November 24, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Warren Buckleitner Curates a Starter Set of Apps

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Strange and Wonderful World of Ants

Strange and Wonderful World of Ants (Amos Latteier).

When the iPad arrived on the scene in 2010, few people anticipated its profound impact on the very young. With a portable, multi-touch screen, powered by a 10-hour battery, it was the ideal children’s computing machine. What could go wrong?

You might say that the iPad’s been cursed by its own success. Everywhere you look, young faces are illuminated by the glow of pirated videos and mid-to-low quality apps that tease them with free offers.We’re drowning in a flood of free and cheap apps. By a conservative estimate, there are more than 50,000 of them targeting children.

Here’s a starter list of better apps, with something for every youngster and topic. Bear in mind that prices and platforms change frequently.

Your child’s very first app. For a young child who has never touched a tablet, you’ll need apps in which accidental success is part of the design.

Grandma’s Preschool

Grandma’s Preschool. (Fairlady Media)

Grandma’s Preschool . Fairlady Media. iOS. $2.99. Ages 3–6. Here are 11 no-fail school-themed activities and 13 videos, where just about anything you touch does something classroom related. Ideal for a young child headed to preschool.

Kapu Bloom Tunes. Kapu Toys. iOS and Android. $1.99. Ages 1–3. A musical finger-painting activity that introduces symmetry and melody. Start by decorating a giant seed, which becomes a colorful flower with petals that spin with every swipe.

My Very Hungry Caterpillar . StoryToys. iOS and Android. $3.99. Ages 2–7. Children take full control of Eric Carle’s renowned bug in this excellent production. Touch fruit on a tree to help the creature find food, and plant seeds in the garden to grow more. Two can take turns feeding the caterpillar, making this a good co-play experience.

Sago Mini Boats! Sago Sago. iOS. $2.99. Ages 2 Up. Set sail in 10 boats, each with a different destination. To advance forward, touch a spot in front of the vessel, to retreat, tap behind it—but watch out for pirates! A good choice for two players or for some parent/child interaction.

Creativity. These apps will provide experiences that help children control the screen—not the other way around.

Book Creator. Red Jumper. iOS, iPad only. $4.99; $2.49, Android. Ages 3 Up. A simple but powerful app that lets you create more than books. Mix together video, audio, and sketches to design projects in a variety of formats including ePub, iBooks, and PDF.

ChatterPix Kids. Duck Duck Moose. iOS. Free. Ages 4 Up. Converts pictures into talking puppets, driven by the user’s voice. Simply trace a line for the mouth, record your narration, and see the lips move. If you’ve ever wanted to make your dog talk, this is the app.

Toca Hair Salon Me

Toca Hair Salon Me (Toca Boca).

Toca Hair Salon Me. Toca Boca. iOS and Android. $2.99. Ages 3 Up. Use the tablet’s camera to map your face onto animated salon customers, complete with blinks, yawns, and stretches, then experiment with different hair tools, and cut, curl, and color—over and over again.

Logic and mathematics. Tools that let children explore some core concepts of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Attributes by Math Doodles. Carstens Studios. iOS, iPad only. $2.99. Ages 6 Up. A celebration of mathematical thinking with seven hand-illustrated, mind-bending puzzles that can be customized in multiple ways.

Crazy Gears . Seven Academy. iOS. $1.99. Ages 5–8. Position moving gears, chains, rods, and pulleys to complete a challenge. There are 61 puzzles, each slightly more difficult than the last.

Thinkrolls 2. Avokiddo. iOS and Android. $2.99. Ages 3–9. Swipe your way through a series of increasingly challenging mazes, gently introducing properties of matter. Thinkrolls do more than roll—they float, glide, and teleport through the differently themed chapters.

Interactive stories. Can an app provide an innovative way to tell a story? Perhaps. Here are three noteworthy examples.

