DooDad of the Day: 4 New Back-to-School Apps

September 14, 2014 | By Brent Almond | THINGS MY KID DIGS

4 new apps for kids - Designer Daddy

Unless you live in a cave — and even some caves have decent Wi-Fi — your kids will very likely get hooked on video games. Just accept the fact that your phone and tablet will never, ever be smudge-free again. Here are a few new apps to educate, entertain and occupy the wee ones in your family. I’m calling these “back-to-school apps,” but they could just as easily be called “prep-for-school” or just “not-annoying-or-violent” apps.

And unless noted, none of these include in-app purchases, and all are ad-free. Also, not a single SpongeBob. Apps tested by me and and my expert panel of one 4-and-a-half-year-old.

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Designer Daddy apps - Cookie Monster's Challenge

COOKIE MONSTER’S CHALLENGE

This deliciously fun app is the first mobile team-up between kiddie powerhouses PBS Kids and Sesame Street. It launches just in time for Sesame Street’s 45th (!) season, which premiers September 15 on PBS Kids (check your local listings).

While the graphics and interface are clean and simple (as they should be), don’t be fooled into thinking this is a simple — or short — activity. In fact it’s pretty elaborate. Epic, even. There are 10 mini games that focus on skills vital to the pre-k crowd – like memory, following directions and self control. There are 9 levels, each one ever-so-slightly more challenging to keep your little ones on their adorable toes. The final payoff is a Rube Goldberg-esque cookie-making contraption that requires completion of all 9 levels for Cookie Monster tp finally get his cookies. I’m not sure how he survives the anticipation!

But Cookie keeps his composure, as did my son… completing each level, finishing each piece of the cookie machine, and feeling pretty darn excited with each accomplishment.

C is for cookie, but we give Cookie Monster’s Challenge an A.

Preview / buy on iTunes  •  Ages 3-5    iPad only    $2.99

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Designer Daddy - Story Bug

STORY BUG

I love the premise of this app. Story Bug combines video chat and an interactive reader enabling kids and grownups to have read together, even when they’re apart. So if Mom is traveling for work, or if Grandpa lives overseas, or if you just have a really, really big house — you can hop on Story Bug, pick a book, and have a fully shared story time before bed.

The pluses: Each reader can upload a photo which pops up when they’re participating in a story. Digital “shadow” hands appear on the page indicating where each reader is pointing or following along. The interaction is seamless — when one reader turns the page, it turns the page on both devices. You can narrow down the library of in-app books available for purchase by selecting between zero and six years; books are also broken down into category (animals, bedtime stories, early concepts, etc.)

The needs improvements: The banner at the top of the screen showing who’s participating is a nice feature, but it takes up a lot of real estate that could be used by enlarging the book itself. It would be nice to hide it and enlarge the book. And while the app is available for iPhone, I don’t recommend it — reading at this size is especially for growing or aging eyes. And the subscription costs seem fair, but the price for individual books seems a bit steep — especially when some of the books only have a few pages (the one I purchased had 12).

It’s got a couple of minor bugs, but is overall sublime — we give Story Bug a B.

Preview / download on iTunes    Ages 0-6    iPad + iPhone    FREE app comes with 2 books; subscriptions range from $4.99/month to $24.99/year; books sold individually for $2.99.

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Designer Daddy - Music Superheroes

MUSIC SUPERHEROES

From Lisbon Labs — creators of one of my all-time favorite apps, BEBOPS — comes Music Superheroes! While I was initially disappointed there weren’t any actual superheroes in this (maybe it translates differently in Portuguese), I was quickly won over by this whimsical — and in some points, quite challenging — digital music lesson.

Five sections use creative, colorful games to teach different concepts and aspects of music. Improve rhythm via a simplified Guitar Hero-type game; learn notes, scales and songs on a guided keyboard; pick up the tempo with a drum kit and bug-eyed metronome; learn to hear and recognize dozens of instruments. For completing each section you unlock instruments on different tracks in the studio to create an orchestral opus. Kids can even record their own voice to add to the mix. Bravo!

Music Superheroes gets a lively, Allegro A.

Preview / buy on iTunes    Ages 6-8    iPad + iPhone    $1.99

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Designer Daddy - Sago Mini Friends

SAGO MINI FRIENDS

The latest and greatest from Sago Sago’s line of Mini apps. These games have some of the best graphics and animation for toddlers and preschoolers. You just can’t get more adorbs than this. Friends finds five animal pals visiting each others’ homes for various playtime activities. Everyday interactions in the form of playing dress up, building a birdhouse and snack time teach subtle lessons about empathy, sharing and taking turns. And while it all looks very primary, I admire the attention to detail. When the pals have snack time at Dog’s house, one friend munches on a sandwich spewing crumbs all over while the other makes a sad “when is it my turn?” face. Like I said, adorbs.

I played this with my 4-year-old, and our favorite part was racing to see who could drink our juice the fastest. That may not prepare him for Harvard, but it sure was more fun than having him kick my butt at Temple Run.

All of the Sago Sago games are great, but you MUST check out Mini Ocean Swimmer, if only for the pooping seahorse.

Sago Mini Friends gets a big, friendly A from me and my mini friend.

Preview / buy on iTunes    Ages 2-4    iPad + iPhone    $2.99

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So what apps do you and your kids enjoy? Share them in the comments!

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comments

One response to “DooDad of the Day: 4 New Back-to-School Apps”

  1. Ricky says:

    I am going to have to try the Music Superhero app. I think teaching our children the art of music is important. I was introduced to music and playing instruments at an early age and when looking back, I really think it helped me in other academic subjects. I think Math was the one subject that it helped me the most with. Anyway, thanks for finding the apps and I will be sure to try this Music Superhero app with my son. Thanks! Great Post!

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