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NBCUniversal Unveils Sprout NOW App for iOS Devices as Part of its TV Everywhere Strategy.

Posted by Tre Lawrence on February 27th, 2014
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Starting today, iOS users that subscribe to Sprout TV network will have access to the station on their mobile devices via the new Sprout NOW app. Sprout is a 24-hour network dedicated to preschoolers, and Sprout NOW is part of parent network NBCUniversal's TV Everywhere Initiative; access authentication will be required.

Says Ron Lamprecht, EVP NBCUniversal Digital Distribution, "Sprout NOW is yet another example of NBCUniversal's commitment to TV Everywhere, engaging viewers with quality content on multiple platforms. Sprout is now among many of NBCUniversal's valued networks that offer content to its distribution partners and our viewers wherever and whenever they want it."

The Sprout NOW app is available for free on the App Store.

Firehouse Adventure Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 27th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Ah, happily an app that is not an ABC and not about animals on a farm! Instead, it’s about firefighters, which are a favorite with many preschoolers. While showing different situations for firefighting, your child will be getting lessons in app manipulation and eye-and-hand coordination—tapping, tilting, touching and drag and dropping.

Here are the eight games: 1) In Ladder Rescue, your child will need to tilt the device to reach the window to save the animals. When three animals fall without being caught, the game is over; 2) Your child drives the fire truck down the road and needs to tap and vehicle and jump over cars to make its way to the emergency. After three accidents, the game comes to an end; 3) There are animals that need saving in the trees and the firefighter must reach them by tilting the device and not get hit by falling objects. How many animals can be saved before the firefighter is hit three times by these objects?; 4) Fires are in the building and your child needs to touch the screen to make the water spurt out of the truck. The game ends when three fires are left raging; 5) Animals are falling and must be caught by the safety net that your child will drag under them. The game continues until three animals are not saved; 6) Find and Rescue is one of the more difficult games. The firefighters must be moved through a maze by tilting to reach the animals. The game ends when three firefighters come in contact with fire instead of the animals; 7) Helicopter Drop is another somewhat tricky game, since your child needs to anticipate when to tap the helicopter so that it spurts water onto the fire while its flying by. With three misses, the game is over; and 8 ) In Firefighter Gear, it’s necessary to find the right items a firefighter will wear and use in different emergencies. With each game, the children get points every time they are successful until they completely light up the firefighter and win a trophy. Then they are rewarded with some information, such as on fire safety or firefighting tools.

Showing the work of firefighters is not an easy concept, and I’m sure that the developers needed to give thought about how to depict firefighting situations without the horrible consequences. Animals are used instead of actual people, so that the game becomes less gruesome when the animals fall out of the window and are not saved. The app shows children the different emergencies that confront firefighters and the skills, tools and abilities they need to be successful in their work. Some of the games are easy enough for older toddlers and some are more challenging, even for preschoolers or older children.

As I mentioned earlier, it is good to see an app that is not the typical ABC. The children learn about a profession that intrigues many of them at this young age, especially boys. Which raises a question: The term “firefighters” is used instead of “firemen” for a reason. Although they are significantly lower in their numbers, women also fight fires. Yet, where are the women in this app? Another question: Why do the children need to wait until they win a game before receiving some specific information about firefighting? Why can’t each of the games have a pop up that provides information while the game is being played? This is especially the case in the Firefighter and Gear game. Why wait until the reward for explaining how each tool is used? The last question is one that I would have to give a great deal of thought before knowing the answer. How can firefighting be depicted without animals falling to the ground, firefighters being burned up or hit on the head with flying objects, firetrucks crashing and fires continuing to rage when the water is not extinguished?

Topo USA Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 26th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Either in the higher elementary school grades and/or middle/junior high school, your children will come home with that dreaded homework sheet saying, “Learn the location of the states and their capitals.” I say dreaded, because most of the children do not want to learn them, and you will have to drill them for days to remember all the names and locations. If you already have gone through this routine, you most likely agree with me.

This is why many teachers, who are on the more creative end, will try to come up with a special song or game or, most traditionally, flashcards, to help the students memorize all this information. Geography is not typically a highly enjoyed subject at this younger, anyway, so kids need something to give them some motivation—even if’s a Jeopardy-like game or contest.

