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Garbage Truck Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on April 12th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

iPhone apps in the App Store can be categorized many different ways: age, type (e.g., education, game), activity (e.g., reading, matching shapes) or theme (e.g., math, hobbies). Here's another category that I will add to the list: Purpose. There are some children's apps that teach the alphabet. Others give preschoolers the opportunity to play music or kindergartners the chance to see star constellations. Then there are the apps that I would call "app primers."

App primers teach toddlers the absolute basics about how to interact with their iPhone or iPad apps for the first time. It's like the Candy Land game that teaches the basics of color and counting. Hand an iPhone to a child of 4 or 5, and he/she already knows the tricks--touching, tapping and swiping. However, those actions are not so easy for a toddler. Their chubby little fingers are just learning how to work with the minds.

The Garbage Truck is as simple as simple can be. The toddler needs to touch the truck or car to hear the horn. He/she needs to tap on the garbage person to actually pick up the garbage and on the truck to see the garbage ground up. Every so often, something floats by in the sky that can be tapped for action. For example, a balloon comes floating by, and the toddler needs to tap on the balloon and pop it. Children at this age are also drawn toward sounds, so the honking horn and the rumbling of the garbage truck will keep attention as well.

It is true that an older child, even age three or four, or adult will weary of Garbage Truck within two or three garbage pickups. However, a toddler will be learning coordination and, with improvement, be pleased with the positive results received.

Highlights My First Hidden Pictures Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 29th, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

“Highlights My First Hidden Pictures” brings the hidden picture puzzles from Highlights Magazine onto your device, now in color to make them a little easier than before. There are eight puzzles to start with. Register with Highlights and get two more. Additional puzzles are also available.

In case you don’t know, the idea is to look for objects hidden within the page. Each puzzle has a silly theme, and there is always a lot going on. There is varied music as well as sound effects, all of which which can be turned off, making this a nice quiet game. Make these puzzles harder if you wish by hiding the scrollable row of objects to be found.

I really like that you can zoom in to see details of these pictures, and I think it's great that there are hints that use the zoom feature as well, letting you get closer and closer until the hidden object is right under your nose. Tap on the found object and it will turn black and white as does the corresponding clue from the row showing which objects to look for, which is also then highlighted pink, all of which makes it easier to see what you are still looking for and what you have already found, a nice touch.

I have had a lot of fun with these puzzles, and I do find myself using the hints towards the end. I am glad they are available.

If you enjoy this app, the more challenging "Highlights Hidden Puzzles" is also available.

Mother Goose Reader Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 8th, 2010
iPad App - Designed for iPad

"Mother Goose Reader" is a lovely, content-rich children's app for the iPad that introduces 20 classic Mother Goose Rhymes to children. Each rhyme is illustrated nicely, and there are a lot of hidden sounds to tap on and games to play, including shape, letter and size sorting, puzzles, memory games and drum pad. The rhymes can both be sung or spoken, and you have the option of doing your own recordings. The text is highlighted as the rhyme is sung/read, making it easy to follow along.

I really enjoy this app because I want my son (2 1/2) to be exposed to these classics. This app does a nice job in reciting the full versions of these rhymes, not just the first verse. My son really enjoys tapping all over the pages looking for the sounds and music. He also loves the hidden games and sometimes asks me to find them for him as soon as he opens up this application, the index of hidden games makes this easy, a nice touch!

I occasionally have mild problems flipping between pages, either doing so accidentally or not knowing where to tap. Grey triangles are sometimes present in the top corners of the screen to aid in page turning, I wish they were always on the screen to be seen.

Melvin Says There’s Monsters Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 7th, 2010
iPad App - Designed for iPad

"Melvin Says There’s Monsters" is a wonderful story book app! The production value is top notch, with vivid, well-drawn illustrations, effective music and just enough moving animations to add to the story without being distracting. The story has quickly become one of my all-time favorites in any form, application or not.

This story is about a boy named Melvin who convincingly tells stories about monsters to the kids at school, and is told from the point-of-view of one of the other students. The narration and the story are both excellent, reminding me a great deal in both the style and humor of my favorite family movie, Jean Shepherd’s “The Christmas Story.” I also really like that there is a moral to this book about how to treat each other, but it is organic to the story and not at all preachy.

My 2 1/2 year old son enjoys this app, but I think I may enjoy it more than he does. There are many places in this story where I laugh out loud because it is wonderfully written. I really hope the developers come up with more stories; the quality here is as high as it gets.

Mr. Hat and the Magic Cube Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 6th, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

"Mr. Hat and the Magic Cube" is a new interactive game for children involving kids being transported to a magical world after playing with a mysterious cube. They can’t go home until they help Mr. Hat find the cube’s stolen pieces.

This app combines both animation and games that help teach spelling and vocabulary, counting, matching, dexterity, and puzzles, getting more difficult each time you play. Being plot-heavy for a kids app, "Mr. Hat and the Magic Cube" contains 3D animated video clips rivaling those of serious adult games.

I do think, however, that it takes too long to be able to go home for a children’s game, and I found it to be tiring and a bit frustrating, even for an adult. I like that the app saves your progress, but when you solve the game, I really wish it would start over from the beginning.

Putting these issues aside, I really enjoy the magical world the developers have created. Part Willy Wonka, part Dr. Seuss, this world is trippy and maybe even a little creepy for some parents. I find this refreshing compared to the other soft and fuzzy learning apps we play. I am curious to see what happens in the next "Mr. Hat" application.

Pre-K Safari Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 29th, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

"Pre-K Safari" is an amazing education app, teaching letters, numbers, shapes, and colors. Each activity has a safari theme and is great for kids who love animals. The music has an African beat, the sound quality is high, and I find it relaxing to listen to. Each game is narrated by a friendly hyena who gives praise for the correct answer and lets the player know when the answer is wrong but is always kind and encouraging. You can also track your child’s progress with an achievement screen.

I don't think I ever taught my son how to use this app. All the activities are very intuitive, and he picked it up very quickly on his own. My son knew all his letters, numbers, shapes, and colors by just over 2 years, and I give this app and ones like it credit for helping him learn these things without any struggle whatsoever. As an adult, I find this app enjoyable as well. The colors game is taught by touching different colored butterflies, and I find their flying around quite lovely. There is also a free lite version to try, but this app is worth much more than $.99.

Animals' World Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 16th, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

“Animals' World" is an interactive book app which introduces you to the sights, sounds, and other facts about animals.  Learn where these animals live by looking at a 3D globe,  or see how large they are in comparison to an average male adult. Tap on the animals to hear the noises they make.  You have the option of enlarging in order to see more detail as well. There are over 60 animals in Animals' World, and I find the sheer number to choose from  impressive. 

My son enjoyed scrolling through the animals, tapping them to hear their noises.  I showed him the other choices too, and he enjoyed making them bigger, but the other features did not grab his attention.  My husband, however, did enjoy the globe and scale.

I think kids of all ages will like this app, but they need to be older than my son (2 1/2) to fully enjoy it. I wish there was narration to explain more about what’s going on in the globe and scale areas to engage younger children. It’s probably best for grade school and up.