Tag Archives: activities for kids

Apps I Like: Roxie’s Doors and Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure

I’ve had my iPad2 for more than two years, and I’ve downloaded and tried hundreds of apps. Therefore, you might forgive me if I’ve become slightly jaded and unimpressed with many of them, for various reasons.

This is why I’m so excited to talk about a couple of apps from OCG Studios and the talented author/illustrator Roxie Munro: Roxie’s Doors and Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure. These two apps have rekindled my love for all things iPad, especially for games that the entire family can enjoy.

Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure

Roxie_Maze02

That’s my little red car in the lower left. I’m still looking for the penguin on this screen.

This game app is sort of a cross between Where’s Waldo? and a first-person adventure game. But it’s a devilishly clever maze too–and there are no instructions to tell you what to do (they aren’t needed). You’ll drive, walk, ski, fly and raft from screen to screen, picking up star points along the way and trying to locate objects, letters, penguins and other animals in Munro’s very detailed and beautiful artwork. Just as in real life, you can’t go the wrong way down a one-way street, and construction and other obstructions can keep you from taking the obvious route through a screen. This makes the maze quite challenging at times–in fact, I got stuck at one point and had to get my eight-year-old daughter to show me how to get to parts of the maze I’d been unable to navigate to.

The attention to detail in this app is truly wonderful. I like seeing my name on the side of a blimp!

The attention to detail in this app is truly wonderful.
I like seeing my name on the side of a blimp!

The navigation is intuitive, and there are little goodies (sound effects, etc.) to discover on each screen. The replay value is high, because the objects you’re expected to find change every time you come back to the app. It’s easy to see that both the developer and artist took great pains to get this one right. At three bucks for the iPad version, this one is a steal.

Roxie’s Doors

I’d categorize this app as a book, since there are words on the screen next to the illustrations, and matching narration by the author. But it’s also a delightful lift-the-flap and seek-and-find activity app. Each screen presents the reader with a door of some sort, and the words explain a series of objects which need to be found. What is so interesting about this book is that the doors/flaps/pockets can’t always be opened just by tapping on them. For instance, I needed to unzip a backpack pocket by dragging my finger across the bag–simply tapping it didn’t work. So the reader needs to try different approaches in order to find all the objects.

Roxie_Doors01

An apple and a hat (and a bunch of other objects) are hidden on each page.

One thing that can’t be shown in screen shots is the gorgeous three-dimensional effect built into every page of Roxie’s Doors. The app takes advantage of the iPad’s gyroscope, so readers will get a slightly different view of the room depending on how they tilt the tablet around. In some cases, items are hidden along the doorway edges and the screen will need to be tilted quite a bit in order to locate them.

Some items are hidden on the back of the door, behind the story text!

Some items are hidden on the back of the door, behind the story text! Words change from red to green once the item has been found.

As with Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure, there are sound and other effects that can be activated by tapping (turn the fire engine lights and siren on, for example). Beautiful artwork, engaging play and intuitive presentation make this one a winner, especially at only $2.99.

Both of these apps push the boundaries of what great children’s apps can be. My hat is off to both Roxie Munro and OCG Studios, and I will be on the lookout for their next collaboration.

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Home Craft Project: Fun Shaped Crayons

A project I’ve been seeing around the net lately is: making new crayons from all your broken ones by melting them into a silicon baking mold. Of course, I had to give it a try. Basically, you:

Star-Shaped Crayons Pre-Bake

Here’s what ours looked like before we placed the mold in the oven.

  1. Gather all your old broken crayons, and break them into smaller pieces if needed
  2. Place them (in any combination you wish) into a silicon mold (the ones made for baking, not the ice cube trays)
  3. Bake at low temperature (less than 300° F) until the crayons are melted
  4. Let the mold cool completely before attempting to remove new, funky-shaped crayons
  5. Color, and enjoy!
Star-Shaped Crayons Done

Here’s how some of ours turned out. They look like little Reese’s cups, in wild colors!

My kids absolutely loved this project. There’s something irresistible about combining colors and wondering with high anticipation how they’ll turn out. And I’m crazy about any fun activity that takes something basically useless (broken crayons) and turns them into something cool.

I intend to do some more experimentation to find out if I get better results with lower temperatures and less time in the oven. I probably left ours in a little too long, since the intense colors sank to the bottom. But we were happy with the results anyhow.

Happy baking!

