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Junior Storytellers: School Edition

28 May

Junior Storytellers app iconJunior Storytellers  puts your child in the director’s seat to create simple animated stories with narration, using a variety of settings, characters and props.  It is a great way for children to learn about how to build a story while engaging in creative play.  There are two versions of the app available. I am reviewing the School Edition, which includes all content with the one price.  The free version has limited content, with more story theme packs available with in-app purchase.

The main screen of the app is separated into four main sections: Create Story, My Stories, Awards and Settings.

Create Story

There are two main story sections: Sandbox and Challenge.

Sandbox Mode  – This section has two options:  a learning mode and a create mode.

  • Learn to Play guides children through making a story. It explains how to choose scenes, and to add, pose and change characters and props, and uses items from the Jungle theme only.  It is a great place to start, and might also be helpful for children who might otherwise get a bit overwhelmed with choice.
  • Create A Story gives children full access to the range of settings, characters and props.  Children create a story one page at a time and can create stories of any length they choose.

Challenge Mode –   This mode challenges children to create stories using a specific number of scenes. The first level is a single scene story and is a good place to start. Subsequent levels challenge children to create stories with several scenes. The first Level 1 has a single scene story, Level 3 has stories of 5 scenes, and Level 5  has stories with 9 scenes. The challenge mode starts with a quick video modelling the creation and recording of a story. After you have seen it a few times, it gets a bit tired, but you can tap on the big red cross in the top corner to turn it off. You can also turn the tutorial off using the app settings. Continue reading

Sago Mini Space Explorer

15 May

Sago Mini Space Explorer App iconSago Sago is a developer that creates fun, child directed virtual toys for young children in the 2-4 age group. A favourite in our house is Sago Mini Forest Flyer, a fun virtual environment where children move a little bird around the screen and interact with the objects in the environment in fun ways. Sago Mini Space Explorer, which I was lucky enough to see before its release, has quickly become another favourite, particularly with Mr 2 who, upon seeing the app for the first time, yelled excitedly….

“Mummy! Puppy’s in Space!”

Sago Sago uses a few central characters in their apps: a bird, a cat, a fish and a dog. The hero of Sago Mini Space Explorer is the dog, (known in our home as Puppy) wearing his space suit, who gets to fly around exploring in space. As you move him around the screen, yellow spots indicate areas where the Puppy can interact with objects and characters, and there are other areas where just flying the puppy around will cause things to happen. Some examples of what you might find I this lovely little universe include:

  • A robot who loves to hug (and who occasionally needs a bit of maintenance)
  • A teleport machine
  • Cat, Fish and Bird popping up in surprising moments.
  • Assorted aliens to meet
  • A spaceship to ride in
  • Strange planets that do interesting things
  • Asteroids to bump about

There are no boundaries in this little universe, so children can take Puppy off in any direction without hitting any frustrating walls or borders. Continue reading

The Adventures of Bobik Bombastinov

15 Sep

The Adventures of Bobik Bombastinov App iconThe Adventures of Bobik Bombastinov (henceforth to be referred to in this post as Bobik) is difficult to describe.  The subtitle should be How could one bear get into so much trouble? This beautifully illustrated and charmingly narrated eBook definitely lives up to the name, as our Bear hero has adventures nearly on the scale of Ulysses’ adventures in  Homer’s Odyssey.  Just when you think the adventure has finished, off he goes in a completely different direction.  There are a lot of surprising things packed into the story, which spreads over 45 pages.

The illustrations are photographs and photo collages, many of with use household items as props.  It has the feel of those old movies that used claymation, stop-motion and very fake-looking puppetry for special effects in the days before CGI.  Kitsch is probably the most apt description, but I mean that as a compliment. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but Bobik, used to living the high life, experiences a fall in fortune and meets mermaids, dragons, wizards (to name but a few) as he journeys to find his place in life.

Bobik is bilingual, with both English and German languages available.  The English narration is delivered by a child actress with a very expressive and delightful British accent.  I can’t speak German, but I had a listen to the German narration and again found a rather expressive child narrating.  There is something lovely about hearing a book read so well by children and it serves as a good example to children on how to read with expression.  You can also choose to read it yourself.  In this mode there is no narration and no options to turn the narration on if the reader needs help.  I’d love an option to tap on individual words and hear them spoken aloud, as this supports readers who need help with the occasional word.  It might also help with the pronunciation of some of the more foreign words.

