.

I enjoy how although I am severely lacking in the ability to draw realistically even the most basic of children’s drawings, I had fun and success at adding the details to these finished images - be it train details or monster expressions, more so than I have had in other drawing apps where my completed image is delivered to me at end.

This Assist Mode can be turned off as well to allow one to copy freehand the chosen image, and a blank “Scratch Pad” page is also included, and one can save one's work to an iPad. Players can choose to just color in these images as well, bypassing the drawing section altogether, using this app more like a coloring book.

Five choices for both trains and monsters exist, increasing in difficulty. I like how the purpose of each train is introduced, such as the freight train being the workhorse of the train, capable of carrying almost anything, while the tankers carry liquids or the cargo train being able to carry oddly shaped cargo that does not easily fit into the other cars. The monster's personalities are also introduced and include a wonderful sense of fantasy and whimsy.

Without narration, these fun notes will be lost on kids who can’t read and enjoy this app on their own, and being entirely without sound, this app’s silence, although making this application a nice quiet app, is disconcerting. I do wish that music, sound effects of some sort, or narration can at some point be included.

Although these images can only be colored in using “paint brush mode,” using one’s finger to color in the area of the drawing and lacking the paint bucket mode (my favorite way to color), a variety of point sizes in both brush and eraser tips are available.

It is impressive how the colors can be laid down overlapping each other with a nice translucence that allows combined colors to show through, as well as having the option to make these colors opaque as well - more akin to really painting and something not commonly seen in these types of applications

I do wish the brush strokes themselves could be a little smoother, as drawing curvy lines or circles can amount to a line with many micro corners akin to creating a curve or circle on an etch-a-sketch, something that caught my attention as an adult, but would probably not be noticed by children while enjoying this creative app.

There have also been some issues using the erase function, as a series of dots is often delivered instead of a smooth erasing line, making it sometimes hard to erase sections, as a drag of a finger may create a dotted line of erasing - a nice effect, maybe, and useful in spot correcting, but not what most have in mind when they are looking for an erase function, especially while using the smaller erasing points where these dots are most obvious.

Even with these limitations, I do enjoy what this app has to offer, especially look of this application. The color palette of black, white, and gray along with some interesting textures and distressed elements create an indie feel that I have not yet seen among drawing apps.

Although I will never begrudge an application designed for young children to include the most basic drawing to copy, with a very unrefined, slightly better than a stick figure-like quality as a common outcome, the sophistication and the basic look of this app as well as the interesting drawing choices make this app very appealing to me, as I do not feel condescended to when engaged with these drawings.

For this reason, I think some adults interested in drawing apps may choose this application over others like it, and it may fit the special needs of older children or adults who may have fine motor difficulties but want something less beginner to draw.

Ultimately, I have enjoyed this application very much, but it would be nice if in the future, more content can be added. I do enjoy their trains and monsters, and I would love to see what else developers could think up next.

I am happy to announce that recently, a section of dogs has been added to this application. This makes me happy as these dogs are more sophisticated and interesting to look at than the dogs found in other drawing apps as is the style of Let's Learn How to Draw. I hope these developers continue to add more choices in the future.

Peek-a-Zoo - by Duck Duck Moose Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 9th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Peek-a-Zoo - by Duck Duck Moose is a charming new application that teaches subtle social cues and other info using lovely, bright and bold-colored animals that young kids and special needs children will enjoy.

This app first opens up to an area where each of these cute animals is introduced, as a row of friendly animals scroll across the screen. Tap to meet each of these creatures to hear their name and what kind of animal it is.

After all the introductions are made, use the arrow at the top right of the page to bring one to the next section of questions that test children’s social awareness and eye for details.

This next section has eight animals that one has previously met, arranged in two rows of four. A simple question will then be asked, such as “Who is eating,” or “Who is listening to music,” both narrated and printed at the top of the page. Look closely at the screen and tap, in one instance for a giraffe licking a lollipop, in another for a cat holding a radio up to its head.

