Parents and teachers around the world breathed a collective sigh of relief when they discovered that they weren’t the only ones who regularly turned to their trusty iPad to give children a little push in everything from reading to mathematics, science and even artsy pursuits like composing music. The revelation came by way of an announcement by educational app finder KinderTown (which has over 200,000 registered users), deeming the iPad mini the ‘tablet of choice’ for children aged three to eight, based on sales figures over the Christmas period. The news simply confirmed what many of us always suspected: technology offers a unique opportunity for children to learn even difficult subjects in a dynamic, playful and often humorous way.
Take the subject of phonics: the makers of the Jolly Phonics books series tapped into something big when they began using cute characters, mazes and stickers to engage children in the fascinating world of reading, but even this excellent series is encountering stiff competition from apps like Pocketphonic, so addictive it can be quite a chore to wrest kids away from it.
The good news for teachers and parents who have access to an iPad mini, iPad4 or even an iPhone5, is that these gadgets can easily be hooked up to a monitor or TV using either Apple’s new Lightning Digital AV Adapter Cable, or the Apple TV Set Top Box. Large monitors make it easy to engage many children, or indeed a whole class, in a fun challenge, game or test, and there are many apps specifically designed for multi-user scenarios.
Once our equipment is set up, deciding on which apps to incorporate into our class programme can be quite challenging. There are sites which alleviate the task for parents and teachers (KinderTown, for instance, organises apps by subject and offers valuable reviews by fellow teachers). Perhaps the best way to discover certified fresh content, though, is by browsing and experimenting with new releases. In this article, we share some of the newest educational apps that are already making waves with parents and educators. Use them wisely and make 2013 a year to remember for your students.
Released: December, 2012
Description: The game begins with a short narrative: Rex, a clever scientist (with funny teeth), has invented a robot called Foodbot, whose task consists of making tasty and healthy food. A glitch in the system causes Foodbot to spiral out of control and start making piles of junk food. The player must help Rex complete seven different tasks, so he can access a code that will set his batty robot right. Each task is a game challenging the child’s dexterity; for instance, in the first game, a speedy conveyor belt bearing all sort of foods (some healthy, some junk) passes before Rex and the player has to swipe the healthy foods into Rex’s mouth (the speed with which the foods whizz by whips players into a real frenzy!). In another game, the player must tilt the iPad to enable healthy foods to make it through a complex maze of pipes into Rex’s belly. In one particularly funny task, Rex has to deflect flying lollies and other sugar-rich foods, with a makeshift ‘hat’ (which is actually a wok)!
We Liked: The artwork, which is modern and similar in design to characters from cartoons like Adventureland or Courage the Cowardly Dog (ie weird eyes, amorphous body types and exaggerated expressions abound). We loved it when Rex’s eyes lit up in heart shapes every time we fed him the correct foods. Equally engaging were his grunts (we’re not sure if the ‘good food grunt’ or ‘bad food lament’ were cuter). We also liked the explanations of how the nutrients in different foods can be beneficial to particular body systems.
There are a few spelling and grammar mistakes (odd usage of verb tenses are evident from as early as the introduction stage).
The game is marketed at children aged 4+ but the level required to read the nutritional information on each food is too high for this age group. Additional, spoken information should be supplied.
Fizzy’s Lunch Lab Fresh Pick
Released: November, 2012
Ages: 6 to 8
Description: This is a super fun maths and problem solving game that is as addictive for adults as it is for children. Children must complete eight different challenges, including keeping within a specific budget at the supermarket (players need to add up the prices of various items), working out the proper path to get from point A to B or using logical deduction to solve mysteries or ‘feed’ the correct food to a particular character.
We Liked: The short introductions before each game; the trendy, loquacious characters and the exciting nature of every single task – especially the problem solving games.
Could Improve: A couple of the games (Grocery Mapping and Neighbourhood Mapping) are a bit too similar to merit separate entries; these same games are likewise slightly beyond the scope of a six- or seven-year-old, so parental or teacher assistance will be required.
WILD KRATTS Creature Power
Released: January, 2013
For: iPhone, iPod Touch
Ages: 6 to 8
Description: Animated versions of Emmy award-winning nature show hosts Chris and Martin Kratt are meant to fill a significant niche in the iPad games market: that of educational apps for middle school students (most educational apps are made for pre-school and kindergarten children). The app comprises three immersive games focused on specific scientific concepts; players fly like a bee to glean inside information on pollination, help elephants have a cooling bath and learn how racoons feed their babies.
We Liked: Earning stickers and taking our picture in the Creature Power suit.
Could Improve: We would have liked to see more games for the price.
Geo Challenge World Map and Flag Master for Kids
Released: December, 2012
For: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch,
Description: Made by moms for kids everywhere, this app invites players to spin the globe and glean valuable information on different countries. By touching a country’s flag on the globe, players learn about their currency, capital city, language/s, population, traditional tales and most famous works of literature. Players can compete by completing puzzles and quizzes, earning ‘stamps’ for their ‘passports’ and pretty stickers as they progress through the different levels.
We Liked: The Flag Flash Cards, which made it really easy to memorise different flags. Spinning the globe was perhaps the best part of the game, since the information gleaned on each country was most enlightening.
Could Improve: We’d love to see more Flash Cards and tests on languages and capital cities in addition to flags.
More Apps Made in 2012:
Not as recently released but definitely worth a geez are two fantastic games: Smash Your Food HD (Ages 4+, for iPad, winner of Michelle Obama’s Apps for Healthy Kids competition 2012), sees common foods such as burgers, pizzas and milkshakes, smashed beneath a powerful vice, which divides and squeezes out all the oil, sugar and salt each product contains. Before the foods are smashed, users are invited to guess the amounts of harmful ingredients they contain (which is a nice maths exercise).
Awesome Eats (4+, for iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch): This app is a little gamer’s paradise, with lots of dexterity challenges (swiping, sliding and shifting) and bright fruit and veggie characters providing hours of entertainment. The educational aspect comes in the form of handy tips which pop up on the screen before each game; for instance, “Naturally flavour your milk or non-dairy drink by blending with frozen fruits” or “Don’t wash mushrooms because they retain too much water; it is better to pat them dry”.
Our featured apps go a long way towards dispelling the myth that parents or educators should feel guilty about programming a few minutes of app time a day into children’s daily study routine. Research has already shown that games are beneficial in so many more ways than we ever imagined; they do everything from enhance our eyesight to improve memory, increase our dexterity and precision and even distract us from physical pain or mental anguish. They also take us leaps ahead in the field of education, substituting rote learning with dynamic, vivid learning experiences. Games and technology are also proving to be an excellent way for teachers or parents to bond with children. Laughter is indeed the best medicine and an important part of memories we will cherish for a lifetime. In millions of homes around the world, parents and children are huddling around the iPad and enjoying a jolly good laugh. Is your home one of them?