Lego Apps I Like

Lego Minifig Army

I like Legos—always have. Lately I enjoy getting all my minifigs out, equipping them with weapons and lining them up as if getting them ready for battle (yep, those are mine in the photo above).

But in addition to the incredible fun a person can have with the physical Legos, I notice an increasing number of Lego-themed apps for the iPhone and iPad. I’ll discuss a few of these, and if you know more about some of the others (a quick search in the Apple App Store brought up nearly two hundred of ’em), let me know in the comments.

There are at least two dozen official Lego apps, but the only one of these I’ve tried is Lego Creationary. My kids love this fast-paced game. You start by rolling the dice (drag it to the edge of the screen and ‘flick it’ back across) and what you roll becomes the category (nature, objects, buildings, vehicles, random and double-point random). Next (to play), the game starts  building something with Lego bricks and you must choose one of four possible answers (through cartoon drawings) to guess what it is before the object is built. You’ll get more points if you can guess correctly early. My kids especially enjoyed this when we first got the iPad (a year ago) because neither one of them was reading well at the time, so this was a game we could all play together. Plus, it’s free!

Another one I downloaded recently is Lego Instruct. This is a fairly basic app that shows you step-by-step how to build stuff out of your existing bricks. A few instructions are included with the download of the app, and you can get more just by choosing “add more items…” from the main menu. Simple and clean illustrations and steps make it easy to put those bricks to good use. Pretty cool! The developer is Artel Plus, and this app is also free (but displays ads along the bottom edge of the screen). There’s also an Android version which I’ve downloaded, but haven’t spent much time with yet.

BrickPad is similar to Lego Instruct, but has a couple of really nifty features that set it apart. Not only does it include instructions for building new models with your old Legos, but you can rotate a model (and therefore view it from all angles) just by dragging your finger over one of them. Very cool! Also free in the App Store.

My daughter just walked by, saw what I was doing and asked if I’d download the Lego Ninjago apps for her to play with. I’ll let you know how she likes those too. Did I miss any of your favorite Lego apps? Let me know in the comments. Happy building!

Apps I Like: Middle School Confidential-Real Friends vs. the Other Kind

Are adults the only ones who have to deal with ‘frenemies’? Unfortunately, the skill of navigating the stormy waters of relationships is needed pretty early. Middle School Confidential: Real Friends vs. the Other Kind is the second app in the award winning series by Electric Eggplant, and stands out as a resource for helping kids in their tween years work through friendships.

I reviewed the first app in this series last year, and the same team (Annie and David Fox) is behind this new offering as well. Annie says that the topic of friendships is the most common issue she sees in the emails she receives from kids this age, and this story came out of her desire to “empower tweens and teens to change the way they deal with feelings and situations–to show them that they are the key to creating the kind of relationships they want.”

Middle School Confidential App

This app is similar to the first one in that it contains several stories about a group of kids (the same characters from the first in the series) in an appealing comic book format. Each story focuses on a different scenario and character, and these seemed believable to me. There are quizzes sprinkled throughout, which I think kids will enjoy. There is also a handy character ‘cheat sheet’, which gives the reader insight into each of the kids and their behaviors.

Annie Fox handles common middle-school relationship issues with wisdom and sensitivity. I especially liked the way a bit of background was revealed on one of the troubled characters–a great lesson for kids, and helps them see that if someone is behaving unkindly, there’s often bigger issues lurking below the surface.

The Middle School Confidential apps are some of the very few apps designed for teens and tweens. Luckily for them, the apps feature professional writing and artwork, appropriate themes and high-quality production values. I love where this series is headed, and I’m glad kids this age have Annie Fox and Electric Eggplant on their side. I wish all story apps for kids contained this level of thoughtful attention and mindfulness of the target audience.

I notice this app has been optimized for the new iPad’s retina display, and it’s only $2.99 in the Apple App Store.

(Full disclosure: I received a copy of this app for review purposes.)

Apps I Like: My Little Pony by Ruckus Media

I have to come clean here. As a parent of two young girls, I am often on the lookout for stories that provide strong female characters and feature empowering, not stereotypical situations. Therefore I frown on, but do not forbid, traditional pink/princess/fluffy stuff like Barbie, the Disney princesses and (gulp) My Little Pony. However, I know both my girls love My Little Pony, and I thought the new app from Ruckus Media deserved a chance at my house. Could it take advantage of the format and provide an experience beyond simple entertainment?