The questions asked vary nicely, with many topics that may be addressed. Positions are explored, such as upside-down or backwards, and familiar activities, such as waving or sleeping are demonstrated, and it is super-cute when these animals differentiate themselves by being dressed up in a tie or talking on a telephone.

My son especially enjoys the question about who is hiding, with the animal in question blending into the brightly colored background, being concealed by camouflage.

Other times kids will need to identify each animal in terms of type, such as “lion” or “hippo.” For these questions, the animals are arranged around the screen with their bodies out of sight, relying on these animal faces to tell who is who.

Interestingly this app also focuses on teaching social cues, such as who is waving, sticking out their tongue or crying, which may be easy to spot as these actions are very specific, but this app also tackles more subtle emotions such as sadness, anger or surprise.

I appreciate how one must look closely, especially to perceive specific emotions displayed by these delightfully stylized animals as the slight differences in eyes and mouth placement or shape are demonstrative in expressing these emotions.

At first, I can see how one may mistake a few of these emotions, but it does get better as one familiarizes oneself with these darling creatures. My son does take his time studying these included characters before making his selection - a necessity oftentimes needed to make a correct selection.

These animals are quite charming, and my son and I enjoy this app very much, even though my son is older than the target toddler audience.

It is also wonderful that, although a correct answer is the ultimate goal, tapping on another animal is not portrayed as a mistake, but a chance to explore the whimsy that this app has to offer, as other animals may make animal sounds, talk in full sentences like “How are you today,” “I love you,” or “Can you dance the macaroni.”

Sometimes these animals speak in full baby babble or the sounds of children doing their best animal impersonations, as well as more realistic animal sounds. Toddlers will delight in hearing these child narrators delivering these fun details, adding richness to this application.

I think this app would be a wonderful app for toddlers, for the social aspect this offers, as well as for the cognitive awareness this app expects from its players.

Parents may be disappointed if one is expecting to use this app to truly teach animals and their sounds, and although I do think animal identification will be re-enforced, this is not the specific intent of this app, but what it sets out to teach it does well - in a charming manner that does not feel rushed in any way while teaching some thoughtful and important social cues.

For this reason, I think this app will be of huge benefit to children on the autism spectrum or other children with special needs who may need extra help picking up the social awareness that other typically developed children take for granted.

Parent and teachers using this app in this way may want to supplement this app with photos of humans making these same facial expressions to make the info being offered translate further, further demonstrating to those playing this app with what they may be looking for. Adults may want to be familiar with this app themselves to help guide children who may feel stuck on some of these more subtle social nuances.

There is little I would change about this app, but I think that pages where fewer animal emotions are mixed about with more tangible traits such as a party hat and present or upside-down may be easier for those with special needs to decipher - something to think about. A separate section that keeps the comparing of various emotions to a minimum may be helpful to some - maybe something to think about for a future update.

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.

Llama Llama Red Pajama Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 15th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Llama Llama Red Pajama is a lovely universal storybook application which brings the popular picture book of the same name to life. Enjoy this book with narration or without, and parents who read this story to their children have the option for their storytelling to be accompanied by soothing music and fun effects - or not, and a Spanish translation is also included.

For those who do not know, this is a story is written in rhyme about a young llama and his separation anxiety from his momma after she gently puts him to bed and goes downstairs to do some chores.

This is a favorite book in our family, and for us both a perfect book to read at bedtime as well as a beloved book in my son's preschool. I love how this story is told from the point-of-view of both the llama and his mama as the llama child attempts to fall asleep as the mama tends to a sink full of dishes and other adult tasks. The llama child then misses his mama and becomes overly dramatic in a way that is very cute and very relatable to my 3.5 year old son.

I really enjoy this app and so does my son. The illustrations also found within the printed version of this storybook are marvelous, as these tender emotions of love, fear and finally contentment are lovingly portrayed in the facial expressions of both mama and child.

