Fund This: SkyMath Delivers Math Adventures on the iPad

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Image: Circumventure Learning

Image: Circumventure Learning

There’s no arguing that technology is redefining the way we, and our children, learn. We have all been there, scouring the App Store in hopes of finding just the right app to help our kids with a particularly difficult subject in school, and being inevitably disappointed in the outcome. Just because it’s a game doesn’t mean it’s fun—and just because it’s fun doesn’t mean it’s actually helpful. That’s where our sponsor, SkyMath, comes in hand.

SkyMath is a math program on the iPad that wants to leverage the power of learning apps and videos that are already out there to help your child master even the most challenging math concepts at the K-5 level. But don’t go thinking this is a run-of-the-mill math app on the iPad. Its entire approach is markedly different. The dedicated team behind SkyMath started in the most important way: they focused on creating a math experience that’s engaging and measurable.

You can see from SkyMath’s Kickstarter page, and in the app itself (for those of us lucky enough to get a sneak peek), that the artwork is stunning. SkyMath takes your child on a learning adventure, and every island has a different silly theme. Your child even gets to choose an adorable character to go on the journey with (my son chose the Otter as his player character).

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Real time rewards. Image: Circumventure Learning

The first set of islands serves as a placement test so SkyMath can figure out where your child is in math. With that information, the app creates a personalized learning path that’s tailored to your child’s math level. Parents will love how each island represents a math skill that their child needs to work on and the curated third-party apps and videos on each island really take the guesswork out of figuring out which apps are going to be the most helpful. With the number of recommendations available, the chances are good that your child will find the right apps and videos that he or she will love learning math with.

Throughout all of the gaming and practicing, SkyMath keeps track of the progress your child is making. Once your child has practiced enough to pass the post-test on each island, SkyMath moves your child on to the next math skill to work on. This focus on measuring growth and progress is a huge part of what sets SkyMath apart.

Which brings one of the most important aspects of the app into focus: incentives. Digital incentives are hard to grasp. For me, a mother of a high-functioning autistic child, finding the incentives that work (jellybeans) and the ones that don’t (long-term goals) is a big deal. But by tying real-world incentives that the parents can control in the app, the kids aren’t waiting for some digital happy face. They’re making real progress in the real world that you can celebrate with your child. Depending on your situation and your child, you can scale it from the small (those jellybeans again) to the large (trip to LEGO Land, anyone?).

Children are curious. They’re smart, too. They just need to be engaged and motivated most of the time. And a sad majority of apps out there really don’t take those concepts into consideration. SkyMath does. Built on careful attention to detail and a deep understanding of how children learn in the digital–and physical–world, I’m confident that SkyMath can make a real impact.

SkyMath’s Kickstarter campaign is going on now. Head on over to their page and make a pledge.

This post is sponsored by Circumventure Learning.

Keeping Geeky Contact In College

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“Miss Us?!” was the caption for this photo postcard sent to my daughter in college. Her brother and I worked hard to get the perfect shot. (Image By Rebecca Angel)

ME: Did you find out if you made it into the jazz ensemble yet?
DAUGHTER: Not yet, but I had my first art studio class today and my teacher is really enthusiastic.
ME: That’s great! HUGS!

It has been almost a month since my daughter left for college, and we’ve been exploring the different ways of keeping in touch. Chatting with some other moms with first-year-college students, we all agreed that modern-day technology is great. Gone are the days where there was one phone for each dorm floor, with students waiting in line.

One mom said she had never texted before in her life, but solved her daughter’s laundry crisis with texts and photos. Another mom said her son set up Skype for her, and she wasn’t sure they’d ever use it, but he needed a heart to heart the other day, and she was so glad to see his face, even on a screen.

For my daughter and I, texting is the casual “I’m thinking about you” mode of communication. The above text is typical, and that’s it for the day. We don’t go back and forth, and I don’t text her more than once a day. If she wants to, I don’t mind!

One of my favorite apps is Postagram. You take a picture, add a note, and the app sends a real postcard with the photo via regular mail. (See the top photo. Heh-heh.) Once you have your addresses in, it takes so little time to send something fun.

There’s also the old-fashioned way of using snail-mail: I sent a fan art card of Korra to remind her to finish up season three. I also sent a box of snacks, and she gets a magazine subscription at home, so when that came in I mailed that out, too.

Email has been used for business things: she forwards us things the college needs, or alerts, or whatever, us forwarding her information about schedule stuff with the family.

My daughter has a Facebook page, but doesn’t post much. I’ve gotten a “like” or two on photos I’ve posted. And she did send a photo of one of her art projects to a few people via messaging. Facebook isn’t so popular now with the younger set?

Skype, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, these are things I don’t use and have no idea if she does. I’m sure there are a dozen more social media sites that could be part of keeping in touch with your kid away from home.

We’ve had three phone calls. The first one was right away, and she needed to talk about a college paperwork financial thing. The second was two weeks later. I asked if it was an okay time to talk and she said she was studying and would love to take a short break. We chatted about this and that, and I tried not to tell her exactly how much I missed her, but happily listened to all her adventures. The third was a “I need my mom” call after a particularly harsh day in figuring out college social life.

As the semesters go on, I’m sure we’ll get into a familiar rhythm of communication, but this is where we are now. Of course, there is the dilemma of how or even if to tell about emergencies. For example, I decided to send this text at the end of a crazy day:

ME: Everything is fine, but I wanted to let you know your aunt got her finger caught in the food processor. She’s very lucky. We spent the morning at the clinic, but she has her whole finger! Your cousins were freaked out, but everything is ok now.
DAUGHTER: Poor Aunt! Glad everything is ok. Hugs!

Share Pictures With Donate a Photo, Help Worthy Causes

#donateaphoto

Image: Donate A Photo

Sharing photos online has become the norm for most of us, and now when you share those photos you can also help a worthy cause with the Donate A Photo app.

It’s all thanks to the folks at Johnson & Johnson who are donating $1 to a worthy cause for every photo you share using the app. Which cause? Well, that’s up to you with a selection of ways that you can help people when you share your pictures.

One of the possible recipients is Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and the app will tell you that when you choose them for your donation, that you’re helping to give a baby in the NICU a blanket. You can also choose Save the Children, the Family Equality Council, or any one of the worthy causes they’ve partnered with through the program.

You don’t pay a single thing to download the app as it’s entirely free. Just download the app for iOS or Android, then when you take your pictures, share them through the app. It will even post to your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account so you can share your pictures, and the app, with your friends and followers.

Next time you share a photo, you could be doing more help than you know. #DonateAPhoto

LeVar Burton’s New Kickstarter Brings the Magic of Reading Rainbow to Classrooms

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Image by: RRKidz

For the current generation of young parents, Reading Rainbow was a seminal part of our childhood and education. And it was free.

Two years ago, LeVar Burton’s educational technology company RRKidz launched a Reading Rainbow tablet app to try and bring all of that rich material to today’s kids. The app has hundreds of books and brand new educational video field trips, and it is wildly successful with more than 12 million books read and videos viewed to date. But unless you have a tablet you can’t have the experience.

It’s hard to believe that not all of today’s young kids know every word to the theme song or recognize that bright Reading Rainbow sticker on a library book. LeVar Burton wants to change that, and he wants to make the impact even bigger.

Starting today, he is launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise $1 million dollars to expand the modern digital Reading Rainbow program to the web. While the program will be available to kids at home or even their public library, it will be specifically tailoried to classroom teachers and homeschoolers. The new program will have a teacher dashboard, educator-created supplemental materials designed to Common Core standards, and many more books.

