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Three Great Problem-solving iPad Games for kids

Three Great Problem-solving iPad Games for kids

One of my son’s favourite type of iPad game is the well-designed problem solver. It’s not something he gets jump-up-and-down excited about, but they are the ones with staying power.

Our favourites right now:

Monument Valley

Walk a small girl through an Escher-like landscape, twisting and turning pieces of the structures to reveal new pathways. It really challenges ideas about up and down, directions and perspective. There’s a beautiful soundtrack that draws you in, as well as a flock of mysterious birds that appear throughout the level. Gorgeous game that’s won many awards for good reason. My son has played this one through countless times. Monument Valley game by ustwo

 

Odd Bot Out

How Martin Magni, the indie developer behind Odd Bot Out, managed to imbue a single block with an eyeball and legs with a personality, I don’t know. But my son loves this one. You walk your block bot around obstacles using switches, cables, other bots, and magnetic blocks to finish each level. The difficulty doesn’t ramp up too quickly, which is a failure of so many of the other problem-solving games we’ve tried, so my 5 year old has been playing this one for weeks. Odd Bot Out by Martin Magni

 

Gesundheit!

This one appealed to my five year old right away, in that the whole premise is sneaking around obstacles and distracting monsters by sneezing snot they chase after and eat. That sounds unbelievably disgusting, but somehow the cute animation style makes it hilarious and not all that gross (really). The tinkly, tweepop soundtrack makes a nice change from your average game music too. Where does the problem solving come in? It’s all about bouncing snot off walls at certain angles, planning your route, and patience. Gesundheit! game by Matt Hammill

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Five tips for geocaching with kids

Five tips for geocaching with kids

geocaching with kids

Like many preschoolers, my son seems to have an unusual attachment to the Newtonian laws of motion. Getting him outside can be hard, but then getting him dressed is hard. Once he’s rolling out the door, however, he can’t stop jumping up and down.

This spring we’ve taken to geocaching, or as my son calls it, treasure hunting.

After downloading an app on your phone, you can view the treasures (or caches) around your neighbourhood. Suddenly there’s all these little things hidden everywhere and you had no idea. It’s one of my favourite things about geocaching, revealing that other layer.

Generally, a cache is a small tupperware box with little toys and things in it, as well as a small pad for writing your name and the date on it. Some caches are tiny and only have the logbook, or a tightly rolled piece of paper to record your name.

Here are some things we’ve found that makes going on a geocache treasure hunt a bit easier:

1. Bring something to trade. Caching etiquette is to take something and leave something of equal or greater value behind – so best to have a stash of dollar store cars, marbles, and whatnot with you. Also bring a pen or a pencil for writing your entry in a nanocache, as they don’t usually have anything in there but the log sheet.

2. Research before you go. Caches can take awhile to find, as they’re ingeniously hidden. Before we head out as a family, we (meaning the parents, often the night before) research the caches we’re going to look for, which includes reading all the hints, and checking all the photos. This isn’t strictly the way you’re supposed to do it – but when you’ve got small people jumping up and down next to you, 20 minutes of nuanced searching is not really going to happen. Sometimes, too, you’re required to climb to a less-than-safe spot, or duck under fences, not particularly things I want to encourage in a 4-and-a-half year old. Obviously, you will know best what your kids are up for, and tailor this one to their ages.

3. Have a talk about failure. A conversation about the possibility of not finding any treasure is well worth having before you leave. Nothing like a meltdown in the middle of a busy area because there’s nothing there. That brings us to the next tip…

4. Pick an area with a few caches close together. If your first attempt doesn’t yield any treasure, having a back-up (or two) close by makes success more likely. And your smaller treasure hunting mates more keen on the outing the next time.

5. Just buy the app. There’s a website you can search, but the official $10 app is the best bet. Easy to use, clear and map-enabled, the app helps you keep track of caches you’ve already found. It may seem steep, but think about paying for a movie for the family, or a visit to a museum.

Do you look for geocaches with kids? What are your tips?

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Gus on the Go giveaway

Gus on the Go giveaway

gusonthego splash screen

You lucky people! After seeing how much we loved their language app, the generous developers behind Gus on the Go have offered 5 apps to give away to my readers. You can pick which language you’d like too. This giveaway is open to residents of Canada, US and UK, and you can pick iOS or Android.

Go forth and enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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App review: Gus on the Go French

App review: Gus on the Go French

gusonthego2

Language vocabulary apps – it sounds like a chore just thinking about them, let alone suggesting my son should try one. Memories of boring lists illustrated with dated line drawings pop up in my mind.

The other day, however, I woke up from a nap (bliss!) and I was body tackled by my 4 year old, asking me whether I knew the word for watermelon in French. And, well, no, I didn’t.

‘Pastèque!’

Hang on, he didn’t know any French when I fell asleep. What happened?

Apparently, my husband had downloaded Gus on the Go for French on our iPad.

Through a combination of picture matching, repetition, and games, Gus on the Go covers an amazing amount of vocabulary. In that hour I had been sleeping, Elliot picked up 30 or more words, and the next day another 20. The third day he skipped all the instructional elements and went straight to the games – there was hardly any loss of knowledge at all. I know this is an example of preschoolers being little sponges, but it amazed me.

The process is this: your child touches simple illustrations, organized into sets like home, animals, food, transportation, etc and hears the words spoken by a native language speaker. Once they’ve completed some simple matching quizzes, the games are unlocked. To be honest, these are more matching images to the spoken words, but in the guise of helping Gus the owl fly up a tree, helping a horse win a race, capturing the right objects with bubbles, and that sort of thing. Getting most of the matches correct wins a trophy and unlocks more games.

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Even though children progress through different vocabulary sections, the games still throw in a few from sections they’ve already completed. So when they’re capturing numbers with bubbles after hearing the French words, a cow will appear, or a pair of shoes, to keep their knowledge of the previous sections fresh.

The best children’s apps are navigable by a little person from the start, and Gus on the Go is right up there. He pops it open and is deep in learning new words within a minute. It’s been incredibly well designed, both in the speed of forward progress and navigation. My son chooses it quite often all on his own, which is an impressive badge of approval. He loves to show off his skill with the app to all his friends and family.

I checked out the developer’s website when I was writing this review, and they have a lovely selection of free language printables for downloading including number flashcards, mix-and-match clothing vocabulary blocks, zoo animal fortune teller, and a transportation wheel.

Incredibly, Gus on the Go is available for 22 languages: French, German, Cantonese, Spanish and more, on both iOS and Android. For only $3.99, this is an incredible deal for a solid language app. Suggested age range: 2-6 years.

None

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App review: Endless Reader

App review: Endless Reader

endless reader

One of our favourite apps last year was Endless Alphabet, a well-made game that managed to make spelling both funny and interesting. Good quality animation and silly sounds together with creative word choices (‘humungous’, ‘bellow’) kept my son coming back to play.

We were thrilled to find a new app from Originator, Endless Reader.

Using a similar format, Endless Reader gets children to pull the letters into order, each one making its phonetic sound, as in Endless Alphabet. This app goes one further, however, and offers a sentence to assemble as well. The word the child has just spelled is waiting to be put in the right place, as is two or three other words. These ones are ‘sight words’ – like the, and, is and to – that are hard to sound out phonetically, don’t have meanings that are easy to illustrate in picture form, and come up often. The goal is for the child to recognize these words by their shape, and learn how they work in context.

Once the sentence is complete, the narrator reads the sentence and the monsters act it out. There is a repeat button, and my son often watches the animations two or three times after completing a sentence.

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This all sounds quite simple, but what sets it apart is the quality of both the narration and animation. The whimsical monsters are perfect – funny, a bit weird, and incredibly flexible. The voice acting is professional and clear. I’m disappointed so many app developers are unwilling to pay for proper voice overs; it is so frustrating to listen to badly read stories or even mispronounced words in what is ostensibly an education app. That’s one of the reasons the Endless apps are such a joy – the narrator sounds like she would be great fun to play with.

The initial app is free, with packs of additional new words costing $2.99. Download Endless Reader from the App Store.

 

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