Buy This, not That: Word Games
KinderTown reviews lots of apps for kids that never make it to the KinderTown store. This week I thought that I would share an app I didn’t choose, and why, and recommend a better replacement that exists, but may not be on a banner ad in the iTunes store right now. This will be the first in a series of posts called “Buy This, Not That App.”
This week: Word Games
Futaba Classroom Games for Kids comes highly recommended as a multifaceted game to use with your family or in your classroom. The app is completely customizable for what you want kids to learn and play. This is one of the few apps designed completely for social play. Either play with the provided content or create your own. Up to four players can sit around the iPad. Tap “start” and the game begins. One game might have the center showing a picture of a pig. The first player to tap the word “pig” on their panel scores a point. After winning three rounds, the child is awarded a Futaba which is a small seedling. Futaba comes with several learning sets, but what makes this app exceptional is the fact that you have complete control of the content. Design your games by using the camera on your device or add your own text. The latest update provides an option to use Dropbox to upload images. The amount of customization allows both parents and teachers to get creative. The options seem limitless. Futaba is free, but KinderTown recommends the in-app purchase for $2.99 to unlock all the features.
At first glance, Mad Libs appears to be an educational app for kids. I remember playing Mad Libs as a kid, so I assumed that today’s digital version would be even better. I assumed the app would read aloud directions to children, give them feedback on the words inputted, make suggestions for nouns, and detect whether the words inputted fit the grammatical category. These are all the things my mother did for me as a child to create a learning experience. I was disappointed to learn that it did not include these features, and appeared as sadly lacking in interaction as it was when I was a kid. When the app opens, the words and graphics appeared fuzzy on the iPad. To get started, children choose a theme for their story, for example, bowling. The app assumes children know what to do, and can easily begin adding nouns, adjectives, etc. in the appropriate blanks. The app also accepted non-words typed in by children (tlsdjgs), and the app does not evaluate if the word is actually a noun or not. The app does provide a sliding bar at the top to define what a plural noun is, and give examples. This was the best feature I encountered.
Once the story was finished, the children had to read the story themselves, and most of the time the story didn’t make any sense based on the words that children picked. The app congratulated the child for their work with the words, “Word, Playa!” regardless of the quality of words inputted. This is not how I think children should be given feedback. The bottom line is that Mad Libs does not aid in a child’s comprehension and understanding of language skills, so why not spend your money on an app that does? Don’t fall for the nostalgia you associate with the name Mad Libs.
Apps for Thanksgiving
This digital book app by Sandra Boynton is a classic story to be enjoyed again and again by your youngest child. The story is about animals getting dressed in human clothes. The turkey in the story can’t quite put the clothes on the right part of his body, indicated with the word “oops” each time. Your toddler is sure to giggle over his mistakes! The story has two options: I want to read it myself, or The big guy reads it. There is delightful background music that can be turned off from the home screen if desired. This book is appropriate for children ages 2 and 3, and is the most fun when you read it with your child and prompt them to join in on the simple story after multiple readings. Another great way to enjoy the book with your child is by trying echo reading. Choose the option “I want to read it myself.” Then read the text yourself and have your child repeat the text read back to you. Blue Hat, Green Hat fits this activity well because of the short phrases and repeated words. The app is narrated by a calming voice, and highlights the words as they are read. A great story to enjoy before nap-time! Check out the other digital books by the author Sandra Boynton; again, they are a perfect fit for 2-3 year olds. The app is $3.99.
The app opens with the classic “Peanuts” music and each page has a hidden leaf for children to discover. The story has the options “Read to me” and “Read myself.” The words are highlighted as the narrator reads, and the characters on the page are animated like the classic “Peanuts” shows. In the story, Charlie Brown is not feeling thankful. His friends invite themselves over for Thanksgiving, and Charlie Brown is upset about preparing a Thanksgiving meal. Woodstock and Snoopy save the day by helping Charlie Brown prepare a Thanksgiving meal. The story does include nice interactive features on each page, but it is quite long and feels almost like you are watching a Peanuts movie while reading the story and turning the pages. This app is appropriate for children ages 4-6 and is $5.99.