The most impressive goal of the program, however, is to create a non-profit program to help subsidize the cost. RRKidz wants every child to have access to these materials, making it completely free to the most disadvantaged schools.

When I was sixteen, I saw Mr. Burton on television at a Congressional hearing to discuss budget cuts to public television programming. He spoke with such passion and knowledge about childhood development and the important role these programs played that I wrote a letter to my local PBS station to share how public programming helped shape my education. The letter was published in PBS magazine; I still have my framed copy, and I still recognize the value of what those entertainers, educators, and media makers gave to this generation of parents.

So I’m donating to this Kickstarter to help bring that experience to all of today’s kids. If you’d like to donate as well, watch the video above and then visit the Kickstarter page here.

Technology Helps Find Your Bra Size With ThirdLove

This is the bra style that I reviewed. Image: Third Love

This is the bra style that I reviewed. Image: ThirdLove

We’ve covered underthings before (pun intended, plus see Ruth’s fantastic post about Dear Kate underwear), so I thought it was time we tackled a new way to shop for them. It’s often quite difficult to fit yourself for a bra. What size are you? Well, what size were you the last time you went shopping? Have things changed?

We all know that there are a couple of different numbers we have to be concerned with. But when you are pregnant, nursing, previously nursing, or losing or gaining weight, your torso and your breasts will change size and shape. And if you’re shy, like me, you definitely won’t be asking the sales lady to help you find a good fit. Up until now, trial and error was the way to go for finding your current bra size.

A screenshot from the Third Love app. Image: Third Love

A screenshot from the ThirdLove app. Image: ThirdLove

A new company called ThirdLove has come up with a better way to do it in the comfort of your own home. ThirdLove sells bras, underwear, and undershirts, but their bra sizing method is ingenious. You download their app, put on a form fitting tank top (or just your bra), and stand in front of the mirror. The app guides you through some picture taking steps where it measures you from the front and the side. I have no idea how the programming works for this, but, in my experience, it does a pretty decent job.

Once the app takes your measurements, it allows you to select items that are the size it determines will fit you. Products that aren’t available in your size aren’t shown, which would explain why my options were limited (apparently some items are only available in certain cup sizes). There are several options for colors (black, pink, and tan in the style I was able to choose), and you can mix and match base and trim colors. The other kinds of underthings are available in coordinating colors. Place your order through the app, and then wait. A few days later, a nice, overly large box comes in the mail with your items. I ordered just the one bra and it was delicately wrapped it in tissue paper. It’s a fantastic box I can also now use for many other things, but I digress.

The brand-new bra felt like it was made of high quality fabrics, and wasn’t scratchy. The lace looked nice and edged the bra in more places than I would have expected.

Here’s where we get personal. The app measures you pretty accurately, but the numbers may confuse you. In department store bras, generally these days I’m a 36D. In the ThirdLove sizes, I came out as a 33D. I asked my contact at the company about the difference and she said that my experience is typical.

So how does the bra actually fit, knowing that? The cup size fits perfectly. It supports all of the right places without feeling constricting at all. The underwire sits securely against my body. The straps of the variety I chose are attached on the very outside of the cups, not the middle, and so it all feels different from usual, but you get used to it very quickly. The shapes of the cups are more rectangular than triangular, so it works. The band size, though, still seems a bit tight. I think a 34D would have been a better fit for me. I can certainly get it on and fastened, and it is comfortable, but there is zero give in the band elastic. More reason to lose a few pounds!

Would I recommend ThirdLove? Yes, definitely. They make high quality bras in enough colors and styles for most people and the technology in the app does a decent job fitting you. I’m surprised it does so well, since it doesn’t ask for any known size for reference. But the bras fit and are quite comfortable. Rory says the bra makes my breasts look more perky. After two kids, lots of breastfeeding, and plenty of weight loss and gain, that’s a plus in my book. (Sorry, no photos. This is a family blog and photos of me in a bra just aren’t going to make it onto the internet. Sorry, adoring fans.)

The bras and other products at ThirdLove vary in cost, but the prices aren’t drastically different from those at the department store. Give them a look! Beauty + quality + easy peasy lemon squeezy sizing = win. And if you’re not sure, they have free returns and exchanges. Check out their website for their full inventory.

Note: I received a bra for review purposes.

Let’s Make It With the Mister Maker App

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I used the Doodle Drawer contents to make this design, showcasing some of the different brushes and tools available. Note the liberal use of gloopy glue!
Screenshot: © Helen Barker.

I have many happy memories of watching artist Tony Hart on television as a child. His programs Take Hart and Hartbeat were both required viewing for me, and I still remember the thrill of sending off one of my artworks, hopeful that it would be displayed in the “Gallery” section of the show. I was always trying out new techniques and media, inspired by the variety of artworks which he produced. This gave me a love of art, which has persisted my entire life, so I have him to thank for the fact that I always have at least one creative project on the go!

Mister Maker is the modern equivalent of Tony Hart. The Mister Maker program always includes a variety of different projects, including the fast-paced “Minute Makes” and the artistic “Frame It” section, presented by the entertaining (and rather wacky) Mister Maker. It works really well as a television program, but would it translate into an app? My daughter, already a big Mister Maker fan, test drove the Mister Maker: Let’s Make It! app and showed me how it worked.

The app includes all of the best bits from the TV show. Mister Maker himself pops up every now and then to lend a hand, explain instructions, or just offer encouragement. The most exciting and interesting section of the app is the Doodle Drawers. Just like in the show, this area is packed with all manner of artistic media, from paint to glitter via pasta, gloopy glue, and stickers. It’s really easy to use the different tools to create all types of pictures. These pictures are automatically put into the Picture Album, which means that they can be saved for later improvements, printed out, or emailed. You can also create a frame for the picture in the Frame It area, which uses the same tools as the Doodle Drawers to decorate a cardboard-style frame. The Doodle Drawer contents are used again in the Minute Makes section, where the clock is ticking as you try to decorate a picture. The last section includes the quartet of shapes and involves spotting the overlapping outline of your chosen shape.

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Mister Maker himself pops up to help you with the menu choices. Screenshot: © Helen Barker.

The app is incredibly easy for children to use, aided by Mister Maker’s vocal instructions. My four-year-old was able to use the app completely independently, and enjoyed the fact that she could use lots of different stickers, glitter, and glue without making a mess in the Doodle Drawers area. In fact, the gloopy glue was my favorite tool, as you can sprinkle all sorts of interesting things onto it before it dries, including sequins and beads. My daughter also liked being able to take photographs and use those in her artworks too, as well as decorate the frames. She found the shapes game fairly simple, though. The difficulty does ramp up a little as you have to spot more shapes, but she was able to do this quite easily, so it didn’t keep her interest for very long. Unfortunately, this is one of the ways to unlock the items in the Doodle Drawers, along with completing the Minute Makes. This means that quite a few of the options in the Doodle Drawers remain locked, as my daughter prefers open-ended play rather than the game or challenges. It would be lovely if these locked items could be unlocked in the settings perhaps, for younger children or those not interested in playing the games.

The app is really good fun though, and has really captured the feel of a Mister Maker episode. Although it’s still important for children to use real art materials, this is a great substitute for when I really can’t cope with more glitter, stickers, felt pen, or paint decorating the furniture and my daughter as much as the paper in front of her.

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Some of the roller options in the Doodle Drawers are still locked. I like the baked beans pattern though! Screenshot: © Helen Barker.