The Topo USA app provides students with some of this entertainment and motivation. It’s the same information to memorize, but perhaps a little easier to take the medicine in an app game form. The app tests location of states, state capitals and large cities. A plane flies over the U.S. at varying speeds set by the player and is directed by the player’s finger location on the screen. Flying speed is important: Flying too slowly makes it difficult to complete the task before the time is up, and flying too quickly makes it more difficult to maneuver the plane from one location to the next. Since the plane flies at an aerial level, the player is only seeing part of the U.S. at a time, which also adds to the difficulty. Hints are given, but that also slows the players down.
I was never good at geography or direction. My family knows if I tell them to turn right, they turn should turn left. Perhaps this would have helped me—probably not! In fact, I am embarrassed to say that I did not do well with this game, either. Some of the state and city locations I remembered very quickly. Others I didn’t remember as a kid and I still don’t remember.

This game will help your children learn the location of the states, but not the spelling. Since the names are on the screen, spelling becomes a moot point. For that, you and your child will have to go back to the traditional method of recitation: “What is the capital of Kansas?” “The capital of Kansas is Topeka—T O P E KA—Topeka.” There are some things that are just going to be boring and dreaded in education, and this is one of them. It’s possible to imagine the young boy or girl in the New England one-room schoolhouse spelling each of the names of the 13 colonies. It was surely much easier learning the states then, but not any more intriguing.

Color Buddies Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 14th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Color Buddies is an interesting app, because it combines skills for different ages at the same time. In fact, preschoolers, even in the easy mode, would not be able to do this game by themselves. They could easily find some of the colors when hearing the word, such as “Select color yellow.” They are not going to know some of the other colors at sight, such as “maroon,” or “indigo,” for example. Also, they are too young to read the color of the words or even sound them out. Thus, this color activity is for first or second graders to do by themselves or for younger children to do with older children or adults. This is possible, in fact, since the game calls for either 1 or 2 players.

In addition to reviewing the standard colors and learning some new ones that are not used as frequently, this app teaches a couple of other skills. The first is graphing. Remember the aptitude tests where it was necessary to put certain icons or words in various parts of a map or chart? The square would be divided into four equal parts. On the top two squares left to right you see the numbers “1” and “2.” On the left top and bottom, you see the letters “A” and “B.” You would be asked to put a circle in the 1A area, or the top left quadrant. The easiest mode for Color Buddies is the square divided into four sections. The hardest is a rectangle divided into 25 different boxes up to E5.

You choose from a variety of different topics, such as zoo animals. Then you are presented with a blank screen divided into the number of different quadrants. The female narrator (with a very bland but easy-to-understand voice) asks you to select a certain color of paint. When you have done that correctly, she asks you to put that color in a certain box, for example, 1C. Then part of that box is colored. Slowly, as you find different colors, your picture builds up. It is fun to guess what the final picture is going to be as parts of it are colored and become more and more visible. This is a great cognitive test. Once again, the older children will do better filling in the missing parts in their mind than the younger ones. Perhaps once the adult or older child knows what picture is being drawn, he or she can give clues to the younger player.

Color Buddies is not as mindless as some “shoot down the balloon” games, so expect that your children may need to give some serious thought to their response. The narrator nicely tells them to “try again.” They are going to be challenged and will need help. After a while, however, they will get the hang of it, depending on their age and cognitive abilities, and enjoy the challenges.

ABC Aliens Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 13th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

When it comes to the ABCs and apps, you can find almost every form of alphabet game and educational lesson possible. Most likely this is because these alphabet apps are easy to develop from a technical standpoint and because all developers know that parents are going to want to teach kids their ABCs. So, ABC Aliens is another variation on the theme, except that instead of humans or animals at a zoo or farm, colorful illustrated beings from outer space are teaching the letters.

The app is developed by Cambridge English Online, which states it has a decade of experience in creating cutting-edge online and mobile resources by online and mobile education specialists. With that much experience and supposed “cutting-edge” creativity, I would expect something more advanced than this. There is nothing wrong with the concept; it just is nothing new and will not retain a child’s interest for very long.

The app is geared toward either American or British English and has four different activities—purposely, I’m not calling them “games.” The first is on phonetics or the sound of the letters. The second is just hearing the alphabet as it is typically said. You have a choice of hearing the letters said in a cartoonish alien voice or with a child’s voice. You can also record a voice saying the letters and then play it back. Your children can also hear the letters when they are in the upper or lower case form.

The other two activities are for fun and learning. I played these on my iPod Touch, so the characters are quite small and it is difficult to see the letters on the aliens’ chests. This is one of those apps that is much better suited for the iPad, which has a considerably larger screen area. In these two activities, children are timed on how quickly they can tap each of the aliens in the order of their ABCs either forward or backward. Doing this in the given 30 seconds is quite a feat, especially for young learners. It was not easy, by any means, even for me. Again, this had to do with the size, but also in some cases the colors of the letters and the background; the “e,” for example is a light blue on the chest of a little bit darker blue alien. The differentiation between the two colors is slight.

