Author Archives: Genesis

New year, new project: evaluating apps for kids

apps for kidsThe holidays are officially over, and chances are good that a bunch of your library customers have shiny new tablets and electronic devices at home. If you haven’t already started, now is a great time to start curating a collection of apps for kids – apps you can recommend to help develop traditional and media literacy skills; apps that can be used for library programs or one-on-one with parents and children.

Cen has made a great case on this blog and elsewhere for libraries providing these services to parents and children.  The fact is, kids are using these devices whether we like it or not. It’s not about whether we should encourage their use, but about helping the parents and kids who are already using them to use them wisely, to select good resources and to integrate them as part of a balanced media diet. It’s a very natural extension of what we do with books and other “traditional” media. And in some ways it’s even more important: app stores don’t let you “try before you buy” so parents are flying blind, using a few screenshots and customer reviews of <ahem> varying quality in order to make purchasing decisions. It’s a perfect place for libraries to step in and fill a need.

I think it’s a great idea to have resource lists for parents. I suggest having both a printable list you can hand out and a page on your library website that they can bookmark on their tablet device with links to recommended apps by age/device, etc. List any apps that you’re using in storytimes or programs, but also have a list of additional great apps and ebooks that parents and kids can use together at home.

But how do you choose the best apps? What do you look for, and what should you avoid? Over the next few days I’ll be talking about some of the criteria you can use when evaluating and selecting apps and ebooks to use or recommend for children. We’ll look at intended use and age appropriateness; interactivity; design and layout issues; support of print and media literacy skills; usability and affordance; customizability; and some of the more subjective criteria to think about (i.e. the “annoyance factor”).

With each post, please feel free to add your feedback in the comments – are there apps or ebooks that you’ve used with success? Any turkeys you’ve discovered? There’s no way we can cover them all, so join the discussion and share what you know, and we’ll all rock digital services together!

Device Review: Polaroid 701i Android Tablet

We recently bought a 7 inch Polaroid 701i Android tablet at Big Lots for $89. We wanted an inexpensive tablet for our son; one that we could let him use without any anxiety about damage.

The sale price was great, but you definitely get what you pay for. Other reviews have gone into more detail on the various specifications, but the two main issues for a casual user are the screen resolution (which isn’t good, but good enough for my son’s purposes), and the touch screen interface. The touch screen simply isn’t as responsive as the iPad and can be a little frustrating to use, especially in ebooks when there are a lot of pages to turn.

Although it runs on the Android operating system, the Polaroid inexplicably comes without the Google Play marketplace installed, and adding it is a bit of a chore. I found good instructions online and since the tablet comes pre-rooted it’s not too challenging, but it’s a little frustrating if you’re used to Apple products and being able to play right out of the box. Installing the Play app lets you download Flash, which is necessary for some sites with video. My son can now watch Peep and the Big Wide World videos on the PBS website, which he can’t do on the iPad.

Also, because the tablet is smaller than the iPad and the casing is cheap plastic, it’s lightweight and a little easier for young kids to manage.

This tablet is definitely the low end of the market, but if you’re looking for a a cheap alternative to the iPad for your kids to use it’s one to consider.

App Review: Charley Harper’s Peekaboo Forest

Charley Harper’s Peekaboo Forest
Night & Day Studios, Inc.
Available from iTunes store
$1.99
For iPhone or iPad

This simple but visually stunning app is a great choice for young toddlers. Four seasonal backgrounds hide several animals each. Small movements (a nose peeping out, or a waving tail) hint at a hidden animal, but the creature doesn’t reveal itself fully until the child taps where he sees the movement.

When the animal comes out of its hiding place it makes a sound, then the name appears in the upper corner and is read by the narrator. The animal stays on the screen until the child taps it again, then it hides and the next animal movement is revealed.

Options allow you to turn the narration and the animal sounds on or off, and to switch the narration between an adult or a child’s voice. The activity is a bit limited especially for older children, and I could wish for more pictures, but the Charley Harper illustrations are gorgeous and this is a good choice for young children.

App Review: Eric Carle’s My Very First App

Eric Carle’s My Very First App
Night & Day Studios
Available from iTunes Store
$1.99, with 4 expansion packs available for $.99 each
For iPhone or iPad

This app has been very popular with my three-year-old. Eric Carle illustrations and textures are used to create memory and matching games with varying difficulty levels. It comes with two sets of illustrations: colors and animal homes. Additional sets (shapes, numbers, food, and animals sounds) can be purchased for $.99 each, but are definitely not necessary.

In the Easy level, the child swipes to move colors or pictures, and matches the picture with its dominant color, or the animal with its home.  Medium level is a standard, flip-the-cards memory matching game. The Hard level combines the two; using memory card-style of play to match a color and picture, or animal and home.

The illustrations will be familiar to Eric Carle fans, and the app has a nice, clean design. My son goes back to it again and again without getting bored, so I haven’t found it necessary to add more sets to play. If your child is a fan of Eric Carle books, this app is a good complement and a solid addition to your app library.

eBook review: Freight Train

Freight Train
Harper Collins Publishers
Available from iTunes store
$0.99
available for iPhone or iPad, but optimized for iPhone

I was so excited when I saw this story about the making of the Freight Train eBook on the Horn Book website. My three-year-old son loves the Donald Crews book, and I thought an interactive eBook version would make a great addition to our eLibrary.