The app doesn’t include any adverts or in-app purchases and doesn’t collect user information either, meaning that I’m happy to let my daughter use it independently. This app is a firm favorite with both my daughter and myself and has given us hours of fun, so it’s well worth the $4.99/£2.99 price tag. Mister Maker: Let’s Make It! by P2 Games is available now in the Apple iTunes app store.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Review: If I Ran the Rainforest Ebook

If I Ran the Rainforest © Oceanhouse Media

If I Ran the Rainforest © Oceanhouse Media

At four years old, my son is starting to develop a strong interest in the wider world around him. He is particularly interested in geography and learning about the different kinds of places there are around the world. The Cat in the Hat e-book series is a great fit for curious young children and the latest edition to the library teaches children all about rainforests.

If I Ran the Rainforest sees the Cat taking Sally and her brother Dick on a journey to a rainforest to learn more about them. What I really love about this book is that whilst keeping the tone simple and sticking to the classic Seuss rhyming style, the book doesn’t dumb down the facts. Inside, children will learn about:

  • The four kinds of rainforests, what they are called, and how they differ from one another
  • The four floors of the rainforest and the creatures who live in each one
  • The basics of transpiration
  • Animals and plants of the rainforest including information about their lifestyles and diets
  • The humans who live in the rainforest and how they survive there
  • How the floors of the rainforest form an ecosystem
  • A very brief discussion on the destruction of rainforests
Thing 1 and Thing 2 teach us about transpiration © Oceanhouse Media

Thing 1 and Thing 2 teach us about transpiration © Oceanhouse Media

There was enough information contained in the story that I was able to learn some new facts too, such as the name of the plants that grow on trees high in the rainforest canopy. Potentially tricky new words like these are written and sounded out clearly; these plants are shown as “e-pi-phytes” and the tallest trees in the rainforest written down as “e-mer-gents.”

The app has the option to switch between “read to me” and “read it myself” options so it can progress with your child as they get better at reading alone. You can also choose to record your own narrations, perfect for parents who are frequently away and unable to read bedtime stories themselves, or for other relatives who are not around as often as they’d like. Tapping on objects causes the word to be spoken aloud and words in bold, e.g., equator, can be tapped to see a simple definition.

This is another great release from The Cat in The Hat’s Learning Library and one that will be of use to children at a variety of levels from curious toddlers to grade-schoolers needing a basic introduction to the subject for homework projects. It makes learning fun and that’s one of the best things we can ever hope to do.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Experiment With Fun in Toca Lab

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Art by Jonas Löfgren © Toca Boca

Toca Boca is back with another excellent, entertaining app for the iPhone and iPad, Toca Lab. Toca Lab encourages little scientists to run different experiments on “elements” to discover something new.

toca-experiment

© Toca Boca

Like all Toca Boca apps, there’s no text to wade through, so your little one can begin learning about experiments and science before they can even read. The game features 118 elements, each busting with personality. Once an element is selected, testing different lab tools on the element can result in the creation of something new.

The game promotes open exploration without time limits or penalties. Kids simply try the lab tools on every element to their heart’s content. It’s important to note that the game isn’t scientifically accurate—freezing or electrifying an element won’t turn it into something else, for example. It might be better suited to younger kids who don’t know much about science, serving instead to encourage experimentation and highlight the joy of discovery rather than teach chemistry concepts.

There’s also a bit of a learning curve with navigating the app. If the experiment doesn’t result in something new, kids have to press the arrow at the top of the screen to return to the lab. The same arrow selects an element in the periodic table. It took my daughter a few tries before realizing she had to navigate using the arrow, but the frustration has since disappeared.

With 118 elements to discover and a number of experiments to run on each, Toca Lab offers replay value and fun at a low price for an app. The game is available for $2.99 on the App Store for the iPhone and iPad.

Jingling all the way with the Jingle Bells app

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The Jingle Bells app includes holiday fun for young children.
Screenshot: Helen Barker

As we travel further into December, my thoughts are turn towards our winter holiday preparations. Although I always enjoy the season, eventually, it takes me a while to get into the swing of things. But for the first time, the Christmas spirit has found its way to our iPad, via a new Jingle Bells app for children from P2 Games.

Can the app warm up this Scrooge’s icy heart in time for Christmas?

The Jingle Bells app includes five different mini games and puzzles, all accessed from the main home screen. The friendly vocal instructions mean that even young children can access the app independently, and as the app has no in-app purchasing or data gathering, you can let your children play with this without any worries. The music, sound effects, and vocal instructions can all be turned off independently, too.

My 4-year-old daughter’s favorite part of the app is the sticker sound book section. Here she can build up scenes easily using the backgrounds and animated stickers, which also have sound effects. Once the scene has been perfectly set up, you can press the play button to hear a Christmas song, and then press your stickers to animate them along with the song. Screenshots of the creations can be saved to the device’s photo stream. My daughter particularly enjoyed turning on the snow setting, which made everything even more festive.

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The sticker sound book is my daughter’s favorite part.
Screenshot: Helen Barker

The musical element of the app includes two different mini games. In the first, you can learn how to play and then practice “Jingle Bells” on the keyboard. The colored keys make it easy to follow the tune, although its ponderous pace will make more accomplished musicians wince. It’s a good speed for beginner musicians like my daughter though.

The second musical game allows you to play a keyboard and record your tunes for playback. Although it’s fairly simple, my daughter really enjoyed the open-ended aspect of this, and made up her own little tunes. There’s a few different instrument sounds to play with too.

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Learning to play Jingle Bells.
Screenshot: Helen Barker

A coloring book section is nicely done, with both traditional tools where children can choose the color and thickness of the line, as well as a magic paint setting which doesn’t go over the lines and fills in everything in a sensible color. My daughter, despite generally liking to choose her own colors, loved the magic paint option. It’s a good one for younger children who don’t quite have the fine motor skills yet to stay completely within the lines. There are also a range of stickers to be used here to make the picture unique. Again, the finished artworks can be saved to the device’s photo stream to be e-mailed, printed, or posted online.

The last section is a puzzle game. When one of the simple drag and drop puzzles is complete, a song and interactive animation play. My daughter liked this section, but often wasn’t patient enough to wait for the animation to finish, which is a shame as more stickers for her favorite sticker sound book section are unlocked as a reward at the end.

This is fun app with plenty of games and activities to keep younger children occupied for quite a while. The sticker sound book area is particularly fun, and there are lots of other nice activities included too, which means that it is good value for money. It hasn’t entirely melted my icy heart, but I think that it has helped to start the thaw.

The Jingle Bells app is available now on the iTunes store for $1.99/£1.49.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Get Muddy with Daddy Pig’s Puddle Jump

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A screenshot of the opening page of Daddy Pig’s Puddle Jump.
© Entertainment One

As every Peppa Pig fan knows, there’s nothing better than jumping in muddy puddles. However, if muddy puddles are in short supply, the new Daddy Pig’s Puddle Jump app is certainly a good substitute.

Daddy Pig is the world champion muddy puddle jumper, but Peppa and George are going to try to beat him. Dressed in their stuntman costumes, with an Evel Knievel-esque red, white, and blue color scheme and star motif, the pigs compete across a range of courses to see who can become the muddiest. There are 15 courses to unlock, which gently become more challenging. With both a one-person and two-player option and the ability to play as Peppa, George, or Daddy Pig, this app is certainly has lots of appeal for Peppa fans.

My 4-year-old daughter adores Peppa Pig, so could hardly contain her excitement when I started the app. It’s bright and colorful and very easy for a young child to navigate independently. The controls are very simple: Just touch the screen anywhere to make the character jump. My daughter was rather hesitant at first, worried about doing something wrong. However, the game is organized so that if you don’t manage to press the screen at the right time to make your character jump and clear a hedge or land on a trampoline, it doesn’t matter. The levels very gently become longer and more challenging, so it never becomes too difficult. I particularly like how encouraging the characters are to each other, saying “Well done” after the races.