My Little Pony by Ruckus Media

My Little Pony - Twilight Sparkle: Teacher for a Day by Ruckus Media

The app is centered around a My Little Pony story called Twilight Sparkle: Teacher for a Day which I suspect comes from the television show. The story is straightforward enough, and features Twilight Sparkle’s adventure after she is asked by Princess Celestia to share a history lesson with the Cheerilee students about Equestria.

My Little Pony story

The story features all the ponies your child knows from the show and the toy figures.

Word highlighting is included when the ‘Read to Me’ option is selected on the main screen. I think this is a must-have feature for a storybook app and I’m glad to see it here.

There are also little short videos that pop up between pages here and there that follow the story, as well as little bits of hot spot animation that are fun the first few run-throughs but don’t add a whole lot to the experience.

Sprinkled throughout the story are optional activities like mazes and spot-the-difference panels. Completing these correctly wins the reader words, which can be used to fill in the blanks in Twilight Sparkle’s diary. Best of all, there are several of the randomly-generated activities, so kids don’t get bored when going back to try to earn all the words.

My Little Pony maze

Finishing the activities earns you words, which you use later on to complete several pages of Twilight Sparkle's diary.

The diary is my favorite feature of this app, because it could be used to help kids hone reading comprehension skills. The reader uses the words collected along the way to fill in the blanks in the diary. Tapping on a single word reads it to you, and once you’ve placed all the words in their proper spots you have the option to read the entire diary.

My Little Pony diary

Use the words earned by doing the activities to complete Twilight Sparkle's diary.

Of course, you can place any word in any blank you wish–which provides a fun Mad Libs-style wacky reading, if you desire. I admit I felt a little rebellious doing this!

The main theme of the story (friendship and working together leads to great things) is hard to miss, but I liked the secondary theme even better (it’s OK if you’re not great at everything–ask a friend to help you out). And for my youngest daughter who loves all things girly, I’m happy anytime she chooses to interact with an app that aids literacy, even if pink princess pony parties are involved.

Bottom Line: Great production values and familiar characters add up to a solid, if unsurprising, app experience. If your kids like My Little Pony, they will love this app. Reasonably priced in the App Store at $3.99, and the app is universal (designed for both the iPhone and iPad).

(Full disclosure: I received  a free copy of this app for review purposes.)

T-Shirts from Goodie World!

goodie world tees

The girls and I showing off our new shirts from Goodie World!

I’ve been wanting to show off these cool new t-shirts I won in a Twitter giveaway a while back, but vacation and a few other diversions kept getting in the way.

Do you guys know about Goodie World? This is a team of talented developers who are creating gorgeous learning apps for kids. Goodie Words, their first release, is a nifty little app that explains some common, but perhaps intangible or otherwise hard-to-explain, concepts/words for preschool kids.

I downloaded and tried out the free version of Goodie Words and loved it. First-class artwork and engaging interactivity make for a very endearing, useful and fun app, designed especially for the iPad.

According to their website, Goodie Shapes and Goodie Letters are in development right now–can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store for us. Thanks, guys,  for the awesome shirts (and cool apps)!

Apps I Like: Spot the Dot by Ruckus Media

When I heard that David A. Carter had developed an app in conjunction with Ruckus Media, I thought: “This is a match made in heaven!” My kids and I are already big fans of Carter’s pop-up books (I even have a copy of his wonderful Elements of Pop-Up, a hands-on how-to book for aspiring paper engineers) AND other Ruckus apps, so you can imagine how eager I was to try out Spot the Dot. But did it measure up to my high expectations?

The app is not a storybook app–more like an activity book (in line with the other geometric shape pop-up books Carter has developed). There are ten ‘playspaces’ for the user to explore, all featuring a ‘find the colored dot’ activity. A clearly-articulated male voiceover guides folks through each playspace. Lively animation, a beautiful color palette and well-chosen sound effects and music add to the experience.

The presentation is such that people of all ages will find themselves amused while searching for the elusive colored dot. And the icing on the cake: when the app is restarted, the dots will show up in a different location, so the puzzle solutions can’t be memorized! I consider that feature to be a real gift–straight from the app creators to me, adding exponentially to the replay value and entertainment factor.

I don’t give out star ratings for my informal reviews, but if I did, Spot the Dot would get five stars out of five. I just love it! Get your own copy for $3.99 on iTunes (iPad only), or if you’d like to try it out for free before purchase, download the Lite version, which includes three of the ten playspaces for you to sample. What are you waiting for?

(Full disclosure: I received a copy of this app for review purposes.)