The Berenstain Bears are a beloved family in my house; my children often select Berenstain Bear books at the library, and to read before bed. As a parent, I really like how they have a message, and often give me a chance to talk to my kids about things we share in our life. It’s funny that some of my children’s favorite Berenstain Bear books were: The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies, and The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food. Both of these addressed issues we were having in our family, but my children selected the books again and again to read for pleasure. I think the characters are easy to relate to, and that’s what has made them so popular for so long. The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks is about their days leading up to Thanksgiving day, and includes the bear children learning about the first Thanksgiving day. The book does talk about being thankful and includes a coordinating Bible verse at the end. The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks is a part of the Living Light Series by Oceanhouse Media. Check it out here, and be sure to download the free book The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule. The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks is $1.99 and appropriate for children ages 3-7.
Hip Hop Hen Hits the Mark!
If you have a budding pre-schooler at home just learning to write their letters, Hip Hop Hen is for you! Hip Hop Hen is a delightful app to practice writing letters and learning their sounds too.The app opens with pleasing, calming music and cute graphics. When your child hits play an adorable alphabet appears. Click on one of the letters to practice writing the letter. The letter appears on lined paper and children can choose which color crayon to write the letter with. KinderTown really likes how each letter is presented in conjunction with the coordinating sound and shows the letters in lower-case. Lower-case letters are most often seen in print, so children should learn to identify them first in preparation to read. As the children correctly write the letter they earn balloons on a board to pop once the letter is completely written. Our kid testers loved popping the balloons and KinderTown loves that the letter sound is made each time a balloon is popped. KinderTown would like to see the letter name stated as well as the sound when the letter is presented. Both the letter name and letter sound are important early literacy skills. There is also a “free draw” area for kids, when children need to take a break. This app is designed for pre-schoolers (ages 3-5) who are learning their letters and is $2.99. Hip Hip Hooray for Hip Hop Hen!
“Cards” gets a digital spin!
Duckie Deck Card Wars is one you will certainly want to have in your bag of tricks! Card Wars is simply a deck of cards on your iPhone or iPad. As you start the game within the app, the screen is divided so that each player can sit on one side of the device. Tap to play your card and swipe to collect your cards. As in the game of “war,” the app prompts you to lay additional cards to see who is the winner of “war.” The app is simple, yet engaging enough to keep kids’ attention. KinderTown likes how the app can be played with another person. Have your child play it with a grandparent, cousin or friend! In the game children are comparing the values of the numbers that appear on the played cards. The app could improve by including an automatic or a “versus” the computer option for those moments when two people are not available. KinderTown would also suggest a home button to exit the game at any time, and fun options such as choosing the type of cards you use, different music options or changing the color of the background, the little things that kids love! There are no in-app advertisements or in-app purchases, which makes this a great choice for children. The app is $2.99 and appropriate for children ages 4-8. Overall, this is a great addition to your iPhone or iPad.
Quick Math Jr. Loved by KinderTown!
KinderTown loves the new app, Quick Math Jr. by Shiny Things. It’s uniquely made to capture kids’ attention and teaches about counting, ordering numbers, addition, subtraction, and handwriting numbers.
The app is centered around colorful and playful monsters. Five different game areas are randomly selected from when the game play begins. They are represented by a bus, a light bulb, a pair of eyes, a house, and a train. One of the greatest features of the games is that they automatically adjust to your child’s learning level so they are appropriately challenged as they learn.
In the bus game, children must put the same number of monsters onto the bus as the number shown. KinderTown likes how the monsters occasionally “pair up” to assist children in skip counting by two’s to reach the desired number and that the bus coordinates to a ten frame used to gain a visual understanding of the number ten.
In the train game, children have to place the numbers in the correct order on the train. As the levels progress, the train shows skip counting number patterns such as 2′s,3′s, 5′s, and 10′s counting forward and backwards.
In the light bulb game, children are shown a certain number of monsters underneath the light for a few seconds, then the child must select that number from the dice shown below after the light goes off.
In the game represented by the pair of eyes, children are given the opportunity to practice writing their numbers. The app aims to detect your child’s handwriting to adapt to their style. This feature can also be turned off.
In the game represented by the house, number memory mansion, children must remember how many monsters go in the house and exit the house, arriving at the final number of monsters hidden within the house.