Daddy Pig clears an obstacle. © Entertainment One

The weakest part of the app for me is the two-player option. I thought that this might involve racing against each other, but it only runs the race twice, once with each character, comparing their muddy splat ratings at the end. I’d like to see something slightly more competitive, where both characters can race at the same time. Also, it would have been nice if the characters could perform more than jumps, such as being able to slide down the muddy hills. Because of this, it won’t hold the attention of older children or those used to more sophisticated games.

This is a lovely app for young children who will find the animations and voiceovers funny. I don’t think it will have the replay value for older children but it’s great for the three to five-year-old age bracket. It’s good to know that there are no in-app purchases or adverts too, making it very family friendly. However, the price of $1.99/£1.49 is a little bit steep; I think it would be better value at 99c/69p. Daddy Pig’s Puddle Jump by Entertainment One is available now from www.AppStore.com/DaddyPigsPuddleJump.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

iPad App Review: DrawQuest

Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

My sons and I had the chance to check out a free iPad app: DrawQuest. If you or your kids have a knack for drawing, this free app will be a fun diversion for you. The Facebook-connected online community will bring out your best of Pictionary; Win, Lose, or Draw; or Draw Something!

Founded by 4chan and Canv.as founder Christopher Poole, DrawQuest was designed as a “back to basics” outlet for those Canvas fans who enjoy modifying pictures. Poole discovered how much flexibility and liberty users were taking modifying photos.

DrawQuest is a free download from the Apple App Store. You can easily sign up with your Facebook account, but you don’t have to have a Facebook account to play. You can set up a username unilaterally.

DrawQuest isn’t a game, but then again, it is. The object of the app is to draw a picture based on a daily theme. Share the picture with the DrawQuest world (as well as on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, if you wish) and you can earn stars and coins. Those coins can be used to upgrade color palettes and earn other benefits.

Here’s how it works. Each day DrawQuest presents a quest of the day. The palette will have a partial drawing in place already and your quest will be to augment it. Use your imagination. Have a good time!

The interface is very similar to Draw Something, if you’re a fan of that particular game. Use your fingers. If you are ambitious enough, you can get really creative!

After you finish your drawing, by using the provided color palette and a paintbrush, marker, or pencil, you can share it to the DrawQuest community. You can compare your art with others in the community. You earn coins by completing quests, sharing the art, and earning lots of “likes” for your completed quests.

The welcome screen shows your profile and completed quests. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

The welcome screen shows your profile and completed quests. Some of my boys’ quests look more…um, mature…than others. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

A listing of recent quests. Unlike 4chan, these quests are appropriate for all ages. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

A listing of recent quests. Unlike 4chan, these quests are appropriate for all ages. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

With the coins you accumulate, you can buy more colors for your palette. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

With the coins you accumulate, you can buy more colors for your palette. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

My sons took control of my iPad before long and began to flood my Facebook and Twitter feeds with their artwork. While some of it was very good, much of it was quite snarky.

In response to "Let's Make a Sandcastle", my sons decided to enable laser eyes. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

In response to “Let’s Make a Sandcastle,” my sons decided to enable laser eyes, making that little girl on the left cry. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

"What's in the Jar?" Nothing. A fine example of my older son's sense of humor. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

“What’s in the Jar?” Nothing. A fine example of my older son’s sense of humor. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

This is a fun, very basic app that is appropriate for all ages. Kids will particularly  enjoy the little prompts that get them to explore their creativity. I’m disappointed that it’s currently only available for iPad and nothing else. I see no indications that it will be available on any other platform anytime soon.

It’s Fun Inside Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Paint and Play

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Paint and Play © Disney

My daughter has taken a turn with a countless number of painting games on the iPad. From simple paint by numbers apps to art created by elaborate brushes and stamps, my four-year-old has seen it all. But until now only one painting game has made her exclaim, “Mom! Watch, this is awesome!” The new Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Paint and Play not only lets my daughter add her own photos and artistic spin on everything inside the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but to her delight it changes the 2-D drawings into 3-D objects.

She loves using an assortment of brushes, especially the glitter, to color items in the clubhouse. (I’m thrilled it fulfills her “need” for glitter without involving me vacuuming a sparkly floor after.) Another favorite tool, the camera, gives her a chance to put patterns from our house into the clubhouse. And if she just wants Mickey’s Clubhouse to look like it does on the television show, she can use the Mousekebrush to paint it in a jiffy.

Once the artwork on the 2-D line illustration is complete, she taps the magic wand to turn the image into a 3-D rendering that goes back into the Clubhouse. This delights her to no end. She can then interact with the objects in the Clubhouse, including Mickey and Minnie, who look very colorful once she gets her hands on them.

There are also two mini-games inside the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. They’re not easy to find—I had to look in the Help section to locate them—but your toddler or preschooler could find them eventually just by touching everything in the Clubhouse. The cupcake decorator and the Mousekemusic player are quick, entertaining games that add a little more creativity bang for your buck.

Speaking of bucks, this isn’t a cheap app at $4.99, but if you have a little one who loves watching the adventures in the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, it’s a solid investment with a lot of replay value. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Paint and Play is available on the iTunes store for the iPhone and iPad.

A promotional copy was provided for review purposes.

Waze: Exciting News for This Exciting App

Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Thanks to a tip from a friend from the Washington, D.C. area, I decided to try out the Waze community-based navigation app on my most recent road trip. I honestly didn’t know much about it, being that I live in a less-metropolitan geographic area.  I tried it on a couple of local trips earlier in June, and I didn’t get much out of it.  I’ve relied on the CoPilot Live app more recently, and it seemed to have worked well for me.

But I didn’t give up—last week I made an almost-1000 mile drive from Florida to West Virginia. Somewhere around Knoxville, where I hit some traffic, I decided to give Waze a second chance.

I’m glad I did.

Waze started in Israel in 2008 and when it crossed the pond to the U.S. about two years ago, it took the app world by storm. In 2013 it was awarded the Best Overall Mobile App by the Mobile World Congress, thus cinching its position as a must-have app!

I’ll get to the local metro features momentarily, but I just want to share with the world how awesome it was traveling on Interstates 40 and 81 and being among other Waze users—called “Wazers”—as we shared traffic, construction, and hidden police information. My experiences so far have been with long-distance driving; there’s much more it can do in heavier traffic and in areas with more “Wazers.”

You start out as a "baby Wazer". Can you see the pacifier in my icon's mouth? Luckily, that only lasted for 100 miles...a mere 90 minutes on I-40. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

You start out as a “baby Wazer.” Can you see the pacifier in my icon’s mouth? Luckily, that only lasted for 100 miles…a mere 90 minutes on I-40. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

So I’m driving down the highway; the Waze app is running happily on my iPhone (which is mounted to my GripGo mount). Every once in a while I would encounter icons such as these ones pictured.

This is a great all-encompassing graphic, showing another Wazer along with two upcoming hazards. In both cases, the hazards were vehicles stopped on the shoulder. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

This is a great all-encompassing graphic, showing another Wazer along with two upcoming hazards. In both cases, the hazards were vehicles stopped on the shoulder. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

The pink “Wazer” icon was heading towards me on I-40. It has a crown on its head, designating it a “Waze Royalty”—the top 1% of high scorers in whatever state I’m in (Tennessee, in this case). There are varying levels of “Wazers”; I had to endure 100 miles of being a baby before promoting to a “Wazer Grownup.”

Those exclamation points are identifying hazards. If you tap the icons—easy to do with my GripGo mounted-phone—a pop up window will provide more information.