Sago Mini Fairy Tales . Sago Sago. iOS. $2.99. Ages 2–5. Explore 30 playful fairy tales by steering a flying cat. Children will meet classic characters from Jack, of beanstalk fame, to Humpty Dumpty.

The Cat in the Hat . Oceanhouse Media. iOS and Android. $3.99. Ages 3 Up. Oceanhouse Media offers hundreds of digital classic books, to which you can add your own narrations. Users build meaning by touching words to see items labeled.

Snow White . Nosy Crow. iOS. $4.99. Ages 3–8. One of many well-crafted digital folktales produced by Nosy Crow. Text is touch-and-hear, and you can tilt the screen to rock baby Snow White to sleep, or see yourself in the magic mirror via the iPad’s camera.

Reading skills. Some apps can facilitate letter/sound associations—a great aid for emergent and struggling readers.

Endless Alphabet . Originator. iOS, $6.99. Android, $5.99. Ages 3–12. Letters transform into living toys that voice their names. Children quickly learn that one letter works with others to build words and sentences. Another app in the series, Endless Spanish, is ideal spelling practice for both native English and Spanish speakers.

Mystery Word Town

Mystery Word Town (Artgig Studio).

Mystery Word Town . Artgig Studio. iOS and Android. $2.99. Ages 6–12. Here’s one solution to an age-old challenge: making spelling practice fun. Users explore buildings in a Western town to find lost letters that spell words and unlock doors. Choose between three challenge levels, each with about 80 common words.

Strange and Wonderful World of Ants. Amos Latteier. iOS, iPad only. $1.99. Ages 6–12. First published in 2011, this app remains a lauded example of good design. The key feature is the reading-level toggle, offering three modes: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

Science. Tablet cameras are ideal for collecting, storing, and classifying images, say, from a field trip or a walk in the park. Find a strange bug? Look it up with Google Image search. Going on a walk? Chart a route in Google Street View, and show kids where they’re heading.

Toca Nature. Toca Boca. iOS and Android. $2.99. Ages 5–9. It might look like any other Toca Boca app, but this one comes with some big ideas about how different systems must work together in a typical forest. It’s also a good exercise in spatial thinking.

Star Walk Kids. Vito Technology. iOS and Android. $2.99. Ages 6–12. A simplified version of a favorite astronomy app, Star Walk. Point your tablet at the sky to identify the location of any star, constellation, or planet—even in daylight.

The Human Body . Tinybop. iOS. $3.99. Ages 4 Up. Exploration of the human body, without embarrassment. Animated graphics are clear and gore free. Working models of the eye and ear tap the tablet’s camera and microphone.

Creativity apps. Tools to help children make their own drawings, music, or animated productions.

Easy Studio

Easy Studio—Introduction to Animation (Edoki).

Easy Studio—Introduction to Animation. Edoki. iOS. $3.99. Ages 5 Up. An ideal introduction to animation principles. The built-in tutorial demonstrates how a simple shape can come to life.

Auxy: Beat Studio. iOS, iPad only. Free. Ages 8 Up. This app converts an iPad into a looping music machine. The free version provides basic tools for mixing beats and melodies. Extra features, including the ability to export your work, cost extra.

iStopMotion . Boinx Software. iOS, iPad only. $9.99. Ages 7 Up. Among the more powerful animation apps. One feature enables time-lapse projects, allowing viewers to watch a plant bloom or the weather change.

Video. Be warned. The iPad can become a million-channel TV with the potential for delivering hours of mindless, passive video. The less active a child is, the less they learn.

YouTube Kids, Google. iOS and Android. Free. Ages 3–12. Combines the power of YouTube’s vast video library with powerful content filters, plus voice searching, a timer, and other features. Unlike YouTube’s regular version, all external links are removed in YouTube Kids, along with comments and adult advertising. There are still ads, which is why this app is free. Also, sneaky video publishers have devised ways to insert sponsored content into their clips. So keep an eye on that screen.

Warren Buckleitner is the founding editor of Children’s Technology Review (www.childrenstech.com).

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