That’s it. There are no spelling games, no find the hidden letter games, no think of some words that start with a certain letter game. The app says this gives kids a head start on the road to literacy success: I would say that this is an overstatement. There are also some bugs, such as losing the sound and having to signoff and back in again to get it back. I also don’t notice too much of a difference between the British and American pronunciation, since they are only saying letters. There are some tips for additional learning, such as asking the child to spell his or her name with the letters. However, since the letters are only pronounced and not actually written in word form, this does not provide much learning. Overall, I’d say that you could find many other ABC apps that are equivalent or better than this one.

Giggle Bear Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 6th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Many of the newest children’s apps now have 3-D visuals, which add considerably to the game or book’s interest. Giggle Bear, a virtual adaption of the Build-a-Bear concept in the stores, is a three-dimensional rabbit, bear or moose that is created by your child. In fact, this app was developed by a tweenager, Brooklyn Cly, who wanted children to have something that takes longer than five minutes to play. Apparently, Cly’s dad challenged her to produce an app that would be more imaginative and bring in some added income. Surprisingly, to everyone, Brooklyn accepted the challenge. Sitting in the back seat of the car as the family drove from a visit in Ohio back to New York, Brooklyn sketched out her idea. She went to her friends for help with some of the features and then started looking for a developer.

In the app, children have several different options to design their own animal and then bring it to life with a birth certificate. The app teaches a step-by-step process, since the bear can only be built in one designated way. On the other hand, your child has the opportunity to customize the animal and make it his or her own. First the child chooses the animal and its facial expression from a range of different faces. It is then stuffed and adorned with a heart and named. You can even record a special giggle for the animal.
Once your animal is born, your child can give it a bath in the right water temperature, pick a song on the radio and buy some clothes to wear, which depend on whether the bear is a girl or boy. It is then on to the playroom for the more creative part of the app. It is always interesting to compare what can be done in the virtual world versus the real one. In this activity, the stuffed animal can be thrown around as high in the air as possible, swung and even thrown against walls and floors. All the while, it continues to laugh and have fun.

Next, the app includes four different games that combine education with entertainment. Each one, “Memory,” “Balloon Toss,” “Stargazer,” and “Music Match,” has different ability levels and a scoring system that hands out trophies and records the highest score. Since this is a virtual game, the points can be used to purchase accessories without actually spending real money. Because the app has a radio, any music that has been previously recorded can be played.

While she was creating the app, Brooklyn’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. After treatments, she was on the road to recovery. The Clys decided to have a portion of the proceeds from Brooklyn’s game go to breast cancer research. The Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer will receive up to $50,000. So far, Giggle Bear, similar to most of the other apps with the Apple Store, has not brought in loads of money. Yet this is a great example of a very young entrepreneur taking present-day technology and using it to benefit others.

Fluke HD Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on July 5th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Fluke HD is, in my opinion, one of the best Sorry/Ludo clones on the app store today. It is one that has held my daughters' attention for months now, and one that we absolutely love coming back to quite regularly to play as a family.

The game, as you can imagine, is quite simple. You have 4 tokens that you need to get from the star to the finish. You can play by yourself with computer controlled players (easy, medium or hard difficulties) or with up to 6(!) people... that would be one heck of a full iPad to huddle around! Multiplayer through Game Center is also an option, not a bad idea if you've got 2 devices and want to play separately.

There are currently 4 different boards to choose from: Alien World (which was newly added), Carnival, Mediaeval and Race Track. There's also a promise of more boards to come, which I'd love to see. Included is a link to Fluke's Facebook page where you can chime in on what you'd like to see included for the new boards. The developer is very active here, a fact that is quite promising. For parents who are concerned with their children clicking out to external sites, I need to advise that this is an easy link to click on, even mistakenly so.

Anyway, back to the game. If you've played Sorry, you know the basics. Once into the game, you need to roll a 6 to add another token onto the board. This then gives you another chance to roll the dice. As for the play on the board, if you roll and land on another player's token, it captures it and sends it back to the start. There are also 2 different unqieu actions spaces on the board. The first is a "Special" tile that requires the person who lands on it to follow its instructions. The second is the "Teleport" device, which will send your token off to another teleport space of the same color, possibly sending you back some spaces.

