The 28 Highest Rated Products of 2012

Here are the highest rated products so far in 2012 (as of August 2, 2012).

IMPORTANT NOTE: These products have received 4.6 or higher ratings on our instrument from 1/1/2012 to 8/2/2012. This list is continually updated for subscribers in the CTR Review Database. The list, as presented here, is not comprehensive. There are other Editor’s Choice selections for 2012 that are not included.  The titles are listed here, in alphabetical order. 

A Jazzy Day
Designed to introduce young children to Jazz music and it’s instruments, this app follows two children as they explore the Jazz Big Band, where they discover the sounds of each instrument.
We appreciated the realism to this app — especially the instrument sounds — there are no cheesy synthesizers here. In addition, there’s a full jazz Big Band arrangement that can be mixed and matched, making it fun to play with various parts of the band to hear how they turn into a “conversation.” On the last of the 15 pages, children can test their knowledge with an un-timed quiz that asks children to match a phrase (or a lick) played by each instrument, with the correct picture.
Instruments include the saxophone, trumpet, trombone, bass, piano, guitar and vibraphone. As with many ebook designs, there is both a read to me mode or a read it myself option. All in all, this is an excellent addition to your app library.  Teaches: music, jazz. The Melody Book. www.themelodybook.com, $4.99. Best for ages 3-8.
[Rating: 4.6] or .92%

ABC ZooBorns
Here’s yet another well designed alphabet-themed app from Peapod Labs (see also Music, Wildlife, Play, Food and Go).
ABC ZooBorns turns your iPad or iPhone screen into an alphabet-themed visual encyclopedia, based on beautiful photos from royalty free sources such as Flickr and YouTube. The result is an authentic presentation of letter-themed animal photos.
You start by touching one of the approximately 150 thumbnail images (156 as of July 2012), organized alphabetically.
Each leads to a letter-themed animal item. For A, for example, you’ll get a close-up view of an Aardvark. For E, you see an amazing baby elephant. As with the other Peapod ABC apps, each word appears, letter-by-letter, on the bottom of the screen. Touching any of the letters within the word sends you to another set of words; an excellent secondary navigation technique. Many of the photos include YouTube videos or rub-away images, both great ways to extend the meaning.
Note that you’ll need an active Internet connection, both to keep the app updated and to view the YouTube content. The app will still function if not online, however.
There’s only one design flaw that must be noted — a direct link to the App store has been included next to the letter “A” in the main menu.
Other than that, this is an outstanding app that can capture a child’s interest in animals as it playfully introduces letter sounds in the context of words. Teaches: letter recognition, language, art. Peapod Labs. www.peapodlabs.com, $2.99. Best for ages 3-up.
[Rating: 4.7] or .94%

Bugs and Bubbles
Fun, fast and good for building emerging math skills, Bugs and Bubbles is the second app we’ve reviewed from Little Bit Studio. The first, also excellent, was Bugs and Buttons (CTR Feb 12).
This app contains 18 leveled sorting, classification games set in Uncle Bob’s Bubble Factory. Your goal is to collect stickers by harvesting bubbles. This requires a lot of low level math skill application, including counting, sorting, remembering patterns — all concepts that have been part of educational software in the past. But never so beautifully and elegantly. The activities are designed so children drive the action, and the better you do, the greater the challenge. Because there are 18 games and 36 achievement stickers to collect, this app offers a lot to do for the money. You can also manage multiple player profiles, as long as you have “Profiles” turned on in your iOS settings. This lets you save a child’s progress on a remote server (“the cloud”) so he or she can continue playing on another device (as long as both devices are synced to the same account).
The aesthetics of this app should be noted. Each activity has a different musical background, and the graphics are beautiful, without sacrificing responsivity.
The bottom line. We don’t hand out too many five star ratings, but this app has the right mix of fun, learning, and intelligent artificial intelligence that is rare and hard to create. Watch us talk about why we like this app, at http://youtu.be/lKslFZdj1Ak.  Teaches: math, logic, fine motor coordination, classification, patterns, memory. Little Bit Studio, LLC. www.littlebitstudio.com, $2.99. Best for ages 3-up.
[Rating: 5] or 100%