It's easy to tap the screen to get more information about hazards. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

It’s easy to tap the screen to get more information about hazards. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

You can also get information about hidden police cars and road construction. While I’m not suggesting that drivers spend too much time on his/her phone, for what it’s worth, it’s very easy to mark locations for this information. Three taps on the phone, and you’re done!

The police car information was very helpful and pretty accurate.

In more densely-populated metropolitan areas, there is quite a bit more utility for users. The more Wazers there are in an area, the more information becomes available. You can easily connect Waze with your mobile Facebook app and you’ll automatically be friends with those drivers. Waze will alert you when your friends are on the road, and you can chat with them (which I don’t recommend if you’re the driver). I enjoyed sending “Beep Beep”s to my friends, which only takes two taps on the iPhone.

Waze will measure your device's speed in your vehicle and use it to determine traffic patterns in congested areas. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Waze will measure your device’s speed in your vehicle and use it to determine traffic patterns in congested areas. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

GeekMom Helene, who lives near the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro areas, isn’t that happy with Waze’s chat function. Her app pops up the chats if any of her friends are within a certain range. She finds that distracts her from trying to get to her destination.

GeekMom Kristen provided me the following pros and cons of using Waze throughout the Los Angeles area. And I quote….

  • Nearly everyone I know in LA loves Waze.
  • I use it every day, even for places I know the way, because she’s taught me new ways to get to work, to the studio, and home. After a while it anticipates where you’re going. I nearly squeaked with delight the first time it said, “Good afternoon! Are you on your way home?” It recognized that I go to the same place every Tuesday at 3:00pm.
  • As an LA driver, the most shocking thing about Waze is how often she tells us to take the freeways. I usually avoid them like the plague—but it turns out that even when they’re jammed sometimes, they’re still the fastest route.
  • Another reason I use her every time I get in the car—unbelievably accurate ETAs.
  • Downsides: That thing where she anticipates where you’re going—if you’re going someplace different than usual and don’t notice she’s asked you if you’re going to your typical place—she will override what you’ve plugged in. I discovered that a couple of times in the beginning. You know a, “Heyyy wait, why am I turning on Olympic?”
  • She will also take you down side streets—which at time has been a revelation—“I’m bypassing all the traffic on the main road!” But I wish she was more intuitive about what side streets have traffic lights. Often she will send you up a side street, telling you to cross a major thoroughfare. Or make a left onto one. Uh, yikes, and hello extra ten minutes added to commute.
  • I love points—it appeals to the gamer in me—and when I’m the passenger I’m always yelling when we get points. My husband will say, “But you don’t GET anything!” My response: “You get POINTS!”**
  • I love her. Yes I said her. Google better not [mess] her up.

**Waze awards you points based on how many miles you’ve traveled with Waze, how many friends you have, and how often you report items such as traffic jams, gas prices, and map problems.

My Waze is all Grown Up! After the first 100 miles you shed the pacifier and can choose a custom Waze icon. Do you like my sunflower? Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

My Waze is all Grown Up! After the first 100 miles you shed the pacifier and can choose a custom Waze icon. Do you like my sunflower? Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

In a timely twist of fate, as several of us GeekMoms were discussing our adventures with Waze last week, Google was busy finalizing their acquisition at the tune of just over $1 billion!

Well, as Kristen suggested above, we hope that Google does a good job with Waze.

Waze is available for free download for the iOS, Android, and J2ME platforms.

Disney’s “It’s a Small World” Interactive iOS App

Loading Screen of the "It's a Small World" App © Disney

Loading Screen of the “It’s a Small World” App © Disney

Anybody who knows me personally will know that I am an enormous Disney geek. Interestingly, for me it is not so much about the films as it is the theme parks. There are paintings all over our house of the parks, I have a collection of plates and collectables and several boards full of trading pins. The best present I received this Christmas was a surprise from my husband, a set of figures based on characters who appear only (or mostly) in the parks, the yeti from the Matterhorn, Figment from EPCOT and a Ghost from the Haunted Mansion were included amongst others. So when I heard that Disney were releasing a story app based on one of their most beloved (or possibly infamous) rides, “It’s a Small World” – I absolutely had to try it out.

I will first answer the question that every single person familiar to that ride is currently asking, yes it does include the song. However this is a version of the song that has been toned down to more instrumental and melodic background music, rather than the invasive song well known to Disney park patrons. The music hums away in the background and provides a perfect score to the story without being intrusive. That’s until you get to the very end when the chorus of the original song pipes up on repeat until you hit the menu button and you’re stuck with it in your head for the rest of the day.

All the scenes are beautifully drawn & use vivid colours © Disney

All the scenes are beautifully drawn & use vivid colours © Disney

The story itself is based on the lyrics and take the reader on a journey through a series of beautiful settings based on different countries and cultures. Each scene is accompanied by a single line from the song and features a variety of interactive elements that can be activated by clicking on parts of the image. Clicking an animal might cause it to make a noise, a boat might sail off across the sea or a child might laugh and blow a kiss. The app automatically pans across the image, however you can use your finger to drag the image back and revisit parts of it. All sorts of countries and cultures are represented from the Arctic to Africa, Japan to London.

The menu screen with spinning wheel to select a scene © Disney

The menu screen with spinning wheel to select a scene © Disney

Inbetween scenes a hot air balloon sails onto the screen to take you on the next stage of the journey as the scene loads. If left alone, the app will automatically work its way through each line/scene of the song, however the menu does give you the option to jump to any you choose through a nicely designed animated scrolling wheel. This can be accessed at any time throughout your journey and also allows you to return to the home page.

The day after I received this app, I switched it on and handed my phone over to my two year old. Despite the app being rated 4+, my son found it easy to get to grips with; he was quickly poking at things and getting dogs barking and bagpipes playing (in case it isn’t obvious – this is NOT a quiet app.) I do have to admit that the app hasn’t held his attention for long, however I can honestly say that I think this is simply a phase he is going through as none of his previously favoured apps have been left running very long lately either. Because of the auto scrolling, he was able to move through the different screens without needing my help and if his attention span was longer, he could easily have worked through the full app.

The word "laugh" appears as you tap a laughing girl © Disney

The word “laugh” appears as you tap a laughing girl © Disney

The app would also work well as a simple short story book for an older child, each line is spoken aloud so no reading skills are required, however the words are printed on screen for those learning to read. Do remember however that as this story is based on song lyrics, there are not that many lines so the app’s value as a “learning to read” tool is limited. Certain characters also produce a written word that relates to the action they are performing when they are tapped, these are simple words such as “give” and “laugh.” The app contains one other small feature, a karaoke screen which sings the chorus with the words up on screen and a traditional karaoke bouncing along on top of them. This is the same screen that appears at the end of the story but it can be accessed directly from the main menu. I suggest you don’t tell your kids about it if you ever want to get the song out of your head.

As a Disney park enthusiast, I thoroughly enjoyed this app and would happily sit and watch the story unfold even by myself. I would love to see a range of these interactive story apps based on other Disney park rides – the Haunted Mansion being my number one desire – and if this is the quality benchmark then I’d be very happy indeed. If you’re not a Disney fan this app won’t win you over, however given the subject I feel that an app like this was always aimed at existing enthusiasts rather than a more casual market. All together this is a beautiful looking app with a simple interface and lots of fun to be had within, please make more Disney.

“It’s a Small World” is available for iPhone and iPad for $3.99/£2.49. A copy of this app was provided free for review.

 

GeekMom 2011 Holiday Gift Guide #2: Games

Second in our series of 2011 Holiday Gift Guides is one detailing many games that we know and love. Some of them are new, some have been around a while, but all are great fun. This guide encompasses board games, card games, video games, and even an app. Check them out! And please share your favorite games in the comments.