Throughout the game, children can earn different facial features for the monsters, that then appear within the app. Our child testers loved this feature and the ability to personalize their own monster. The app allows for multiple students to have profiles, so if you have a classroom or multiple children at this level, the app will support each child’s individual development. The app is appropriate for children who can recognize numbers and number concepts starting around 4, through the ability to add and subtract numbers and memorize the facts usually around second grade or age 7/8. Parents, also read the parent section to read different examples of age-appropriate number games that can be played offline to support your child’s learning and development of numbers.
Curl up with a Digital Book App
Reading Aloud to your child is one of the many things that you as a parent can do to prepare your child for kindergarten and beyond. Many experts recommend reading 1,000 books prior to kindergarten. Why not use some of these digital book apps to read to your child? The app can read to them, or you can turn the narration off, and read the story aloud to your child. Store a few away on your phone and you will always have a book with you to read to your child during those “in between” moments. Reading a book is a great way to spend that “in between” time while waiting to pick up a sibling, sitting in the Doctor’s office, waiting at the bus stop, or at home before bed.
iStoryTime is a digital library full of books you can purchase. This digital library specializes in popular cartoon character stories such as Wubbzy, Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock, Strawberry Shortcake, VeggieTales, Yo Gabba Gabba!, Animal Planet, The Smurfs, Sid the Science Kid, Barney, Mike the Knight, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Puss n’ Boots, How To Train Your Dragon, Madagascar, Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and others. If your child likes many of these characters, iStoryTime would be a good match for you. Also included in iStoryTime’s library are classic stories such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Jack and the Beanstalk. New stories are added each week, and there is a locked parent section to view the store. A handy “My Books” area holds your purchased books. The stories do not contain much interactivity, but provide animated narration, and some of the books highlight the words as they are read. The app also includes four free books to try before purchasing additional titles as in-app purchases. iStoryTime is a handy addition to your on-the-go reading time.
KinderTown adores these recreated fairy tale classics! The stories include wonderful graphics, moving characters and scenes, speech bubbles, puzzles to solve along the way, and child-centered story development. For example, in the Little Red Riding Hood, there is a slide-out map for children to determine the direction in which they advance through the story. Each area contains information about the story and a puzzle or activity to increase engagement, such as imitating a tune with musical instruments (with a monkey!), or helping a lost spider out of her web. The stories are based on the classic fairy tales, but updated and adapted to engage young, 21st-century readers. Kudos to the developer for reinventing timeless classics for the next generation. Each fairy tale is $2.99 and appropriate for children ages 3-7.
Polar Bear Horizon is a non-fiction book app for children to learn about polar bears. This app has a lot of strengths: great narration, rich vocabulary, colorful pictures, tappable picture labels and highlighted words. Older children could also personalize the app by rerecording the narration, or parents can rerecord the story for children. Compiled with the help of the Smithsonian Institute, the information is sure to fascinate children and provide new facts to learn. Oceanhouse Media provides many fascinating educational topics for their e-book apps, check out the full Smithsonian collection. Each ebook app is $2.99 and appropriate for children ages 5-8.
Add some fun to your math learning time on the iPad with these math apps!
Dragon Shapes is an app based on the traditional tangram shapes. The puzzles are presented in a sequential order in order to introduce the shapes and teach children how to rotate each shape to create a match in the puzzle. It also develops relationships between the shapes: for example, how two triangles can be made into a square. KinderTown also likes the light bulb feature in the corner that children can tap when they are stuck to get a hint. The puzzles progressively get harder and the shape outlines are dropped as children advance through the four levels. Use the hint button to see the outlines as needed. This app is developing visual-spatial skills, as well as concepts about shapes. There are 50 puzzles to play, so the app is sure to grow with your child. This app is appropriate for children ages 6-9, is free to download, and includes the level 1 puzzles for free. The additional content of 50 puzzles is available as an in-app purchase for $2.99.
Shape Arts comes from the same developer as Dragon Shapes, and has many of the same characteristics, though its age range is somewhat broader: 5-10. Puzzles are presented, and children must match the shapes to solve the puzzles using the tangram pieces. KinderTown likes how Shape Arts is different from other tangram apps because it requires the children to rotate the pieces to correctly place them in the puzzles. This challenges children and develops their visualization skills more than if the shapes do not have to be rotated, and more closely matches the traditional tangram puzzle play with the hands on blocks. When the hands on blocks are used, they are not aligned for children to complete the puzzle, and they must use problem solving skills to complete the puzzles, rotating the pieces . This app also includes a free play area, a popular activity for younger children. After children create a picture in the free play area, they can submit their picture to the library for others to solve. As children progress through the app they are able to collect marbles as prizes. The app is $2.99 and does not include any in-app purchases.
