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.