Image: Eternal Revolution

Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype
$25.00
Games with hand-made pieces and quality parts are sometimes easy to find. Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype, a board game similar to Chinese checkers but more like Traverse, is a great example. For 2-4 people, players try to get their pieces across the board before their opponents do, jumping pieces along the way. But here’s the trick: The pieces are six-sided cubes. Which side is up determines how the piece will move, and every time it is jumped over, the cube is rolled. A bit of luck is needed, but the game is also highly strategic. You’ll want to play it again and again!

 

Image: The Creativity Hub

Rory’s Story Cubes
$9.99
Crafting a good story is something that is fun to share, but you don’t need to write it down or even to perfect it to enjoy yourself and get a good result. Gather friends or family around, and roll Rory’s Story Cubes (available in both the original dice and the newer Actions variety). Then tell a story out loud based on the images on the dice. The dice come with a few different game ideas, but you can think of your own rules or visit the Story Cubes website for more ideas. The dice are very portable, and can also be used for inspiration with more conventional writing activities.

 

Image: Bent Castle Workshops

Numbers League Card Game
$19.95
Games that teach math are a great way for kids to reinforce their knowledge and have a great time. One math game that will keep you and your kids entertained and wanting to play over and over is Numbers League. Use simple and more advanced arithmetic along with your heroes and superheroes to defeat the villains. Decide whether you’d like to use a sidekick and/or a device, and then add up the values of the heroes to match the numerical value of a villain. Play by yourself or against opponents, and keep your city safe!

 

Image: Bent Castle Software

Numbers League App
$3.99
The Numbers League Card Game also comes in an excellent app representation. This Numbers League version allows for playing against the computer, against human opponents, or a combination thereof. It also has a very large range of game settings and levels. There is no sidekick in this version, but otherwise the gameplay is very similar to the card game. Take this fun math game with you wherever you go!

 

Image: Gamewright

City Square Off
$19.99
A bit like Blokus flipped on its head, City Square Off gives each player their own board on which to build, and each player plays the same piece on each turn. The last person to still be able to place a piece wins. A favorite in our house, this game is great for kids up to adults.

 

Image: Mayfair Games

Tsuro
$29.99
Create a path for your piece to follow while trying to guide other players’ pieces off the board. This game’s very simple concept is a great deal of fun and offers a short game that you can play with kids and grownups of all ages. It is also great for a larger group, since up to eight players can play at once.

 

Image: Amazon.com

Loopz Game
$36.95
Loopz is a skill and action game designed to get players moving. It can be played alone or with up to four participants. Loopz includes seven different games (some with multiple levels) to challenge memory, flexibility, speed, rhythm, reflexes, and more. The loops flash with patterns of color and light, making this engaging fun for players 7 and up.

 

Image: Amazon.com

Xbox 360 Console Kinect
$299.99 to $399.99, or add-on Kinect system for your Xbox 360 $119.99
Xbox 360 250 GB Kinect Bundle Special Edition
Xbox 360 4 GB Console with Kinect
Kinect Sensor Add-on
Kinect technology makes Xbox better than ever. Kinect sensor utilizes full-body tracking to mirror your movements within a game or to control an HD movie with a wave of your hand. No controller necessary. Features built-in WiFi so you can stream movies or television, download games, connect with friends on Facebook, and much more. The video game experience has never been so real. A great gift for kids as well as grandparents.

 

Photo credit: AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com

Awkward Family Photos Game
If your family is feeling the need for something new to play on family game night, or your group of friends has a great sense of humor, this is the game for you. If you’ve ever seen the hilarious website called Awkward Family Photos, and couldn’t stop laughing, this is the game for you. If you need an activity that young kids can play with older folks and everyone has the same chance of ‘winning’, this is the game for you. It’s appropriately called Awkward Family Photos and you can snag your own copy for less than $19. It comes with a two sided board, covered in pictures that have appeared on the website, and players compete to see who can come up with captions and answers to such questions as, ‘What happened right after this picture was taken?’. If you’ve worn out your copy of Apples to Apples, it’s time to break out this new gem.

 

Image: Nicole Wakelin

Star Trek Fleet Captains
$79.99
This brand new board game is sure to appeal to your inner Trekkie. You command a fleet of Federation or Klingon ships, each beautifully modeled with a Clix dial on the base to track shields, weapons, sensors and engines. As you move across a board of random tiles, you’ll explore new planets, settle outposts and, of course, battle the enemy. To help you on your way there are cards with all your favorite characters from Kirk to Picard and, yes, there are even Tribbles wreaking havoc and threatening to sabotage your mission. With a huge assortment of cards and 24 ships to play, it’s never the same game twice.

 

Image: Nicole Wakelin

Mouse Guard RPG
$69.95
If you’ve been looking for a great way to introduce your kids to the world of roleplaying, then the Mouse Guard RPG based on the series of graphic novels published by Archaia should be part of your gift-giving plans this year. Although it was not created specifically for kids but targets adult players, the images and the universe are perfect for children. Set in a forest populated by brave little mice in capes and hats, it provides a rich world with kid-friendly characters your children will be happy to return to again and again. And as your children grow, so can the intricacy and depth of your adventures.

 

Image: Amazon.com

Kinect Sports Season Two
$49.99
This sequel to the bestselling Kinect Sports title for the Kinect on Xbox 360 gives you and your family the chance to match skills at football, skiing, baseball, darts, golf and tennis. You can challenge each other in your living room or friends and family across the country through Xbox Live. Winter may have everyone stuck inside, but this game will have you breaking into a sweat as you try to beat your opponents.

 

IceDice
$17.59
A game system comprised of stacking pyramids instead of playing cards. There are 23 variations of this game, the rules of which can be obtained from Looney Labs. Ice Dice is a fast paced, entertaining way to while away the holidays.

 

Star Fluxx
$12.83
Quite possibly the best of the Fluxx variations offered by Looney Labs. Star Fluxx keeps the premise of the original game while adding in geeky elements, going to the limits of what you can do under copyright law. A card game that can last ten minutes or sixty, it’s a good way to while away some time while digesting Christmas dinner. Not for the easily confused!

 

Image from DNA family games, used with permission.

Bull’s-Eye
$29.95
Is a word game for families, made by a family. It is fast, fun, and educational play. The game is $29.95 on the website and can be found in game stores in the Pacific Northwest.

 

Photo by Cathe Post

Dixit
Under $25
Dixit is a card game similar to Apples to Apples, but with pictures. The artwork is amazing and the game is a lot of fun for kids and adults. The basic game is selling for just under $25 on Amazon.

 

Photo by Cathe Post

Once Upon a Monster
$44.99
If you have a Kinect and children seven and under (maybe even older than seven), this is a great game. The artwork and graphics are top quality and the activities are fun for kids and parents. This is the first Sesame Street game that I actually want to play – even when my kids aren’t around.

 

Image courtesy of Disney Interactive

Disney Universe for Wii
$49.99
Embark on a family-friendly trip through an imaginary robot-run universe that’s gone amok with mischief! Your avatar will attempt to free the costumes of numerous Disney characters and then don those costumes while attempting to save the different areas of the universe. There are blue bots that are helpful, and these black and red bots that are full of mischief and evil. For Disney, this game has some dark elements, but overall, it’s been fun to play with the family. Similar to the Lego video game series, players will use deductive reasoning to solve problems to get through each level, all the while collecting stars and coins, like the Lego games’ stud collections. The Disney franchise connection will make this video game a hit with the younger kids! Multi-player capabilities let teams work together to solve the problems. Rated “Everyone 10+” by the ESRB for cartoon violence and mild crude humor.

