Tag Archives: apps 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.

Advertisements

Apps I Like: Speak for Yourself

I’m working on a Master’s degree in elementary/special education, and as a project for my Intro to Exceptionalities class, I put together this video presentation about (guess what?) an iPad app. This one is called Speak for Yourself, and it is a language assistance app for non-verbal individuals.

I admit I first heard about this app after reading an article in the Huffington Post about a patent infringement lawsuit a company called PRC slapped on the Speak for Yourself developers. As a result of the ongoing litigation, Apple made the controversial decision to (temporarily?) remove Speak for Yourself from the App Store. Read the HuffPo, TIME and Cult of Mac stories which ensued, and (if you are so inclined, as I was) sign the online petition designed to get Apple to reinstate the app while the matter is played out in court.

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: The Artifacts

Some of my favorite stories create not only an interesting plot and compelling characters, but also a real sense of mood and place–and they incorporate details that make me want to revisit it again and again. Unlike most of the picture book apps I have, The Artifacts (a recent storybook app by the independent team Slap Happy Larry) succeeds mightily in accomplishing all of the above.

This app appears to be aimed at the older school-aged kids (8-11 or so). It’s about a kid who collects stuff–all kinds of junk from his neighbors’ trash. His parents don’t understand his need to collect, and the story is about what happens when the family moves away.

The Artifacts

The app does a wonderful job of creating a rather haunting, but irresistable mood.

I love the illustrations and the color palette the artist chose, as well as the gentle story, which would be wonderful in printed form. However, the interactive features do a fantastic job of taking full advantage of the iPad’s touchscreen and gyroscope capabilities, elevating enjoyment of the story to a whole new level. Most of the pages feature objects or words that appear when the screen is tapped, but others use the swiping/coloring technique to reveal new illustrations underneath, and a couple of them allow the reader to tilt the screen to move objects in ways that further the ideas in the story. It all makes for a very immersive, and very entertaining, experience.

While my kids are aged 6 and 7, we were all completely charmed by The Artifacts, and I bet you will be too. It’s a real steal at only $1.99 in the Apple App Store, and is a universal app which will work on any iOS device. Go git it!

Print Books vs. Ebooks

IKEA Library

Dream library, IKEA version

As long as I can remember, I’ve had the dream of one day owning a house big enough to hold a room with a dedicated library of all my books, complete with one of those rolling ladders to allow me to reach the high shelves. This dream personal library has a velvet chaise lounge with a beautiful bronze floor lamp next to it, and a fireplace, bear rug, the whole luxurious nine yards.

I made a startling realization the other day: if we abandon the fantasy of the chaise lounge/floor lamp/fireplace, I’ve already got the dream library, since I have more than 600 books in my Amazon Kindle Cloud Drive and more than 200 iOS apps, half of them book apps.

Dream library, Kindle version

I write this post today because I’ve been hearing the following statement lately, from a variety of people:

“I like ebooks and all, but I prefer the feel of a real book in my hands.”

While I don’t really care if these folks hold on to their dead tree books as long as they like, I think they’ll eventually change their minds. Here’s why.

Ebooks Are Convenient

Between all my gadgets (Android phone, two iOS devices and a Kindle Touch) I have access to hundreds of books (many obtained free, or at discount prices) in my favorite genres. I send cookbooks, craft books and other how-to or multimedia books to the Kindle Reader on my iPad; mysteries, business books, chick lit and other text-based books I want to read soon to the Kindle Touch, and the rest (books I may want to read someday) to the Kindle Cloud Reader, which effectively stores them in the cloud for free. I use the Kindle Reader on my phone when I don’t have access to one of my other reading devices and I’m unexpectedly caught with an extra few minutes in my day. I like having my library accessible anytime, anywhere–I don’t have to be on the velvet chaise lounge after all.

Page turns are managed with a single touch to the right-hand side of the screen, and I can get to any place in the book easily, within a couple of touches.

Ebooks Enhance the Experience of Reading

I love the ability to touch a word I don’t know and get the definition instantly. I love that the Kindle system keeps my place no matter which device I’m using. I also love the way many of the book apps I have for my kids not only hold their interest but encourage literacy and retention through interactive features (one company that does this especially well is Oceanhouse Media with word highlighting and the ability to hear a word aloud when it’s pressed in their storybook apps).

Ebooks Are Lighter and Easier to Maneuver

I’ve been reading the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Because I am a cheapskate, I decided to read the third book (A Clash of Swords) in paperback, since I found it at my local used bookstore and purchased it with store credit. This book, in mass market paperback form, is heavier and bulkier than my Kindle Touch and won’t stay open without my propping it with a heavy object, so it’s difficult to hold with just one hand. I like the fact that I can store all the ebook versions of the others in the series (and hundreds of other books) on a single device that weighs less than the small-format paperback.