Bugs and Buttons
Once you get past the idea of touching the swarms of realistic roaches, ants, or bees, children quickly fall for this collection of 18 counting and classification activities. Teachers do as well. Why?  Because of the way it playfully engages children’s  early math and logic skills, of the variety that lie at the root of their future math learning. Oh, and there’s also a set of peaceful buttons, to counteract the creepiness of the bugs.
There are two modes. You can move through a series of well designed structured challenges progressively (progress for one player is bookmarked), or you can freely explore.
Management features include the ability to toggle on/off scores, achievements, visual instructions, extended introduction or the background music; all classroom friendly features. The leveling causes the app to get easier if a child struggles. A “bonus mode” presents the hardest challenge.
From basics to advanced, Bugs and Buttons is packed with early math and logic skills. Some that we noted include interactive counting, fast paced sorting, problem solving with path finding, and fine motor skills like pinching and pulling. Several of the activities use the multi-touch features of iPad to make the game great huddleware (for a small group). All in all, there’s a nice balance of didactic challenge, mixed with open-ended play in this app, with classroom friendly features that will make any teacher smile. Apps like this help remind you why you invested in an iPad. Teaches: fine motor coordination, racing, classifying, counting, letter recognition, science, math, logic. Little Bit Studio, LLC. www.littlebitstudio.com, $2.99. Best for ages 3-up.
[Rating: 4.7] or .94%

Draw and Tell HD
The title says it all with this exciting new creativity app for young children — the first to successfully mix  a full featured drawing program with narration, by way of the iPad’s microphone. Now you can think of your iPad or iPhone as a drawing/flannel board and story telling machine. The drawing is just one part of what this app does well. It is paired with a narration feature that makes it easy to do a “color commentary” on the picture you just made. The end result is a powerful language experience. After you finish your picture, you tap a microphone, and are told to “record your voice — 3-2-1-Go!” As a recording light flashes, you can describe your work. Note that this is a very different process than apps like Doodlecast, where you redraw your picture and talk in real time. With this app, an innovative highlighter is layered over your drawing, letting you highlight features as you talk; a nice touch.
Once you have a picture and a highlighted soundtrack, your work is saved automatically in your photo library, making it possible to share by email. This works backwards as well… you can import images and sketch or talk over them, with a glow in the dark marker, if you like.  For pure creative punch, this title offers more than any app we’ve reviewed, with 22 varieties of paper (including blank), a set of crayons, paints and fine-point pencils. The 156 item sticker library has non-branded, resizable items that can be dragged, dropped, or erased by moving them off the screen. We noted that it is possible for it to become “stuck” under a menu bar; a frustrating problem. In all other cases, there is an undo feature.
Weaknesses include some overbearing cello music — that is nice — but on by default. Fortunately you can turn it off, but that requires finding the icon that is only on the home screen.
In the short history of children’s apps, Duck Duck Moose (DDM) has more than it’s share of home runs, but this one is the most important. It stands a good chance of becoming the “KidPix for the iPad” providing a few bugs are worked out.  Teaches: language, creativity. Duck Duck Moose Design. www.duckduckmoosedesign.com, $1.99. Best for ages 2-12.
[Rating: 4.7] or .94%

Focus on Earthquakes
This interactive earth science textbook has an amazing and very useful feature — a real time seismic globe that shows the most recent earthquakes, as they happen. As a result, this is a wonderful way to show a class that we live on a continually moving, shifting planet.
The app is organized in ebook fashion, with illustrations, photos, narrated animations, and slide shows, along with quizzes and review questions to test and reinforce understanding. Specific topics include the causes of earthquakes; the relationship between earthquakes and faults; earthquake waves; seismometers and earthquake detection;  locating the source of an earthquake; measuring the size of earthquakes; earthquake damage and large historical quakes; tsunamis, firestorms, landslides, and liquefaction; earthquake prediction; and an in-depth discussion of the relationship between earthquakes and plate tectonics. The app was written by Ed Tarbuck and Fred Lutgens, and illustrated by Dennis Tasa, to be used as an in-class tool or for independent study. Weaknesses include the globe rotation is hard to control.
This is a great way to bring the outside world — quite literally —  into your classroom.  Teaches: earth science, earthquakes. Tasa Graphic Arts, Inc. . www.tasagraphicarts.com, $3.99. Best for ages 11-up.
[Rating: 4.7] or .94%