Fluke honestly surprised me. I knew from what I'd seen that I would like it, but I thought it would get boring rather quickly. Well, it hasn't, and for an app at this price, that's an impressive feat.

I am a firm believer that the iPad is the answer for board gaming on the go, and Fluke is further proof to that. It provides a simple and easy way to access a very high quality "Sorry" clone no matter where you are. No longer do I have to worry that I've lost a piece to the game (I STILL can't find where a red Trouble token is and haven't touched the game since that happened!), and I never have to worry about cleaning it up afterwards. Also, unlike the board game, you get the variety of having multiple board selections here that don't just change how the game looks, but the strategy in how the game plays. A short board is a short, simple game versus a longer board that allows for more strategy. It's simple, but it's something that seriously adds to the longevity of the game.

My say is that if you want to enjoy a really great and fun family board game, Fluke is without a doubt the way to go. The developer cares about the title, and has succeeded in creating something that's easy for a wide age range (it require no reading skill) but also succeeds for adults. It's neither unattractive nor boring, an unfortunate fate of many clones on the app marketplace. You really can't go wrong, and as of my writing it's $0.99 - I cannot think of a better way to spend a buck.

Tilly's Petting Farm Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on June 8th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

With Tilly’s Petting Farm, we are back to the farm again. There is some regret here. I do like some parts of this app, as you will see below. I would just like to have some different venues for children’s apps besides the zoo and farm and something different for them to see than animals. How about looking at buildings, or plants or vehicles? With that said, this app does teach the children about the animals on the farm and their purpose. They learn that cheese and butter are made from milk, for instance.

There are four different scenes of the farm, some with different animals. The children are either asked to point out a certain animal, “Where is the cow?” or something about what they see, “Where do you find the eggs?” When the children tap on the right answer, they are given a positive answer. When wrong, they get several more tries with clues. The animal artwork is cute and colorful, as is the animation. I also like the fact that the children need to answer questions, which teaches listening skills as well as vocabulary. The narrator even says, “Pay attention,” before asking the question.

Overall, the app is easy for a preschooler to use. A toddler is going to need more help. It’s just a tap on the right answer. In some cases, it is difficult to see the item; the hay, or what is called “dried grass,” is way in the distance in one farm setting, for example. When learning about each animal, there is a good amount of variety in the animation and the answers. The app developers say that there are 300 sentences or questions included in the app, which provides greater variety as well.

The narrator has an easy-to-understand English accent. If you speak American English, you will find some differences in the words and the questions. For example, instead of “Where is the male goat?” the question is “Where is the man goat?” The narrator asks, “Which plant is shaped like a cigar?” This question is not cross-cultural. For several reasons, you should do this app with your child the first time around. First, there are many new words, such as “buck” and “heron.” Also, some of the questions can be tricky, such as “Where is the female goat?” It is difficult to tell if the baby goat is male or female. When it asks, “Which animal brays?” I would have liked to hear the bray. You may need to make some of these sound effects.

Tilly's was a favorite Dutch app when it was first introduced. Your children will learn some new facts that are not typically included in farm apps, such as different birds like “heron” and “crane.” It’s a good way for you to talk about some of these new words, animals and activities taking place in a farm setting.

Ricochet Kids Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 25th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

There are a number of different categories of apps available in the marketplace for children: Games, just for fun. Educational, like 123’s. Music, singing and dance. Art, coloring and sketching. And, stories for reading and listening. Then, there are apps such as RicochetKids, which are a compilation of games, stories or, in this case, videos.

The parents who built this app for three- to eight-year olds, decided it was much safer to find some of the best YouTube videos and put them on an easy-to-use app than having your children online where they could stumble upon some not-so-kid-friendly sites. So, they reviewed a slew of kid-friendly videos and handpicked the best ones for their app. Each one is safe, so you can download the app on your iPhone or iPad, hand it over to your child without any fear of seeing anything inappropriate.

This is a great app for driving in the car or at the end of the day when things are winding down and it’s time to sit and relax for a few minutes. There are a number of different categories, so your children can easily pick what’s of interest: Animals, Cars & Trucks, Cartoons, Dora, Music, Movies, Transformers, and WB Kids to name a few of the 22 different channels available. New free videos will be added regularly. Actually, I found more on this list than I do when going through my 100s of cable TV stations! (No surprise!)

Which brings up another point: Some of these videos on RicochetKids are for the kids to sit and watch. Other ones, however, you can snuggle right up with your child and play, read, or learn along. This is especially the case, of course, with the larger iPad screen. You can enjoy some good old “Dr. Seuss,” “Clifford” or “Franklin,” sing along with some of the songs, learn about different animals or letters, or laugh at some of the just-for-fun quick hits.