Ebooks Are Less Wasteful

Lately when I hold a print book, especially a hardcover, I’m hit with the overwhelming feeling of wastefulness. There’s something pretty unpleasant about the fact that the book I hold in my hands is a real, tangible slice of what used to be a living thing, processed and assembled for the sole purpose of my entertainment or learning. I offset this as much as I can by taking physical books I don’t want anymore to my local used bookstore, then offering the ones they don’t want on PaperbackSwap.com, but the fact is: printed books use up resources (paper, ink, glue and more) that no longer need to be expended for the same entertainment or educational value.

Ebooks Can be Updated Much Faster, and at Less Cost

Non-fiction books in print form eventually become outdated. Information changes and evolves as humans gain more knowledge about a topic, or when materials or ways of doing things are improved. But let’s be honest: most non-fiction print books will be truly useful for only a fraction of their lives. After that, the next edition replaces it–at significant cost. Textbook publishers have profited from this with great success for many years–at the expense of both teachers and students.

It’s time for ebooks to become the preferred way to distribute educational materials and other non-fiction content, which can be updated quickly and redistributed almost instantly, to all users of the material, with no expending of the tangible resources needed to print a new edition.

However, Ebooks Aren’t Perfect

For me, the five reasons above are pretty compelling for the shift to digital. But there are some things about ebooks I don’t like as well. These shortcomings aren’t enough to send me back to paper, but they are worth mentioning:

  • The Kindle ‘Farthest Page Read’ Feature Needs a Reset Button. The ability of Amazon’s Kindle devices to keep my place is great, but occasionally I accidentally make my way to a later page that doesn’t actually reflect where I am in the book. When this happens, keeping my place manually becomes a pain in the neck. I’d love to see a way to reset this, but I imagine it won’t happen, since the addition of this feature would make it much easier for spouses and other family members to share books on the same family of devices. But since I let my kids and spouse share my print books, I’d sort of like to share my ebooks with them too, in a hassle-free way. Come on, Amazon!
  • Prices of Ebooks from the Big Publishers are Too Expensive. Books coming from the big 6 publishers are priced according to their artificial and rapidly-crumbling world of print scarcity and their hardback-to-trade-paperback-to-mass-market-paperback release schedule. This is archaic and needs to change. Why should the ebook version of a title ever cost more than the mass market paperback would? It all comes down to greed, and an over-reliance of the old way of doing things. Eventually these outdated practices will put many of these publishers and retailers (remember Borders?) out of business.
  • Ebook Lending Needs to Be Improved. It’s nice that I can lend one of my Kindle books to someone else (if the publisher allows it), but I can only do it once. After that, the book can’t be lent again. I don’t mind the restrictions of one-person-at-a-time and my own inaccessibility during the lending period (since these are in force for my print books too) but let’s remove the artificial restriction of once only, and let me lend a book I’m finished with over and over if I choose.
  • Ebook Devices Aren’t Durable or Affordable Enough. When iOS devices and other ebook readers are able to withstand normal wear and tear by school-aged children (i.e. being dropped on the floor) and are cheaper than $50, we will see a true revolution. Until then, they aren’t practical enough to replace most of the printed books in my house, which are now children’s books. Plus an entire segment of the population (the lower middle classes and below) have little to no access yet.

So, what I’m saying is: in spite of the drawbacks, ebooks have become just as ‘real’ to me as print books are. I love them both, but I’m not buying many print books anymore. And eventually (probably within the next five years or so) most of the rest of you will be saying the same thing.

Apps I Like: Doodlecast by Tickle Tap Apps

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.

Such is the case with Doodlecast, a new offering from Tickle Tap Apps. The idea behind this is simple indeed, but the app opens the door wide open to a world of kids’ creativity.

Doodlecast is nothing more than a tool which allows kids to capture the process of creating a drawing–in video form, with their own narration. Kids can choose from several ideas to get the creative juices flowing, or they can start with (my favorite) a blank canvas. There are several colors to draw with, and once a background/idea is selected, the video recording process automatically begins. Simply speak while drawing to record a voiceover for your video, if desired. Press ‘Done’ when finished…playback the video and press Save, and voila! Your video is ready to be shared on your device. Use the Photos app (included with every iOS device) to view, email, or upload to YouTube.

Watch the above video to see how my 6 year-old daughter used Doodlecast to create a short clip about playing in the park. Note: I found this in the camera roll on my iPad a few days after my daughter created it, which is a testament to how easy the app is to use. She did it all on her own with no help or prompting from me. Pretty neat, eh?

Here’s the official app trailer for Doodlecast. This is a fun toy that encourages free expression, and is a great deal in the iTunes App Store at $1.99.

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