The flagship of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) has released an iPad App for children that is so good, I can hardly believe it is free. Free in Australia, that is. The App is also available in international iTunes stores as a paid app. The name is probably not a good description, as Play School Art Maker is much more than the virtual sticker book it seems to be. In reality, it is more like a virtual puppet theatre where children can create the scenes, control the actors and direct their stories.
Open the App and you’ll see a large scrapbook. When you open the book, you can either watch the television show (only in Australia) or you can create pictures, movies and stories. You can also view pictures, movies and stories that have been stored in the scrapbook.
The Art section has several elements.
- Backgrounds, including
- 6 Themed “craft” backgrounds – backgrounds are created with recycled odds and ends, just like in the show.
- 16 coloured paper backgrounds,
- Photos stored on your device.
- Take a photo if your iPad has a camera.
- Photographic Stickers
- Play School toys, including Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima, Humpty, Morris, Diddle and more
- Craft and recycle items, including patty pans, pom poms, pegs, toilet rolls, string, buttons etc
- Themed items, such as sea creatures for the underwater theme. These are made from materials such as egg cartons, cellophane, and other craft items.
- Puzzle items, indicated by a small puzzle piece on their icons. When you select one of these items, for example a birthday cake, it brings up a puzzle activity where children drag parts of the picture to the screen to create the item. The item can then be used in the scene.
With the above elements, you can do the following three activities:
Make a scene – select a background and drag stickers to the scene. Stickers can be resized by pinching out and in, and rotated by twisting two fingers around. Once your child has created their scene, they can take a photo of their scene. This can be edited later. All pictures are saved in the scrapbook to be looked at or edited any time. You can also use your iPad controls to save a screenshot to your photo reel.
Make a movie – Stickers can be dragged around and children can provide voices and sound effects as they would with “real” puppets. Movies are limited to 30 seconds and are saved to the scrapbook with a small movie camera symbol.
Create a story – Finally, children can select up to 8 pictures or movies to create a story. This will be great for retelling simple stories that take place in several locations. These are also saved to the scrapbook with a filmstrip icon.
Watch The Show
Watching the half-hour shows requires a web connection and is only available in Australia. Children can watch recent episodes of Play School show through iView. There are no links to other iView shows, so you don’t need to worry about your preschooler suddenly landing in an episode of Midsomer Murders. The episodes are free, but it will count towards your ISP’s Usage limit. This feature can be easily turned off in the Settings App, and clear instructions are available within the App. There are usually about 10 recent episodes available.
- Simple controls – all controls are very intuitive and no reading is required. Most children won’t have any problems dragging things on to the screen. The two finger options for resizing and rotating stickers are easy enough for my four year old, but are not essential.
- Familiar characters and environments – most Australian children are familiar with these characters, and the environments both indoor and out will also be familiar. Children in other countries will still identify with Humpty Dumpty, Diddle the Cat, Scrap the Dog, the various bears and other toy characters beloved by their Aussie cousins.
- Parent information – the Parent information section has links to the Play School and ABC Kids websites, information about the Play School program, and illustrated instructions on how to use the App. In addition to program information, these sites have a wealth of information on parenting and activities you can do with your child.
- No links to social networking. The only external links are those to the ABC websites in the parenting section.
- Option to turn off the iView Play School programs (Australia only). Very handy for those protecting their download quotas.
- No file number limits – when preparing this post, I started counting the pictures, movies and stories my children had stored in the scrapbook and stopped counting somewhere in the 90s. Memo to self: time to cull. You might want to keep an eye on this if you find it cutting into your storage space. Videos are kept to 30 seconds, which helps when it comes to file sizes.
- Files Sharing in iTunes – Connect your device to iTunes, click on your device’s App tab and scroll down to the File Sharing section. I keep a file on my computer’s Hard drive for all the Play School Art Maker files. You won’t be able to view the movies and stories on your computer, but you will be able to listen to the sound files and view the Scrapbook images.
- Bring Big Ted (or Jemima, or Humpty, or….) into your home. Photograph a room of your home to use as a background and the create Art around it.
- Use the playschool friends to act out social stories.
- Practice conversational speech with your child by picking a character each to use as a puppet and ad-libbing. This is just the sort of resource I would have loved to have back in the days I was teaching special education.
- Older children can make stories for younger children. The App is definitely aimed at the Early-Childhood range but could still be useful for older children with learning or speech difficulties, and you could get around this by getting them to create a show for a younger student or sibling to view.
Publisher: Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Price: Free in Australia, international users should consult the iTunes store for their country.