During the holidays my children and I had a play around with some apps aimed at younger children, to see how easy they were to use and whether they were engaging enough to hold the attention of a 3 & 6 year old. Here’s an overview of the ones we tried and what we thought of them:
1. AR Moon - Explore Solar System (only available on the App Store for iOS devices - Free, in-app purchases available)
I’ll be completely honest, the app didn’t look like much when I opened it and because of this my expectations were quite low! My children had never experienced AR before so I thought this would be a fun way to try and engage them and once we got into the content of the app, boy was I right. They loved it, well they loved what was free (I’m a cheapskate 😆). There are a number of stages to work through and the free content allows you to get to stage 2. In these first 2 stages we launched a rocket and explored the surface of a moon while driving a Rover around to collect photographs. You do need a large open space to really be able to enjoy the app so it’s a great excuse to get out into the open to explore. What we played we really liked.
2. My Very Hungry Caterpillar AR (only available on the App Store for iOS devices - Free)
A popular and well known book has been turned into a simple AR app. It’s super easy to use so even my 3 year old could control it. Another plus is that it doesn’t require a lot of space to use so we played it in the hallway of my house. An apple tree, a chest and a tree stump appear on your screen along with a little egg….'and - pop - out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar'.
The game is a simplified version of the book where you have to get the caterpillar to eat 3 of each of the fruits he enjoys throughout the story. When he has eaten all the different fruits he goes into his cocoon and then appears as the beautiful butterfly. A number of butterflies then fly around the room above your head. It’s not trying to be anything more than it needs to be, just a simple and interactive retelling of the story. We loved it!
3. Big Bang AR (available on App Store and Google Play - Free)
How many times have your children asked you about space and the creation of the universe? Lots of very scientific questions that are tricky to answer (in my opinion!). This app walks the user through the different steps of the Big Bang Theory using AR, all narrated by the very talented Tilda Swinton. When you reach the end of the experience, you have a chance to take a #starselfie which my 6 year old thoroughly enjoyed!
4. Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame (available on App Store and Google Play - Free)
There is no AR involved in this one, but it does seem like a great app to use with the younger children to help them manage their frustrations. The instructions are clear and simple and there is no ‘wrong’ answer.
The premise of the app is that a monster has to face a number of difficult challenges and it is the player's job to help the monster calm down using breathing exercises. You’re then encouraged to help the monster come up with ideas on how they can complete the task at hand. You can even personalise the experience by recording the phrases used in the app in your own voice if you think your child will be more responsive to this. It doesn’t take long to complete the app but it helps teach children how to handle frustrating situations.
5. Khan Academy Kids (available on App Store and Google Play - Free)
This app focuses more on the educational side of things which I loved the idea of. I was able to set up 2 profiles which meant both of my children received content that was relevant to their age. My daughter was the first to try out the app and she loved everything about it. She got to listen to stories and then answer questions. Her maths and literacy skills were tested and the app explained and displayed everything so clearly, and when a task was complete a surprise was available for her to choose.
When my youngest was finally allowed a chance to try it out I was surprised to see how engaging he found it too. He did require a bit of encouragement to listen to the instructions at first but once he started receiving positive feedback he used his listening ears and didn’t need me anymore! The content for my son was more visual, for example who is taller, tap the green object, so it was great to be able to leave him to play alone and understand what he was being asked to do.
We all worry about screen time, especially during the holidays but we can use screens to our advantage. My children enjoyed playing with all of these apps, especially the AR ones as these were new and exciting. Overall though I would say that the Khan Academy Kids app was the winner. It was my favourite as it was a good mix of educational information and fun stories but the children enjoyed it most too and held their attention the longest. Why not download the apps yourself and let us know which one was your favourite!
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