Tag Archives: play

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.

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: 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!

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.)

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: Benny the Cat by Touchoo

Benny the Cat by Touchoo

I’m a big fan of the Touchoo apps. These guys have done a marvelous job of creating content for younger kids that truly takes advantage of the touchscreen medium that is the iPad/iPhone (read my review of their One Little Boy app). So their third effort, Benny the Cat, has some big shoes to fill.

This app isn’t a story so much as a ‘slice of life’ book where the child gets to interact with Benny on each page–including feeding him, petting him, and helping him get ready for bed. The art by Tamar Hak is whimsical and is accompanied by amusing sound effects and very simple text. My girls are a tad old for this level of story at ages 5 and 6, but all three of us were charmed by this adorable kitty app. I think it’s just right for toddlers and preschoolers, who will love helping take care of Benny.

Benny the Cat is $2.99 in the iTunes App Store. Have you cuddled YOUR cat today?

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

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.)

Interview with Gary James, Creator of a4cwsn.com

Do you remember the videos shown during the iPad2 launch? While I was mesmerized by the fun factor of the device, I was really touched by the way the iPad is being used to help kids with autism. It’s amazing to me that the tablet is helping these kids develop skills and gain independence.

When I connected with Gary James, founder and creator of the Apps for Children with Special Needs site, I was truly impressed with his effort to build a resource for parents and caregivers of special needs kids. He agreed to an interview, which I’m delighted to share with you today.

Apps for Children with Special Needs

the a4cwsn home page

1. Although it’s getting a lot of exposure now, the idea that mobile apps could help kids with autism and other special needs probably wasn’t as evident a year ago when the iPad was introduced. How did you discover that apps for kids could benefit these children?

A. Well, I have always been interested in electronics, computers, video games, big TVs–just like every other guy out there, but the real wake up was when my son was diagnosed with special needs. Ever since that day, I have always looked for ways to help him and also teach myself how to help others. So I have had a Mac for 10 years now and when the iPad came out, I was ready to go, knowing that this could be an amazing new way for our children to interact with a product that can help them develop mentally. Touch was the key.

2. The Apps for Children with Special Needs site (a4cwsn.com) seems like a godsend for all parents, not just those adults who support special needs kids. The app index of videos alone is extremely valuable. Did you have certain ideas in mind when you created the site, or did it evolve over time?

A. I created the site to help families like mine find apps that were useful for certain things, and at the same time show them how the apps worked so they would not waste their money if it was not what they needed. The site is evolving very, very fast. I am in the process of putting together categories unique to special needs children that will make it possible to search by therapy categories also. So if someone needs help with speech or AAC, for example, they will be able to see all the apps in those categories from 99¢ up to $350 on video before spending any money.

3. I love the JaMeos: video previews of storybook apps that can be digested in Just a Minute. With no commentary or voice over review, it’s just a brief walk-through of the beginning of a storybook app. What gave you the idea for this approach?

A. I came up with this idea after reading a story on my iPad by a company in England called Story Mouse. Their apps took me back to my childhood, when I had three TV channels and it was all about imagination and great storytelling. I think if people want to buy a book, it should start out with a good story, much like when you want to see a movie, you watch the trailers first and then decide what to do. My brother actually came up with the name as our last name is James and the clips are like cameos, thus Jameos and the abbreviation JAM worked well for Just a Minute.

4. I’d imagine that the community of parents and caregivers of special needs kids would be pretty choosy about the resources they use. What sort of feedback have you received on the site and on the tools you’ve provided?

A. I get amazing amounts of feedback from all over the world, the video podcast I provide to iTunes under Special Needs is ranked in the top 5 podcasts in over 40 countries. So I get ideas of what is missing, what people like and don’t like, apps I should look at and not look at, you name it and I hear it. I must say that most of the feedback about the site is very positive, parents telling me how much time and money I have saved them. This is why I started it in the first place.

5. I notice you’re also active on Facebook and Twitter. Have you found that social media makes it easier for people in the special needs community to connect with needed resources, and each other?

A. Twitter is a great way to get a message out to millions of people, but what I have found is that they really have to be interested in what you are saying and doing. The main issue with Twitter seems to be that people just want to have large numbers following them and don’t really care what or when they say things. Facebook, on the other hand, is much more personal. Pictures and information about interests similar to yours seem to bring together communities of great people. We recently held a Facebook party to celebrate some great developers and gave away over 300 amazing apps to people who otherwise may not have had the opportunity, including an app worth $500 and another one worth $200. What happened with the numbers was amazing, the amount of times my posts were read came to something like 600,000 in a 24 hour period. Now that is good marketing!

6. As a writer/illustrator myself, I have a big need to enrich the lives of others. Knowing that there is a possibility that special needs kids could benefit through one of my stories is extremely gratifying. What caused you to become involved with the special needs community–and have you found your work on the a4cwsn site gratifying as well?

A. I love what I do and I hope others do also. I got involved because of my children. #6 is due any day now and my other five are the reason I get up every morning. My eldest is 18 and now has special needs. Benjamin who just turned 6 is also on the spectrum so I will never stop, I will never give up and I will do all I can to help anyone who needs it.

* * * * * * * *

Make sure you both bookmark the Apps for Children with Special Needs site (a4cwsn.com) and Like them on Facebook. I understand Gary is gearing up for another app giveaway extravaganza soon! Thanks to Gary for his thoughtful responses.

Apps I Like: Two French Apps

While the rest of the world was in England last week for the royal wedding, I was in the French Alps! er, I mean Apps. I had a chance to try out two nifty French-themed kids apps, and I think you’ll like them too.

Word Wagon by Duck Duck Moose

Word Wagon: Kids spell words by dragging the letters in place.

The first app is Word Wagon by Duck Duck Moose, an award-winning developer of educational game apps for kids. This app is all about spelling words and is designed for youngsters just learning to read. A cute little rodent named Mozz lives under the Eiffel Tower (and he wears a beret!). He and his bird friend Coco guide kids through each word.

I really liked the artwork, French-themed music and animation, and I also like the fact that the letters are mentioned by name and pronounced as they should sound in the word. When the word is formed correctly, it is spoken and then the word is collected in the wagon.

Kids can see how many words they’ve formed, and along the way they collect stars which can be used to form constellations. There are four levels of difficulty in the app, which is nice because each of my two kids can enjoy the app at their own ability level.

While definitely an educational app, Word Wagon is well designed and makes learning spelling and phonics fun. It’s $1.99 and is designed for the iPhone, although it looks great at 2x on my iPad.

* * * * * * * * * * *

GoKids Apps: Save Paris! is a clever app for older kids by Fun Educational Apps. You are tasked with saving Paris from evil alien invaders who are focused on ‘Glooping’ everything in sight!

Your mission is to learn about France and Paris, and then use your new knowledge by pairing facts with their definitions in a match card game. If you miss too many it’s Game Over. If not, you’ll be rewarded with a fun ‘whack-a-mole’ game, where the object is to tap on the aliens as fast as they pop up.

I admit I went through only the first three missions of ten. The material covered is wonderfully comprehensive and includes geography, language, culture, history and more. This would be a fantastic resource for kids 8-12, especially those who are visiting France, taking French or doing a unit on France in geography or history class. But the alien invasion theme and the game action would probably draw kids back just for that aspect of the app.

With high-quality art, music and gameplay, GoKids Apps: Save Paris! is a crash course in French culture sandwiched between top-secret missions to defeat green Gloop aliens. What’s more fun than that? Find it in the App Store for $1.99.

(Full disclosure: I received a copy of each of these apps for review purposes.)