I do think that the age of eight is stretching it a bit. Personally, I would say most of the videos are more for the younger kids. The only other question, and again, this is just my quirkiness: Why did they choose an “R” for the app icon? I know the name is “Ricochet,” but “R” now does often equate to adult-rated movies. I said it was “quirky”! I would have designed it differently, so that parents can automatically know it is a kid-friendly app that has a lot of fun “G” videos for viewing.

Papa Penguin Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 10th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

If you are going to get an app called Papa Penguin, of course you have to learn some new facts about penguins. Your children are more than likely going to ask, “Why is Papa penguin feeding the babies?” “Do only fathers feed the babies?” “Where’s the mother?” “Who takes care of the babies?” Did you know that penguin chicks (I had forgotten they were called this) cannot care for themselves, and they can only survive with their parents’ help? The male emperor penguin stays with his one egg while the female gets the food. All the time that the father penguin is protecting the egg, he does not eat anything but ice. If the egg hatches before mom returns, the male can produce a curd-like substance from his esophagus and feed his baby chick. Once the chicks are hatched, the moms and dads both feed the chicks with regurgitated (have fun explaining that!) food. And, among all those baby chicks, the adults can identify their own by its distinctive call. All human mothers and dads know they can do this, too.

Now it’s time to actually play the game along with its nice and mellow music. The chicks are crying because they are hungry. So, it is necessary to send Papa Penguin off to get some fish for their next meal. Your child moves him around in the water, gobbling up the fish and the bubbles of oxygen and then returning him with the fish to the starving chicks within a time deadline. Of course, just as in real life, there are many things to watch out for when catching those fish. There are different levels with varying challenges, such as seals and polar bears. Each new level increases speed and offers new risks. I’m not so keen on Papa dying or the kids starving when the time runs out or after hitting too many obstacles like poisonous jellyfish, but I guess that is nature at its worst.

Admittedly, just like any other game, it does become addictive. It’s important to keep those penguin babies fed and the new ones hatched. And, of course, the chicks are just like human babies and kids: As soon as dad returns with the fish after his dangerous trip into the sea, the chicks immediately eat up the food and demand more.

For younger children, the iPad is much easier for manipulation. On the smaller screens, it can be difficult getting away from the dangers and catching the necessary fish and bubbles for oxygen. Now, there’s another question you’ll need to answer. How long can a penguin go without breathing?

Toddler Toy Factory Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 4th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

What child would not want to make toys? That’s what I thought when I saw the name of this app. The app, itself, offers a number of different coordination and cognitive skills, but the title is misleading. The author says it was approved by his/her own toddler. Well, that toddler has a lot more ability than mine ever did! I would actually call this “Children’s Toy Factory” app rather than “Toddler” Toy Factory, because it has more abilities at the level of preschool and even kindergarten than toddler. In fact, the memory game in the “hard” mode could even be played by an older child or adult—admittedly, my memory is not the best, but I even had difficulty remembering where everything was in the “hard” mode. Best for a toddler’s age is the counting in the “Ship” room. I like the music that accompanies the app, it’s whimsical, and the sound effects add to the app’s entertainment value.

The Toddler Toy Factory does offer a good selection for long playing and learning time, and I like the fact that the child can advance upward from the “easy” mode as the skill is acquired in two of the rooms. In the first room, “Make,” the child reads the letter on the left hand side of the screen and chooses the correct letter from mixed up letter blocks on the right hand side. Then the letter is dragged over, so both letters match and then dropped into the toy machine. As each letter is dropped, it spells a word and out pops the toy that is spelled. The word is repeated, so the child knows what was made and how it is spelled. This is not an easy concept, either, and parents will need to explain it to the child. As the toys are made and piled on the factory floor, they can be tossed around and then back into the machine, if desired.

The “Find” room is an old-fashioned matching game, which is always fun and great for memory skills. The children will most likely be on the easy mode for some time. As the correct matches are made, the toys are dropped to the floor. Once again, they can be tossed around or put back into the machine’s spout to clean up the room. The toys are added to a number counter up top when the go back in. Adding a voice over counting the toys as they go in would add another counting skill. In the “Ship” room, the children drag and drop toys from the shelves into a barrel for shipping. The numbers are counted out loud until the last one is ready for shipping. The “easy” to “medium” to “hard” mode increases the number of items, so larger numbers are learned.