Gems and Jewels
Similar in design to “The Elements” (one of the first iPad apps, also by Touch Press), Gems and Jewels lets you explore the large collection of glittering treasures on display at the Field Museum in Chicago.
The app starts with a screen full of highly illustrated gems that slowly spin, 360 degrees, on a single access plane. Because the screen is black and the light comes from one direction (we think) the gems look extremely pretty as they turn. You learn that you can double tap any item to view it individually, or pinch to zoom in for a closer look at any item. There are two ways to adjust the angle — either by swiping with a finger, or by tilting the screen, a new feature for Touch Press. When in the extreme close up view, rotation is reduced to 90 degree angles. Other features include swipe-to-flip text boxes (like looking on the back of the box to learn more) and a  “life size” button that shrinks or expands the gems in proper perspective. The reference value of this title is enhanced by the searchable index and updated links to the WolframAlpha encyclopedia.
Content includes 165 types of gems, each with as many as six examples. While this title feels comprehensive, some features could be considered missing. There are no prices listed, so we have no  way of knowing the relative value between quartz and diamonds (both look rather similar, after all). There are no game or application features. In addition, we were wondering why gold was included in a title called “gems and jewels.” The answer is that the content in this app comes directly from a book by The University of Chicago Press by Lance Grande and Allison Augustyn, that features the gems on display at The Field Museum in Chicago.
As a specialized reference, this app is the best in it’s class. It should be on any middle or high school science teacher’s iPad.  Teaches: science. Touch Press. www.touchpress.com, $13.99. Best for ages 10-up.
[Rating: 4.875] or .975%

It’s A Small World
Beautifully illustrated with narration by children, accompanied by fully orchestrated background music, the iPad edition of the famous Disney theme-park ride lets you touch-and-explore 16 watercolor scenes depicting various parts of a happy, exotic world where everyone seems busy and happy. And yes, one scene does actually show what could be a cruise ship. Cynicism aside, this is a rare Disney production that is completely free of mouse ears. Walt would, most likely, be pleased.
Each scene contains related hot spots that are well designed and help the story along. Even subtle items, such the rings of the sun shown in the African scene, can be spun with a swipe. As they move, they give off a rattle sound that fits nicely in the background music. These nice touches help children feel part of these story. Print is used sparingly, one sentence at a time; when touched, the sentence is read aloud, contributing to the value as an informal language experience.
If you’re expecting visuals from the famous ride, you may be disappointed. This app is rendered in stylized watercolor drawings. In a refreshing touch, the ever familiar “read to me” and “let me explore” navigation options have sidestepped. Instead, each page advances slowly, automatically, or it can be hurried along either with a bookmark — in case you want to jump directly to a page — or with a swipe, that puts the whole production in the context of a balloon ride. The last page includes the famous song, follow the bouncing ball style, and you can tap on the screen to control the fireworks. If you’re looking for a nice bedtime book with exposure to quality art and music, this is a good choice.
One word of caution — make sure you download a current version and use a recent version of the iOS operating system. According to the iTunes reviews, this app can crash. It is also a large download — at 133 MB.  Teaches: Geography, causality, language, music. Disney Publishing Worldwide. www.DisneyDigitalBooks.com, $7.99. Best for ages 3-6.
[Rating: 4.7] or .94%

Kids Fun
Sure, there’s no shortage of jigsaw puzzles, games of concentration and mix/match games in the app store. But this app takes the genre up a notch by offering the “two Q’s” (quality and quantity), in a highly responsive interactive setting that makes it easy to land in a game that presents a quick challenge.
The app starts with 10 clearly marked icons, each leading to a set of five or so games. Each has a nature or animal theme. Activities include puzzles, matching, coloring, concentration, hide-and-seek, dot-to-dot, and spot the differences. It is easy to get out of any activity instantly, and there’s plenty to discover. Features include the ability to adjust the sounds.
This is an excellent general purpose preschool app.  Teaches: matching, causality, shapes, logic, memory. phillieandrevon. http://philippe.andrevon.com/, $3.99. Best for ages 2-up.
[Rating: 4.7] or .94%

Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure
Great for one or two players (young, old or both), this Pixar-themed collection of movement games contains five multi-level games; each game is based on a different set of movie characters.
The graphics, sounds and narration are easily on par with the movie, making this a fun active extension of the movie experience. You start by entering a Pixar theme park, to move, you pump your arms (as if running). You’ll soon discover different gates for the Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, Cars 2 and Toy Story 3. Each story contains an obstacle course where you must jump, climb and run your way to the end. Even younger testers were able to experience success with this game, although there were a few times where they needed help (e.g., when picking up and throwing batteries in the Toy Story level).
A co-op mode lets a second player jump in or out of an activity at any point. The bottom line? If you have a Kinect system, get this game.  Developed by Asobo Studio. Teaches: movement, gross motor coordination, timing. Microsoft Game Studios. www.microsoft.com/games, $50. Best for ages 6-up.
[Rating: 4.6] or .92%

La Forêt Mes Premières Découvertes
One of the best iPad references for children to date, La Forêt by Gallimard Jeunesse features clear, hand drawn, labeled illustrations, professional French narration, and a well designed table of contents. Features include 3D illustrations that respond to screen tilting, the ability to “paint” seasons with your finger, hidden animals and insects and realistic ambient sounds. Note, that there is no English language option. You can use this title to expose your child to a real immersive French experience.
It all adds up to an excellent science experience, in any language. There are six parts to the app: trees, seasons, life in the forest, flowers, forestry and types of forests around the world. The content is limited, but is of very high quality.
Illustrations are by René Mettler. Developed by Studio v2 for Gallimard Jeunesse.  Teaches: science, trees, the forest, biology, French language. Gallimard Jeunesse. www.gallimard.fr, EU $3.99. Best for ages 5-up.
[Rating: 4.6] or .92%

LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes
This sequel to LEGO Batman has several firsts for the designer (TT Games). The graphics are improved throughout, and, for the first time the famous LEGO-ized characters can talk (on the Xbox version we tested).
The action is fast-paced, and the interactive design is smooth, creating one very nice LEGO title.
In the game, Batman and Robin join forces with other famous DC super heroes including Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern to stop bad guys that include Lex Luther and the Joker. The goal? To save Gotham City.
To get around, you walk, run, fly or control vehicles that include the Batmobile, Batwing and Batboat (console versions).  There are new suits and gadgets including Batman’s Power Suit and Robin’s Hazard Suit equipped with a Pressure Cannon that can absorb and dispense hazardous liquids. Content includes 50 DC Comics characters including The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern. Features include the ability to use free-roaming flight, freeze and push objects with Freeze-Breath, and heat up and cut holes through objects with Heat Vision. Play with friends and family in drop-in/dro-out co-op gameplay.
Prices are $50 for Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, $40 for the Nintendo Wii, 3DS, and PS Vita, and $30 for the Nintendo and PC. Developed by TT games for Warner Brothers. This is a great big screen adventure.  Teaches: logic, reading, problem solving. Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, Inc.. www.warnerbros.com, $50. Best for ages 6-up.
[Rating: 4.8] or .96%

LEGO Creationary
This is a timed guessing game, that lets you earn points by correctly identifying which object is being constructed (out of Lego blocks, naturally) on the screen. The sooner you make a correct choice, the more points you earn.
There are six categories of items to identify — creatures, places, things, costumes, random, and random with double points; the more you play, the greater the challenge. In addition, there are different “packs” of Lego that you can toggle on or off depending on the season.
Options let you turn on/off the background music. This is a fun social game because of the timed element. Testers said “I like the swipe to roll the die, and the depth perception effect used by the die.” Because the app if free, what’s the catch? To promote awareness in the LEGO kits that are used to make the models. See the video review at http://youtu.be/MPy_PCrMYII Teaches: perspectives, logic, classification, memory, spatial relations. LEGO Americas. , $free. Best for ages 5-up.
[Rating: 4.6] or .92%