Todo Telling Time is an app that includes six games that develop time-telling skills. There are three levels of game play included in each of the games. KinderTown likes how the concepts about the clock are developed in several of the games, such as counting by 5′s and arranging the numbers on the clock. Todo Telling Time also includes games about time that include understanding the days of the week, months of the year and understanding the calendar. The app also includes a fun quiz section that parents could use to inform them of their child’s progress. The app is priced at $4.99, and contains three levels of content that should last from approximately Kindergarten through second grade. This is the best telling time app KinderTown has reviewed!
Addimal Adventure is an app that teaches addition strategies to children and provides practice using the strategies. The app introduces the strategies through character interactions and clever animations. The animals teach the addition strategies to children, then allow time to practice the strategy through a hands-on numberline and blocks. The addition strategies introduced are: Count All, Count On, Near Doubles, Tens, Memory, Memory with Hint. This app focuses on one very specific math skill usually learned between the ages of 4-5. The app is free to download and available for iPad only.
Apps That Promote Problem Solving
Problem Solving apps are perfect for your children to explore on a rainy day, a long car ride, or a day off from school. Check our KinderTown’s top picks for developing problem solving skills.
In Thinkrolls, rolling character balls take the stage as your child solves increasingly complex problems to allow their character to progress through the maze. There are two levels of game play, easy and hard. Easy is recommended for children 3-5, and hard for children ages 5-8. KinderTown recommends that all children begin at the easy level to understand the goals of the puzzles. Your child does not have to spend a long time at this level to be ready to move to the harder levels, but this will set them up for success. A blinking “redo” symbol flashes in the corner to assist your child when they are stuck and unable to complete the challenge. The challenge is then reset with the maze.
The challenges in the mazes come in the form of obstacles. Some unique obstacles include fire blocks, ice blocks, balloons, and KinderTown’s favorite, the jelly block. The jelly block allows your character to jump up from one area to another. Another child tester favorite was the fire block. Watch out! If your character rolls into the fire block, it will turn black and burnt, which our child testers loved! However, the goal is to not become burnt. Children eventually solved the puzzles after experiencing the burnt characters. As the levels progress, children have to use visualization skills to predict the cause and effect of several “moves” in the puzzle. Concepts about physics and chemistry are sprinkled along the way when children must make decisions about the moving gear box, figure out how to make the balloon pop and move the ice to squelch the fire. The app offers an amazing amount of content in the 90 levels of easy game play and 90 levels of hard game play. Many different players’ games are stored within the app by the labels “Player 1″ ,”Player 2.” Change the “Player 1″ to your own child’s name by double tapping to store different games for multiple children within the app. Be sure to read the Chapter descriptions in the settings section for parents in order to have a complete understanding of all the challenges presented in each level or chapter. There are nine levels of game play included so the app is long lasting! Thinkrolls is a truly unique app priced at $2.99, available for iPhone and iPad, and is recommended for children ages 3-7.
Twelve a Dozen is a game based in the town of Dozenopolis in which the number 12 must solve puzzles in order to save the town. The fictitious town is buried beneath a broken pixel on a calculator. Twelve, the main character, must progress through the world in order to save Dozenopolis by solving problems and math number sentences. Twelve is accompanied by her friend “Dot,” a helpful decimal point. The app does have a creative story line and dark graphics. Your child should have a solid understanding of addition and subtraction to use the app effectively.
As the levels progress, concepts about multiplication and division are presented and must be solved. Twelve a Dozen uses creative numblings, which are number characters that you use to solve problems. Twelve is the main character but her number screen changes when other numblings are added or subtracted from her. KinderTown likes how the app allows you to rewind or use hints, and includes checkpoints along the way. This app would be well-suited for children who are typically at the end of first grade, or at a second grade level, or ages 6-8.