 

Image courtesy of Activision

Cabela’s Adventure Camp for Wii
$29.99
Enjoy extreme sports gaming like never before! Cabela’s Adventure Camp takes on several sports with a new twist! Participate in biking, kayaking, wave runner riding, skeet shooting, fishing, archery, hogwhacking, and a very special version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”…called “Bear, Hunter, Ninja!”. Unlike other sports games, while Player 1 is doing his/her sport, additional players can wreak havoc on the player by laying obstacles! Each of my sons enjoyed downing trees across the river while his brother was biking or kayaking! Rated “Everyone” by the ESRB, but it does contain mild violence.

 

Image courtesy Microsoft

Star Wars Kinect Bundle
$449
This gift won’t quite make it under the Christmas tree. It’s being released on December 31, but I promise you won’t be sorry you put an IOU under the tree and waited the extra couple weeks. If you don’t own an Xbox, this is an excellent, extra geeky way to jump into a way to play video games that require you to get up and move. The Star Wars bundle, aside from coming dressed up as Droids, also gives you the Star Wars Kinect game and an extra large 320 gig hard drive.

 

Image courtesy Amazon.com

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean
$36.99
Lego Star Wars is my favorite video game of all time. You can play it at any age. You don’t have to see the movie first. It encourages cooperation, and you don’t have to be able to read. We’ve enjoyed all the other Lego video games in the series as well. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean adds more complexity to the game and makes money matter more. As with the other games, it parodies scenes from the movies without directly copying them, so it’s not too much of a spoiler to play the game before you watch the movie.

 

Image: http://www.telltalegames.com/

Back To The Future – The Game (Wii and PlayStation 3)
$19.99
This game is the combination of five episodes that had been originally released episode by episode between December 2010 and June 2011 on the Microsoft and Mac operating systems. You play the part of Marty McFly in an adventure to save Doc and then restore the future. It is a game that any fan of the Back to the Future series.

 

Image: Microsoft.com

Kinect Disneyland Adventures
$49.96
This new Kinect game for the xBox 360 allows you do explore Disneyland from the comfort of your own home. You can explore the attractions, meet the characters and complete challenges.

 

Image: Activision

Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure (Nintendo Wii)
$69.99
Take innovative toys and match them with super fun gameplay and you’ve got Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure. An evil villain has frozen the Skylanders and sent them to earth, but with the Skylanders portal, you can send them back and save the Skylands! The single player mode is fun, but the cooperative mode is really something special. Oh, and if you pick this one up, you’re going to want more of the toys. Trust us. Read the full review.

 

Image: Hasbro

Simon Flash
$29.99
Back in the day, Simon was a simple but addictive game. There was something about those glowing lights beckoning you to play. Now Simon has a high-tech update using Hasbro’s Flash technology. You can play the classic mode by following the pattern with the buttons, but you can also shift the cubes around to play four different games. A great update on a classic.

 

Image: Amazon

Bananagrams
$15
Word nerds, rejoice! Bananagrams brings the crossword puzzle to the tabletop. The flexibility of the game means that beginning and advanced spellers can all play together. The compact game comes in a banana-shaped zipper pouch suitable for travel (or hey, Santa – for a stocking stuffer).

 

Image: ThinkFun

Rush Hour Traffic Jam Game
$16
Have you played Rush Hour? And no, we’re not talking the 5 o’clock commute. A strategy puzzle that will have players of all ages contemplating just how to maneuver the gridlock, Rush Hour comes with a set of cars and a deck of cards featuring challenges. In this single player game, the challenges begin simply but progress to more and more difficult layouts. For younger kids, there’s a Rush Hour Jr. Animal lovers will appreciate the Safari Rush Hour version complete with elephants and rhinos. This mind bender has been a favorite in our household for years.

Check out our previous GeekMom Gift Guide: #1: Holiday-Themed Gifts.

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Hanging in Numberland with Les Trois Elles

Numberland

We’re getting ready to head to Seattle in a week or so. It’s only a couple of hours on the plane, but I always like to have a few tricks up my sleeve to keep Vivienne entertained. So I’m in the market for some new apps to play with.  Whenever I do a little refresh like this, I always head over to the ever fabulous Moms With Apps. It’s a fantastic aggregator, and thus far, whenever I’ve grabbed something off their list, it’s been a winner.

In fact, I took a chance on an app they recommended and I am breathlessly in love with it. I say “took a chance” because it wasn’t cheap – most apps are anywhere from $.99 to $1.99 – but this one was $4.99 – a little pricey to just say, “let’s give it a go.” But I am 100% glad I paid the money for it. It’s worth it.

It’s called Tam & Tao in Numberland by Les Trois Elles and it teaches counting based on the Montessori method.  It’s simply gorgeous – 10 different scenarios for the numbers 0-9, and each one has so many layers of detail and little easter eggs that just seem endless. Click on the girl and you count along with her, click on the boy and you’re transported to a drawing tablet where you can trace the number being featured, then try to draw it yourself freehand. Not to mention all the other secrets waiting to be discovered on every screen. Just the other day we were delighted to find that if you touch the stars in the “zero” screen, they sound a musical note and then wink out. It’s meant for ages 3-5, but Vivienne (who will be 2 in September) will sit with me and play it for quite a long time. And you can choose English, French or Spanish.

Six

What are your favorite apps for toddlers? I’d like to know, and I’ll update more as I find them.

 

Google Breadcrumb: Slightly Geeky and Fun Mobile Learning Tool

According to a Microsoft infographic on the Digital Buzz website, there are four billion mobile phones in use around the world.  Even more intriguing is that mobile Internet usage is on course to overtake desktop Internet usage by 2014.

In addition, of those four billion mobile phone users, over 60% of them are using their devices to play games.  Thanks to Google Breadcrumb, these four billion people can now create their own learning games without having any programming skills.

Google Breadcrumb is a Google Labs product that enables just about anyone to create simple text-based, mobile learning applications.  With only three additions to plain text, creating a working quiz is amazingly intuitive.  Breadcrumb is designed to work on any internet-enabled smart phone or computer. As a result, even those who do not own a computer can use it.  As with all Google Labs applications, Google Breadcrumb is an experimental application, may contain bugs, and could even be discontinued by Google in the future.

You will need a Google account to get started, but the application is completely online and free.  Creating quizzes is one of the most obvious applications but some people are using Breadcrumb to create data center troubleshooting guides or training guides.  By the way, kids will enjoy creating applications, too, because there is virtually no learning curve.  So, encourage the kids to create their own applications to help them study, quiz their peers, or even invent new uses for the tool.

When you have finished your application, test it by clicking on or scanning the QR code that accompanies your application.

Click on or Scan this QR code with mobile app on your camera phone to view a Google Breadcrumb quiz.

To understand how Breadcrumb can be used, check out the quiz we created while learning Google Breadcrumb.  Please share links to your projects by leaving a comment on this post.

With mobile devices gaining popularity at such a rapid pace, Google Breadcrumb encourages mobile learning through tools that anyone in the world can use.

 

 

Language Learning Through Earworms? Ja!

Even if you’ve never heard the term “earworm,” you’ve had one. You know — one of those songs or tunes or fragments of melody that gets stuck in your head for days on end, so that you find yourself muttering “if you’re blue and you don’t know where to go to, why don’t you go where fashion sits” over and over again, in the shower and in line at the grocery store and at your desk and aaaaaarrrrgggghhh make it stop!

Yes, earworms. Everyone hates them. So when I heard about a company that was trying to use the power of the earworm for good, I was intrigued. And skeptical. And a little afraid.