My son loves it, and so do I…mostly. The book is a very good fit for an eBook adaptation. The songs that were chosen as the soundtrack are appealing recordings of great, classic railroad songs. The read-aloud voice is appropriate to the book, and the interactive elements  enhance the experience, rather than detracting from it (e.g. the child moves each car to add it to the train, and it connects with a satisfying clang).

A couple of minor complaints: the default read-aloud setting plays the music and the narration at the same time, and so parts of the book are read at the same time that lyrics are sung. It’s distracting. Also, some of the illustrations that were added to make the app interactive seem like they were imported from another book. I love the clean visual style of the original illustrations, so the change in style for the added elements was jarring. My son doesn’t seem to care, but it grates on me a bit. And finally, the book is optimized for iPhone, so if you expand it on the iPad the resolution is a little fuzzy.

Overall, though, it’s an engaging and fun adaptation of the print book, and has become one of my son’s favorites.

Field Notes: Introducing New Apps

photo by mitikusa: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mitikusa/5742534758/in/photostream/Any parent who’s been asked to read the same picture book 20 times in a row understands that young children can be creatures of habit and like repetition. I’ve found the same to be true with ebooks and apps – my son tends to use the same few over and over and over. For the sake of Mommy’s sanity and to help him branch out a little bit from time to time, I’ve tried some different methods for introducing him to new apps.

For the record, the obvious approach (“Look, we have a new ebook! Want to try it?”) absolutely does not work with my kid. It only generates resistance. I’ve found that similar approaches work for introducing ebooks as for print. When we get new books, I just put them in the big pile of books on my son’s bed and let him discover them for himself. He’ll ignore them for awhile, but eventually will pick them up and browse through. With ebooks and apps, I put new ones into his folder on my iPad and just wait for him to realize they are there. At first he’ll open the app, look around for a minute and then abandon it. Gradually he’ll spend more time exploring each time he opens it, and within a week or so, if he likes it, it’s become part of his regular rotation.

If I’m really excited about a new app and don’t have the patience to wait for him to discover it on his own, the surefire method for getting his interest is to let him see me using the app. I just wait until he’s out of the room, open it up and start reading. He can’t resist the lure of the iPad, so as soon as he sees me using it he’ll come sit with me and check out whatever I’m doing. The first chance he gets  he’ll take over and start exploring on his own.

How about you? Do your kids take easily to new apps and ebooks? How do you get them to try new things?

(photo courtesy of mitikusa)

eBook/App review: Numberlys

Numberlys for iPad and iPhone
Moonbot Studios
$5.99 from iTunes

Wow. Just…wow. Numberlys is a beautifully designed story app for iPhone and iPad, created by Moonbot Studios, makers of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It tells the story of the creation of the alphabet in a world that only has numbers. The black-and-white style is reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and the animation is worthy of Pixar. The story (which can be accompanied by narration or not) is interspersed with interactive games and tasks that show the creation of each letter of the alphabet.

This app definitely has appeal for children, although it’s probably most appropriate for the over-4 crowd. My three-year-old is taking some time to get into it. At first he lost interest pretty quickly, but every time he plays with it he gets a little farther into the story and seems to be paying more attention to the narrative and not just skipping ahead to the games. While he hasn’t gotten all the way through the story yet he’s moving in that direction, and seems utterly fascinated by the animation, even more so than the games.

Some of the games are quite simple, and some are  a touch more challenging. My son has needed a little help to understand the instructions and complete some of the tasks. And while the story centers around the creation of the alphabet, I wouldn’t recommend this app as an educational tool for learning letters. It’s really about the story and about making full use of the capabilities of the technology. There are plenty of alphabet apps out there if your goal is to help your child learn his or her letters, but for style, whimsy and sheer imagination, you can’t beat Numberlys. As an added bonus, this is one of the few apps that Mom and Dad will enjoy as much or more than their children. There’s plenty for both adults and kids to appreciate, and I think this app was worth every penny of the $5.99 I spent. Gorgeous!

App Review: Twinkle Twinkle

Twinkle Twinkle
by Super Simple Learning
for iPhone and iPad
$2.99 from iTunes

Twinkle Twinkle is an app based on the song “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” It includes animated videos of the song (sung by either an adult or a child), an interactive story, and a simple counting game. The story tells of a friendship between a little owl and a star.

This is a sweet song and story combo that’s ideal for young kids, and could be used as a bedtime story or song. The story takes the animation from the videos and adds very simple and subtle interactive elements, e.g. touch the owl and he blinks or flaps his wings; touch the star and it twinkles. The reader navigates through the story with right and left arrow buttons. There’s a home button in the upper left corner, but it can be hard to see on certain pages of the story. The counting game is also very simple – 20 stars appear on the screen and as the child touches each one, it spins, lights up and counts off. There is no way to change the number of stars that appear or change settings to make the game more challenging.

It’s a good introductory app for kids who might get overwhelmed by flashier interactive elements. The focus here is on the song and story so it’s more of a direct analog to a tree book than some other ebook apps, but can help children learn about interactive elements in a very easy and low-key way. I found after a few times through the story my son started ignoring the interactive elements and just clicked through to get to the song, which is his favorite part.

One other minor point of confusion: the animation in the videos and the story is the same, but the story is interactive and the videos are not. The first couple of times watching the video, my son kept touching the owl and the star expecting the same reactions as he saw in the story. Instead, touching the screen brought up the controls for the video player. It took a couple of turns through the app before he figured it out and stopped trying to interact with the videos.

If you want a free preview, check out the Youtube video: