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iPad app review: Endless Alphabet

Quick, go download this app and then come back and read my review – it’s free right now and I wouldn’t want you to miss it.

Endless Alphabet is a neat phonics app for kids. Simple yet engaging, like all the best apps for children, it presents a word in colourful letters, only to have all those letters scattered by a charging mob of monsters. This makes Elliot giggle every time. He then drags each letter back in place (not necessarily in order, thankfully) to match a pencil outline. Each letter makes a silly noise that corresponds with its phonetic sound as he drags it, as well as dancing around a bit.

When Elliot finishes putting all the letters in place, not only does a nice Sesame Street-like voice say the completed word, but there’s a little animation to explain what it means. We’re not talking just ‘cat’ and ‘flop’ but lovely juicy words like ‘hilarious’, ‘bellow’ and ‘gargantuan’.

Within two minutes of playing this app, Elliot was saying the letter sounds along with dancing letters and giggling as two monsters lifted a block together to demonstrate ‘cooperate’. The animations are beautiful and quirky, and the voice over is professional. I love this one.

Hilariously, Elliot loves the comedy error noise so much, he misplaces letters just to hear it. *eye roll*

There’s no age range on the description, but I’m thinking preschool/kindergarten is probably the best time for it. The words are big enough to keep older kids interested, but even at 3 years old, Elliot finds it entertaining. It’s available for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

Endless Alphabet is developed by Calloway Digital Arts. Free right now! 

Disclosure: None, I saw this on the app store and downloaded it myself to check it out.

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We love this toy: Stomp Rocket

You can tell it’s a good toy when you ask a parent how they heard about it, and they tell you ‘I saw someone else using one in the park and we went and got one too…’

The toy in question is the Stomp Rocket. It’s not complicated, doesn’t involve batteries and costs an affordable $20. Elliot experienced it for the first time when his friend brought it to the park after preschool. The lucky parent sets up a simple stand whilst impatient kids mill around grabbing things, and then put a foam rocket on the launch tube. One of the kids jumps on the hard-wearing yet plastic bubble, shoots air along the tube and off goes the foam rocket. Endless fun, really.

Between us, my friend and I have gone through three versions of this toy and agree that the Stomp Rocket Glow Jr is the best of the bunch. The stand is the most robust and least likely to tip over, and the launch pad has a long enough tube to allow the kids to see the rocket go up (even when they insist on launching it with their back to it). Smaller ones tend to have the launch pad too close, resulting in many rockets hitting the launcher in the chest. Harmless, but not very exciting.

Every time we take it out at the park, we make new friends – loads of kids wander over to have a go on the rocket launcher.

I picked up mine in Vancouver at The Toy Box in Kitsilano.

Disclosure: None! I found out via other parents in the park and went out to buy our own.

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Lions fighting unicorns, and other rhymes

The book I remember with total clarity from my own childhood is one of nursery rhymes. My mum passed it along to me, and I’ve been reading it to Elliot.

I can see by the ancient price tag The Magic of Rhymes: A Collection of Nursery Rhymes was $2.40 from Woolworths, and it was printed by Brimax Books, Cambridge, England in 1976. The beautifully complicated illustrations seem to set most of the characters in the early 19th century, most with improbably long toes on their shoes.

It wasn’t until I mentioned knowing the full twelve verses to London Bridge is Falling Down when I was older, did I realise not everyone had grown up with this particular collection of nursery rhymes. If you’re curious, the rest of the verses detail how to rebuild the bridge and in what material, including the plan to have a man watch all night in case someone tries to steal the final sturdy bridge built of silver and gold.

Elliot has taken to the book as well, particularly to the one pictured above, whose text reads:

The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown;
The lion beat the unicorn
All around the town.

Some gave them white bread
And some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake
And drummed them out of town.

I, too, was fascinated by this one, with the fanciful creatures wearing old boxing gloves, and their pile of assorted baked goods. So many of the rhymes detail food and the eating of it – another favourite being:

The fiddler and his wife,
The piper and his mother,
Ate three half-cakes, three whole cakes,
And three-quarters of another.

It would begin a long obsession I had with ‘cakes’ described in English children’s books – from Alice in Wonderland to The Five Children and It.

I was vindicated when I started attending nursery rhyme singalongs at the local library in London when Elliot was about eight months old, in that I knew quite a few of the songs that hadn’t made it over to Canada. Though there were times it was me and the Polish ladies in the back row trying to mouth the words and raising our eyebrows at each other when we came to one we didn’t know.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite illustrations from the book, of the Man in the Moon. I was always fascinated by the labyrinthine tangle of his shoes. The rhyme that goes with it is:

The man in the moon
Came down too soon,
And asked his way to Norwich;
He went by the south,
And burnt his mouth
With supping cold plum porridge.

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