Here, simple interactive animations are included as the mama and child move their heads and limbs, bobble-head style, as well as other hotspots that relate to this story, such as popping the bubbles found as mama washes dishes or ringing the telephone. A few times the young llama also speaks, as he whimpers first quietly and then louder for his mama and makes other related sounds which really tug at my heartstrings each time we explore this app.

I do that find these interactions add to the richness of this story without being distracting, and it is nice that all the included music and sounds can be muted while a parent reads this story, if one wishes.

Although extremely popular, this book has also been criticized for being scary for suggestive children, as Llama Llama Red Pajama gets very upset, shown in some very vivid illustrations that we love, but may overwhelm some children.

The mama here has also been accused of acting uncaring to her child as he asks for a drink, and it takes mamma a while to fulfill this request. For me, I appreciate how the story shows this issue from both sides. From the mama's point-of-view, she is really in the throes of housework and is doing the best job she can juggling her responsibilities, but from the llama child's perspective, the seconds or minutes he waits for his mama to return are too much for him to bear. It is important to note here that the time frame in which the mama tells the child to wait is open for interpretation and is a nice starting point to talk to one's child about empathizing about what each of the different characters here is feeling and why.

For us, this book is wonderful as it de-mystifies the activities that parents may engage in when their children go to sleep, as I think my son has put off going to bed for fear of missing something he would like to be part of.

I do tend to wait until my son is asleep to leave the room, but as he sleeps 12 hours a night it is unrealistic for me to stay with him all this time, so after he is out for the night I do leave to take care of other business much like the llama mamma in this story. My son sometimes may wake up after being put down and for him, my not being there has in the past been a trigger for tears.

I really think this book has helped my son with his fears of my not being by his side instantly, as our favorite line of this book is "Mamma Llama's always near, even if she is not right here" - a very important message for my son to learn, lucky for us, this line became a light bulb moment for him, taking this story in and he has now had fewer issues with separation anxiety himself, knowing that I too am always near even if I am not right there with him at every moment and it may take a minute for me to sometimes get back to him. I have also used the term "no llama drama" to put my son back to bed without effort, something that surprised me as having worked the first time I tried this technique.

Some may want to compare this and other rhyming books like it to Dr. Seuss, the best lyrical wordsmith of children's literature. As tempting as this is, I avoid this comparison as Dr. Seuss's sentence structures are often long, fantastical, and for me, sometimes cumbersome to read out loud. Here, Llama Llama Red Pajama is wonderfully simple and easy to read, both out loud to children as well as an easy reader for older kids, making this book a nice beginner book to also read to a younger sibling as the sentences repeat common words to this story, and the sentences are short and easy to speak and read.

I also love the Spanish translation of this book, as this simple style can be enjoyed by new learners of the Spanish language as well as children who don't speak English as a primary language and who may enjoy the English section as a primer to this language as well.

I do not see this app as taking the place of the beloved printed storybook in our family, but it is nice that with narration, my son can listen to this book when we are out and about, and for this reason, I especially like that this is a universal application.

I do recommend this app as we have enjoyed it very much, as we do the book in traditional form. It is worth noting that I have had no issues with the use of this app as many others have reported, these issues stemming possibly from not updating one's device to iOS 5 before down loading this story, good to know.

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.

Lumi’s Book of Eyes Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 3rd, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Lumi’s Book of Eyes is a charming and educational interactive universal storybook app focused on the different eyes found in animals across the world, as well as those of humans.

I really enjoy this book, told from the point of view of Lumi, a Turkish boy who is the narrator and guide of this story. Here, Lumi offers interesting facts about the eyes of a nice selection of animals, such as the use of crocodile tears to help lubricate eyes when this animal spends time on dry land, or the near sidedness of frogs, allowing them to see unclose, great for catching bugs.

The look of this book is also super-cute and a little special, as the simple, hand drawings of Lumi are juxtaposed with some very vivid animal photos. Tapping these animals will cause them to blink, and do tap Lumi as well, and some simple but lovely animations are included of Lumi reacting to the various facts presented.