2 New Creativity Apps
KinderTown loves Sophie’s Drawings because of the way it encourages drawing and art for kids who may not want or know how to draw on their own. Sophie’s drawings has 3 different categories of drawings that children can choose from: Hello, The Sea, and The Farm. In the Hello section children can trace basic shapes and make a simple person. The Sea includes more complex drawings, such as a whale, boat, or shark. The Farm section includes a house, a cow, and a pig. Once each drawing is finished, a cute animation follows as a reward for children. The help section can assist children in drawing lines. This app is a great tool for developing fine motor skills in young children, or can be used with a stylus to begin to develop their pencil grip. Sophie’s Drawings has a free version to try out before purchasing. The full version is $2.99 and appropriate for children ages 3-6; it may be especially popular with girls because of the main character, Sophie.
KinderTown loves Bubl:Draw because of the interaction between art and music in this app. There are three different modes that children can draw in while using the app: Classic, Disco, and Rumba. As children draw with the colors and shapes, a musical sound coordinates with the art, making a unique “video song” when completed. With an adult, children can share their creations with others, and replay them. With the touch of a button children can clear the screen and start again. Bubl: Draw has welcoming bright colors and patterns for young children to explore and be creative with! It is also simple enough for children as young as 3 to navigate independently. Bubl: Draw is $2.99, available for iPhone and iPad and is appropriate for children ages 3-5.
Top “Learn to Read” Apps
Learning to read is a skill that evolves over a long period of time. Watching kids develop their reading skills is especially fun as they grow in confidence and become excited about books they can read by themselves. Remember that learning to read is a journey and not a race, so enjoy your child’s development along the way. These apps work best as one of a few approaches to reading, including reading aloud to your children, and listening as they read aloud: a perfect recipe for success! Check out KinderTown’s top rated Reading Apps!
Learn with Homer is a full “Learn to Read” series of lessons for kids. The app features letter-sound instruction, sight word introduction, read-aloud stories, and a mixed review of concepts. The app introduces a letter and through game play children must identify the sound in the beginning, middle and end of words. This is a essential skill for developing phonemic awareness in preparation for learning to read. Also included in the progression through the lessons is the introduction of sight words. Sight words are words that can not be “sounded out” but rely on more instant recognition to develop fluent reading skills.
The app does a nice job of mixing instruction with a review of previously-taught concepts and the reading aloud of real books, which are all key components of learning to read. This app would be appropriate for children who are learning their letter sounds and are just beginning to read, or who need a review of the letter sounds. In addition, the app encourages children to record their voice saying the letter sounds, and reading the books and words included in the app. Children are most often at this developmental level during kindergarten and first grade. In addition, the developers of Learn with Homer conducted research using their app on children who were beginning to read and showed that the use of the app 15 minutes a day led to an increase in their beginning reading skills. KinderTown agrees that working 10-15 minutes on apps focused on reading skills into your beginning readers’ routine will encourage their development in this crucial area. Check out their website for a free 1 month trial. Read with Homer is free to download but does include in-app purchases to buy additional lesson content.
Reading Raven is a self-paced, phonics-based reading instructional app for emergent (beginning) readers. This app does a wonderful job of creating a variety of phonics instruction activities that will keep children interested. Parents and teachers are thoughtfully given in-app tools for customizing their children’s learning experience. Throughout the app, children are learning about letter sounds and word parts. Make sure to read the parent & teacher guide in the app and visit their website at www.readingraven.com for videos and more information. Reading Raven Vol. 2 expands on the content learned in Reading Raven such as long vowel patterns and blends. Reading Raven is appropriate for children beginning to learn their letter sounds, and Reading Raven 2 is appropriate for children who have learned most of their letter sounds and are ready to identify patterns in words. Most children are at this level when they are ages 4-7. Reading Raven is $3.99 and Reading Raven Vol. 2 is $2.99.
Montessori Crosswords creates a valuable learning environment for children to practice identifying individual sounds in words. The activities are leveled and the app will grow with your child who is just starting to identify letters, to when they are reading and writing words at a first/second grade level. The app uses color coding and chunking to reinforce spelling concepts. Families will find interacting together with the movable alphabet to be quite enjoyable. In addition, the movable alphabet could be used with children to practice spelling words or sight words they are learning. Check the settings to set a time limit for the beautiful and fun sensory rewards. They can be distracting to the overall learning if not limited, but our child testers loved playing with them as a quick reward. Montessori Crosswords is appropriate for children ages 4-7 and is $2.99.