But that’s just what Earworms MBT (Musical Brain Trainer) intends to do — teach you foreign languages by using music integration and rhythmic repetition in a series of audio lessons. You can get these lessons on CD, in downloadable audible.com files, or by buying an iPhone app. There’s also a free trial app that gives you a taste of what you’ll get in twelve different languages, including Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese, Polish, and more.

After sampling the free app, I decided to dive in with the full Volume 1 of a specific language and really see what this kind of language learning could do for me. To make it a fair test, I wanted a language I had very little familiarity with, but one that wasn’t completely alien to my eyes and ears. I settled on Dutch. Like all the Earworms apps, the download cost was $9.99. (Disclosure: I received a reviewer’s promo code.)

The learning experience wasn’t what I expected. I thought my audio teachers would choose some Dutch words and phrases and sing them, making up little songs that I would then carry through my day. This made sense to me, as I tend to learn songs very quickly and often pick up all the lyrics to radio tunes without even trying. But that’s not how it works. Instead, each lesson has a fairly subtle musical background — genres range from folk/pop to country to dance club ump-che ump-che — with a man and woman conversing over it. There is some attempt made to repeat phrases in time to the beat, but it’s not anywhere near as rigidly beat-centric as I’d anticipated.

So after a first listen, I was more skeptical than ever. If they weren’t going to teach me in song form, how was this ever going to work? Also, as an admitted nerdy overachiever, I had a bit of a problem with the program’s instruction to not try. That’s right — you’re specifically advised to “sit back, relax and groove along to the melodies without trying to concentrate too hard.”

Still, I’m nothing if not a follower of rules, so I did my best to obey the instructions. I spent a couple of weeks listening to my Dutch lessons during my morning and afternoon commutes, repeating the Dutch words out loud but otherwise not straining to memorize or recall the phrases I was learning.

And… it worked. A week and a half in, I found myself popping Dutch phrases into my everyday speech, just for fun. Someone would say thank you, and I’d say “graag gedaan.” (Literally — “gladly done.”) I could picture myself in Amsterdam, telling a waiter that “ik wil graag een biertje, alstublieft” (I’d like a beer, please) or directing my taxi driver to take me “naar het vliegveld” (to the airport). I caught myself rhythmically counting to 20 in Dutch, savoring the pronunciation of fun words like “zeventien” (17).

And here’s the weirdest part — it stuck with me. After that intensive two weeks of listening, I kind of wandered off, and as of this writing, I haven’t listened to my Dutch lessons in a few weeks. But I still remember a lot of what I learned. For all the Dutch I’ve referenced here, I only had to refer to my lessons to find the correct spellings — the words themselves, and their correct pronunciations, were still in my head.

Now, I can’t swear that it was the music that did it. Maybe I’d have learned and retained as much from plain old audio lessons with no catchy riffs or toe-tapping beats. But the fact remains that a few weeks ago, all I could say in Dutch was a simple “dank u,” and now I know how to ask for a “gemengde salade” (mixed salad) — and I don’t even particularly like salad!

So, what’s my verdict on Earworms language lessons? As the Dutch say, “heel goed!” (Very good!)

Ellen Henderson is a novelist and web strategist. She lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband and son.

What Do Smart Zombies Want? Apps For Better Brains!

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Image by Tim

I’m not sure what kind of geeky conversations go on in your households, but a common lament in my house is the lack of quality zombie apps on the market. Rather than listening to this diatribe yet again, I suggested that my son write it all down. Here’s his take on the state of the zombie app market, along with his idea of the perfect zombie app.

Do you have a strange obsession with the undead? I certainly do, but when I look for apps that are zombie related, they’re always either violent or boring. A solution? An app that is

  • Educational. If you’re going to be on an app, may as well get more brains.
  • Entertaining. I despise boring apps, especially educational ones.
  • Non-Gory. Zombies don’t have to splatter blood even if they need a little brain hors d’oeuvre every once in a while.

So how could this be combined, while making it attractive to geeky kids?  Maybe something like this.

The app could ask this question: You’re trapped in a pet store. You have locked the zombies in the back room, but need that space. In order to get in without getting attacked, you need to do some quick thinking.

Each zombie used to have a pet. The number of pets each zombie had are: 3, 2, 0, 5, 10, 6, 4, 1, 9, and 10.

What is the mean number of pets formerly owned by the zombies? What is the modal number of pets owned by the zombies, and what is the median number of pets?

A: Mean: 5, Median: 4.5, Mode: 10

B: Mean: 8, Median: 6, Mode: 0

C: Mean: 0, Median: 6, Mode: 8

Say you answered A.

A: is correct. The average number of pets owned by zombies is 5. The middle number of pets owned by zombies is 4.5, and the most common number of pets is 10.

Then a game screen would come up. It would look like a whack-a-mole stand, except at the top it said Whack-un-dead.

Hands would start to rise from the ground, like the moles in whack-a-mole, and you could tap to hit them.

Say you answered B or C:

Hands would start to come from the corners of the screen and make the screen look like it was cracking. Then a scream. The question would come up again with the wrong answer you just guessed marked by an X that looks like it was made by finger nails.

Sounds pretty cool right? I’ve looked for apps in the past. One was called Math Zombie. I thought this would be perfect. I opened the app, and it turned out just to be a math game that had nothing at all to do with zombies. I then tried an app called Zombie Farm. It turned out to be fun, non-gory, but not educational. Then Zombie Pizza. I thought this would be good with fractions and things. It was, again, fun, non-gory, but taught absolutely nothing. I’ve searched just zombie in general in the app store, and the ones that come up are often violent. Some of these other games do have valuable skills to offer though, like hand eye coordination, faster reaction times, and strategy. But they don’t have just plain skills out in the open. Maybe someday this is will be a reality, but for now, good look finding an app  that’s not soaked in red, entertaining enough to raise the dead, and helps build your BBRRAAAIIIIINNNSSS!!!!!!!

—Missing-Limb Tim

So, GeekMom readers, can you help a Geekling out?  Does anyone have a worthwhile zombie app to recommend for a discriminating tween?

Geeking Out About Word Lens

I’m not an iPhone app junky. I only download apps I’m sure I’ll use, and I promptly delete any that disappoint me. And I certainly never pay for full versions of apps without first checking the reviews. What can I say? I’m a picky user.

Then one day, a new language translation app exploded onto the scene with an unbelievable YouTube demo video. So unbelievable that I actually doubted its veracity. But because my Twitter-friends wouldn’t stop retweeting about it, I decided to investigate. I may be picky, but my friends rarely steer me wrong.

According to the official video demo, Word Lens uses the iPhone’s camera to visually translate words and phrases from one language to another. Just open the app, point your iPhone at a sign or a label, and the words change before your eyes.

After I bought the app and tested it out in my multilingual neighborhood, I decided to bring it home and record a video demo of my own. The first thing to note is that, so far, the app only translates from Spanish to English and vice versa. The second most important thing to know is that the app really struggles to translate curved or distorted text, many serif fonts, and it’s completely useless with handwritten words. It also has a hard time with large blocks of text.

For my demonstration, I used Word Lens to translate passages from a few popular children’s books; first into English, and then into Spanish. Bilingual readers will easily spot artifacts of direct translation, but everyone should be able to see the app in action. As the demo progresses, the words become fewer and simpler, and the Word Lens translation becomes correspondingly clearer.

In spite of its problems, I’m still very impressed with Word Lens. It’s the first app of its kind, and I expect future updates will help mitigate some of its shortcomings. Obviously, it’s better suited to travel-related translation than it is to literary translation, but it may also be useful for language students working on their vocabularies. Like most apps, Word Lens doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Unlike many apps, however, it’s entirely worth the price.