This app also touches on the health of human eyes, the need for kids to have their eyes checked before the 1st grade and a positive message about kids wearing glasses. This is a cute and fun app for children in general but will be of a special interest for those who wear glasses themselves or are going soon for their first eye exam, something important for all school-age children. Very nice narration and music are included which I have really enjoyed. The narration can be easily tuned off as well if one chooses.

An eye-spy game of sorts is also included here as well, as the player is given a close-up photo of an object in the shape of a circle, and one must decide if the image in question is an eye or not. This is a really fun game that kids and adults will really enjoy, as different eyes are included here, as well as other objects such as the spots from a butterfly back or even Earth as seen from space.

Given family history, I won’t be surprised if at some point our son needs glasses as his entire family wear them. He may be in his 30’s before he needs them like my husband and me, or still in grade school like another close family member, but either way, this is a thoughtful educational app originally written by an ophthalmologist and is aimed at an international audience. Lumi’s Book of Eyes will also be a hit with animal lovers as the information is interesting, and the photographs are of a really great quality, making this storybook one that is very easy to recommend.

How To Draw Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 11th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

How To Draw is a creative and fun application that explains, step by step, the elements used to draw simple pictures how and to re-create these drawings themselves. Although universal, this app best performs on the iPad when one is following along, drawing within this app, but this app also included is a very nice section which allows the viewer to just watch these images progress as well - something that can be enjoyed on either iPad or iPhone.

My son is not yet ready to try learning to draw from this application, as his fine motor skills are still being developed, but I have really enjoyed using this app myself. My skill level is severely lacking when it comes to representational drawings, so I have been a good judge of these drawings apps geared towards children, as my abilities lie somewhere in the kindergarten to early grade school level, much to my chagrin, as well as my son’s who is old enough to recognize my poor drawing ability.

How To Draw contains seven “How To...” episodes where a friendly child explains step by step how to draw a cat, dog, space shuttle, princess, and dragon, as well as the Statue of Liberty and a skeleton - the hardest episode to master.

There are many apps like this that teach children to draw but this stands out from the pack as one follows along, with the ability to trace directly over the demonstrations offered while watching the episode, or simply to learn from the instructions in a more general way without copying the specific drawings line by line. One can also follow along with a sheet of paper freehand if one chooses. I like that visual directions are include involving arrows and general shapes as well as a solid line that can be copied exactly - whatever works for the user.

The ability to trace keeps the scale correct - an issue I have with my drawings after following along with other drawing applications, and it is a nice choice to have. It is also nice that a "I am Watching" mode is also included, where the user simply watches these drawings come to life on their own without participation, a nice touch.

I think that this is a very nice choice for kids, preschool age or whenever they are ready to start drawing past scribbles. I like that the end product still looks as if a child drew it, as many of these images are very simple indeed - something I appreciate for a drawing app for this age range.

It is also a lot of fun that one can color in these drawings with many color choices, and that an eraser is offered as well the ability to change the brush size that one is drawing. I appreciate that one can zoom in or out to focus on details, a must for apps such as this.

A three fingered tap will bring up an extra menu with more advanced options, nicely tucked away as to not over-whelm the drawing process for young children, but includes good options for more advanced artists to have to. Both saving and emailing of finished artwork are offered, but I did not like that these episodes open up with the completed previous drawing intact. This would be a nice option to have, but as of now, one must erase the past work instead of opening up to a blank page as the episode starts, which can lead to a lot of confusion.

The best part of this app for me is the children’s narration included for these episodes; it is conversational while being educational in terms of basic drawing concepts for the very young as well as some nice details about the subject being drawn. How to Draw a Cat contains specific instructions for children that are even more simplistic and charming, with some a nice moment of counting added that I really like. This application is a very nice introduction to this application and to drawing the simplest of animals that is never condescending.