UPDATE FRIDAY MARCH 8TH 2013 – The latest version of Bobik has a new feature that is supportive of early readers.  Text is now highlighted as read.  I just love it when you buy an app and it just gets better.

What you won’t get in this eBook App is outside links that take your child out of the app and to places you don’t want them to go. There are  no social networking links, no in-app purchases, no advertising and no external links to websites.  I can’t help but love that.

Verdict

Some stories are good for learning to read and feature elements like rhyme, predictive text, and graded vocabulary.  Other books are meant to read for pleasure and can help kids get “hooked on books.”  This book fits into the latter category.  While many young readers might struggle with the text, Bobik is the perfect story to sit down and enjoy.  The narration, as mentioned above, is delightful and handy for children looking at the book by themselves, but I’d recommend turning off the narration, sitting down with your child on your lap, and reading the story aloud, which is the way my children prefer it.

But what do the experts say?  My younger boys (5 and 6) loved it and were in stitches of laughter as we read together. Master 8 really enjoyed it, and he is usually fairly critical of things (The mermaids don’t have tails – sorry, but they don’t, Mum, so they CAN’T be mermaids!)  My soon-to-be-ten twin daughters are now planning their own Bobik-inspired creation as a holiday project.  They are working on the plot and intend to borrow my camera (hmmmmm) and use one of our eBook-creation Apps such as Book Creator or Picturebook to publish and hopefully share with their friends. (They could also use Keynote or PowerPoint.)  In short, the experts in this house love the book, have re-read it several times already, and are inspired to create by it, so we rate it very highly.

Disclaimer:  Thanks to AppAble and JustKidsApps for this App as I won it in an AppAble giveaway.  AppAble is a great blog that features news and reviews about Apps, with a Special Needs focus. They have lots of App giveaways via online raffles, and I’ve won quite a few (to the point where I may need to put a “Sponsored by AppAble” graphic on my site!).  They also have a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AppAble

Publisher:  JustKidsApps
Price: $1.99
iPad only
The Adventures of Bobik Bombastinov - JustKidsApps - Katrin Draemann Barothy

Related Links

Making eBooks on your iPad:  10 ideas for Parents and Teachers (onsarahsipad.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/making-ebooks-on-your-ipad-10-ideas-for-parents-and-teachers/)

Play Time with Toca Boca Apps

23 Jul

Kids all home sick? Rainy day? Need some kind of tidying-up incentive? Toca Boca to the rescue. I’ve been downloading Toca Boca games for my children as they earn them by good behaviour, extra jobs around the house, and as the odd treat for sick children. We don’t have all of them, but it is only a matter of time until we do get them. I’ve invited some guest reviewers, my children, to give their opinions. [Comments in square brackets – like these – are mine.] Before they do, let me just a few things that I find great about these Apps:

  • The Apps are intuitive and easy to use. You don’t need to be able to read or speak any particular language, so every the activities are accessible for everyone.
  • Even though they have no spoken or written language, the Toca Boca Apps give rise to a lot of oral language opportunities. To take advantage of these opportunities, play the Apps with your child, and encourage siblings and friends to play with them too.
  • The Apps focus on everyday experiences, such as housework, meals and haircuts. They are familiar to children, and yet still manage to offer little surprises.  They may be good for helping to prepare children for such things as trips to the hair dresser.
  • It is easy to make the links between the App and activities in the real world.
  • The graphics are just beautiful.
  • Although designed for young children, the characters still appeal to my older pre-teen children and may be helpful for older children with special needs developing language and turn-taking skills. Some, such as the kitchen, hair cut and housework apps, might relate to social situations that the child is learning to deal with.
  • The price for each app is more than reasonable. You’d be amazed at how motivated my children will be if I hold up one of these apps as a carrot.
  • No in-app purchases.  There is some discreet advertising (in the form of icons promoting other Toca Boca Apps) that appears on the home screen, but you can turn that off. Continue reading

There’s a Bear in there – Play School Art Maker

19 Jun

Play School Art Maker for iPad 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. Continue reading

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