Really nice music is included that adults will enjoy listening to as well as children; there is a lovely use of wood xylophone sounds that are relaxing and fun.

I can see how some older children may not be overly impressed with this app as some students who excel in art can certainly draw better that the lessons offered here, but all kids start from the beginning at some point, and this is a very nice app to engage them at this point in their artistic journey. I also think that this would be a great app for special needs children who may benefit from working on their fine motor skills or listening abilities.

I have really enjoyed listening to these episodes narrated. This element alone makes this app stand out from the rest of drawing apps for kids. If interested, additional episodes are offered via in-app purchases as well.

Speech with Milo: Interactive Storybook Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 10th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Speech with Milo: Interactive Storybook is a nice universal storybook from the "Speech with Milo" series of apps aimed at developing language skills in children - good resources for children who have special needs, learning English as a second language or for the very young who are new to expressing themselves.

This interactive storybook tells the tale of a day at the park for Milo and includes fun illustrations with lots of bright colors and sound effects. Included narration pleasantly explains what is happening on each page, aiding the development of storytelling for the reader, also immersing them in the correct use of grammar and complex sentences. I like that the reader must tap a button to listen to the narration, allowing the child to describe what they see before the narration is read if one wishes and readers can also make their own recording of this story, allowing the child to hear their own voice as well if they choose.

There is also cute moment included where Milo becomes emotional as well as lovely social interactions with his friends, which will go far in the teaching of socialization and empathy to children with special needs.

I am always impressed with the options that this series include, personalizing the experience for the needs of a specific child. This includes the ability to use the included interactions found on each page which children will have fun with, but also has the potential to distracting as well for some, especially since the narration stops if a hotspot is tapped. It is also nice that the display of text can also be removed, giving the chance to talk about these pages in a conversational, open-ended way as well.

Parents and caregivers of both special needs children as well as babies and toddlers will enjoy the Speech with Milo series of apps in general. They are nicely done and very educational.

Fierce Grey Mouse HD Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 3rd, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Fierce Grey Mouse HD is a delightful interactive story about a grey mouse who wants to be fierce like a wild animal. It is simply delightful to watch this mouse practice his fierceness - the roaring, and the pouncing, along with the exercising and healthy eating habits that it takes to grow big and strong. The only pitfall is that all grand, fierce gestures have scared his friends, and now there is nobody to play with. Rest assured; all ends well in this charming story that kids will enjoy, and maybe even relate to. Versions are available for both iPhone as well as iPad.

The artwork in this application is simply beautiful, with a wonderful collage feel as the characters here are cut out from other paper and added to the painted background, bringing a richly textured collage feel to an application. The backgrounds used for these pages are bright and bold, with an artful spattering of paints that bring a sense of style to these pages that I appreciate. Black and white drawings are also included of the beasts that this grey mouse is trying to emulate, ultimately frightening his friends in the process.

The use of these varied media for the illustrations is extremely effective, and when an animal is tapped, its movements really pop with an interesting dichotomy of hand- made art and interactions that are found in applications. I really have had a lot of fun exploring this app with my son who has really enjoyed tapping all the hot spots, complete with great sound effects as well.

This story is really dear to me as my son has chosen to be “fierce” in his own way, with unintended consequences of his own. At 3.5 years, my son still sometimes fancies himself a puppy, “jumping up” onto me and licking my face or neck - behavior I fine nowhere as cute as he does. Other times, he pretends to be similar animals, which may fulfill some kind of fantasy of his, but unfortunately makes him a less desirable playmate as his puppy-like behavior can be dangerous and even a little scary to be on the receiving end of, luckily subjecting only the adults in his life to these actions and not other children.

I like that the grey mouse learns that behaving less than kind to his friends can leave him lonely, but that this lesson learned is overshadowed by a happy ending with grey mouse redeeming himself in the eyes of his buddies.

Extras are also included that kids will enjoy as well. I like that not only a classic memory game is included where the player turns over cards looking for pairs, but a second version is also available, here with the cards face up as the matching is the focus here, not memorizing the positions of various combinations. It is also nicely styled as to how multiple cards use the same characters with varied poses; one must look closely to create pairs. A coloring book is also included, using the “paint bucket” technique to fill in the areas to be colored with the tap of a finger, no need to worry about drawing with a finger outside the lines or about making mistakes. This “paint bucket” style coloring is my personal favorite as my son is still not great with small details.

The quality of this application, the story, artwork, and sound effects are universally excellent. There is another interesting element included, giving the reader a choice of fonts to be used for the story. Choice include the use of paper cut-outs per each word or sometimes syllables found in the text, adding to the richness of the multi media and collage effect found throughout this app, much like the style used in ransom notes to avoid handwriting analyses. Another font selection, an easy-to-read, hand-written styled choice is also included that one can choose if the cut-out font is difficult to read - a nice inclusion for younger children. English, as well as Dutch and Spanish languages are included within this application, as well as a table of contents, something I always appreciate.

This is a lovely app that kids and parents will enjoy. It has a great, teachable message about socialization that both typically developed, as well as special needs children can learn from. I highly recommend this application.

Benny the Cat by Touchoo Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 28th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Benny the Cat is a simple and lovely interactive universal storybook app giving young children a chance to simulate interaction with a cat named Benny. Please don’t expect an in-depth plot about the adventures of the tabby; instead this book is a nice introduction to cats, including such interactive sections such as tapping to hear the different parts of their bodies, rolling a ball at them in order to play, searching for Benny under pillows and other places, as well as basic care, like what to feed Benny, helping Benny clean his fur, showing him the best place to use the toilet and making up Benny’s bed for him so that he can sleep.

My son loves saying hello to Benny with a tap, as well as the page dedicated to petting this kitty until he purrs. Benny is nicely responsive to the gentle touches - something my son really appreciates.

It does bother my son, however, that on the area where one can tap body parts to have their names spoken, Benny’s “snout” is a hot spot - not nose and mouth separately. It does make sense for the tail not to be included, as the sentence explains that Benny has a tail, and what else does he have, but my son still wishes “tail” were included, and I think “belly" or "stomach” and "back" or "chest" would be a good choice as well,

It’s tempting to want a little more interaction from Benny the Cat, as I would expect Benny to react in some way after being found hiding under a pile of blankets, but I do think that this story and its level of interactions are good for toddlers as their first interactive book because nothing here is jarring or over-stimulating, as it could be with Benny running or jumping in reaction to being found. Still, I do wish that Benny walked to his bed, made up by the reader, either on his own with the tap or drag of a finger. Instead, the next page includes Benny already tucked in.

The illustrations are very nice and colorful, and I really like the way Benny looks with his brown markings, orangey/yellow fur and vivid blue eyes. I am not a fan, however, of a horizontal bar at the bottom of the screen showing the reader the progression in the story, as a marker can be slid back and forth by a child, making this story skip around and losing one's place in this application. I also wish there were a good way of starting this story over again from the beginning, but this option was not given on the last page. Instead, one must re-open the app or slide the marker to the beginning of the story instead of tapping a simple home button or the like.

Even with the notes that I have made, I do recommend Benny the Cat simply because my son really enjoys “touching” Benny and seeing his reactions. I would also recommend this book to kids with special needs who may have issues with understanding empathy and gentleness, and the social “cause and effect” of treating animals kindly and their happy reactions, even with the use of eye contact, as Benny often seems as if he is looking directly at the reader.

Older, more experienced app users may find the story or interactions lacking, but my boy, who is quite exposed to applications (as one can imagine), did not have issues with these applications limitations; he simply loves Benny.

My son has been known to roll around on the floor himself playing with a ball of yarn, pretending to be a cat himself, so I am not surprised at his fondness for this application. If one is looking for a “first app” that is an interactive storybook and not overly stimulating, Benny the Cat is a good place to look, especially if one is a cat fancier or interested in animals in general.

Spot the Dot Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 26th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Spot the Dot is a wonderful interactive book for iPad from Ruckus Media based on the pop-up books by David A. Carter.

I have always been a huge fan of pop-up books as a child. As an adult I may love them even more as artwork that I admire greatly but am personally not skilled at. I was very excited to hear that David A. Carter, author of many famed pop-up books geared for adults and slightly older children, was working together with Ruckus Media Group to create an app based on his books such as One Red Dot, a book that I have been eyeing for my boy, but must wait until he is older as he would surely mishandle such a fragile piece of art.

My son simply adores this app, which consists of ten pages, each with a different colored dot that is hidden, sometimes in plain sight, blending into brightly colored geometric shapes that fill up the pages and or hide behind other shapes that need to be turned over, as well as other creative ways of searching for these hidden dots.

This app has excellent spoken prompts that explain to the player exactly what he is looking for and how these specific mini-games are played, and I appreciate how each page has a new way of looking for these dots. The graphics, consisting of bold and bright geometric shapes, re-enforce nicely the knowledge of colors and shapes, great for pre-schoolers, but which will be enjoyed by older kids and adults as well.

I am proud of my son for falling so heavily in love with this app, as this application was not easy for him to master at first and he had to work his way up to thoroughly enjoy this interactive book. In the beginning he had trouble finding these dots past the first pages, as the level of difficulty progresses. He would repeat, “Why is this so hard for me?” as he has had most things come easy until now, picking up all his milestones early and with little effort. My son is not used to being truly challenged.

After playing with this app for a while, he has been able to master all these search puzzles on his own, with the exception of the last two where he still needs help: a black page full of dots to uncover, one of which is the dot in question, and the last page, where one small white dot is hiding among a page of geographic shapes, very well camouflaged on a page so large that it needs to be scrolled in every direction to be fully searched - somewhat of a task to look for, even for an adult.

My boy, feeling accomplished with his ability to find dots, now wants to show this app to everyone who enters our house - something he has done with few other applications.

The music included in this app is also quite nice, as is the melodic musical sounds used for each dot found on the page of hidden rows of dots, one of the harder mini-games to solve.

I especially like the narrator a great deal as he has a very sincere, warm, and enthusiastic- sounding voice that I enjoy listening to, and I am sure that his encouragement and congratulations at spotting these dots is a large part of why my son enjoys this app as much as he does.

I like that on the top of the screen is a row of dots that one will progress through to the end, but one can tap on a favorite color which will lead to a specific page and mini-game. Each time the application is re-opened, the dots are randomly hidden, but it would be nice if this was the case each time a color was chosen. At my son’s age, 3.5 years, he does not remember where the dots are found, just how best to play these games so this is not much of an issue for him.

I do wish, however, that the pages with hidden areas were fully uncovered when the dot is found. My son loves to turn over the object he needs to look under, even after discovering the dot, but sometimes the app progresses to the next page before he is done, I wish more time was allotted for kids to continue playing this way. Another favorite moment is where one must move a telescope-type circle around a blank page, looking through this circle for the orange dot. When found, the entire background is shown for such a short moment that it seems more like a glitch than an intentional action, but I think it really adds to the fun to see the very colorful background as a whole as well. I really like that the page of hidden dots is fully shown when complete, something that I think could be taken advantage of more as the revealing of the entire pages is great fun to look at and gives a certain closure, especially for children who may have struggled with this app.

We love Spot the Dot in our house. I think it is a great application for kids of pre-school age, as well as an app for special needs kids of any age who would benefit from such clearly spoken tasks that one must accomplish - great for cognitive skills, I would think.

I am happy that this app has challenged my son, and that he took this challenge head-on, mastering what he can and asking for help when he needs it instead of having a meltdown over areas that can frustrate him. I am thrilled to see him work to achieve the goals he sets for himself, and for these reasons, I consider this app a great learning tool.