Learning to write letters and numerals will never be the same after a child tries LetterSchool on an iPad’s slippery screen. This single app from the Netherlands has raised the bar for all letter/numeral recognition apps. Content includes both uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as numbers from 1 to 10.
One of the most valuable features is the ability to toggle between three types of letters/numeral styles  — D’Nealian (used in many US schools), HWT (Handwriting Without Tears) and Zaner-Bloser (the “traditional” format). We also like how you can bookmark up to three sessions over time, so you can see which letters a child has experienced.
You start with a set of letters (or numerals, if you have it set up in numeral mode). The letters are set on a timed look, and might giggle or meow at you; effective, but potentially distracting. (It would be nice to either tone this down or have a mute button.) There are no cursive letters making this app more meaningful for the younger grades. In addition, we noticed that some of the animated effects, like the bubbles, feel unresponsive.
Each letter or numeral comes with three engaging tracing games designed to introduce the name, sound, and the strokes required to learn it. In Tap, children find the “magic dot” at the beginning of the letter, tap it, and watch as the first part of the letter comes to life. (The letters and numbers might be displayed as grass, that you mow as you trace.) You can then tap the next dots shown at the end of each stroke to complete the next line… when finished you earn a star, and unlock the next game.
Trace requires children to trace the letter correctly all the way to the end to earn a star and unlock the next challenge, Write. In this activity children must write the letter on their own without a helper line.  This is the type of app that helps you remember why you paid $500 for an iPad.  Teaches: Handwriting, letter formation, numerals, upper/lower case, D’Nealian, HWT and Zaner-Bloser. Boreaal Publishers. http://boreaal.nl/, $2.99. Best for ages 3-up.
[Rating: 4.8] or .96%

Little Fox Music Box
Well illustrated, musical and highly interactive, Little Fox Music Box is a sing-along songbook with 100 interactive elements that have been cleverly embedded in three classic songs: London Bridge, Evening Song and Old MacDonald had a Farm (spelled in the app Old Mac Donald).
Note that one scene (London Bridge) contains ethnic stereotyping, e.g., a group of Asians with slanted eyes, carrying cameras.
Visually, this app makes a great first impression. A good place to start is the studio where you can touch anything to explore sounds and rhythms. Everything makes a noise including birds, frogs and the dishes. We’ve seen this type of activity attempted many times before, rarely so well.
Features include a Karaoke Mode which can be toggled on or off from the first screen, letting you assume the role of the lead singer; a good way for a child to put themselves into the app. There are also three language options, which can also be toggled on or off. For a good musical, language experience, get this app.  Teaches: music, rhythm, German or English, language. goodbeans. www.goodbeans.com, $2.99. Best for ages 4-up.
[Rating: 4.7] or .94%

Math Doodles
Math Doodles consists of four hand drawn activities: Sums Stacker, Connect Sums, Unknown square and a preview (but functional) version of Splat GoRound. Each lets you playfully explore mathematical relationships in either timed or untimed settings. A hallmark of the activities is the inclusion of unconventional counting systems. These include braille, Spanish, money, Spanish tally marks, clocks, binary, Arabic and area fractions. Because the puzzles are both high in child control and they let you set your own challenge level, you’re more likely to “try the math on for size.”  This is one of these apps in which you think the puzzle might be too hard, but you find yourself still doing it 20 minutes later.
Note that the author, Daren Carstens is an artist and a math enthusiast on a mission to help children discover the magic in numerical relationships. He has a lot to say about learning: see http://youtu.be/FUV-8vdaL_o. In addition Daren Carstens has been a volunteer at CTR’s Dust or Magic conference for many years. There is no business relationship between Carstens Studios and CTR, however, we asked the G&T teacher at Desmares Elementary school to assign the ratings for this title.
Also note that Sums Stacker, one of the four activities, was released previously as an iPhone app (see Sums Stacker, CTR January 2010). Teaches: math, counting, logic, addition, clocks, angles. Carstens Studios. www.carstensstudios.com, $2.99. Best for ages 5-up.
[Rating: 4.8] or .96%

Monster Physics
This invention construction kit contains 50 puzzles sorted into five challenge categories. In addition, an open-ended “build” mode lets you freely experiment with 68 parts such as blocks of ice, rubber band balls, fruit, wings, bombs, magnets, a mechanical claw, ropes, chains and shapes. You can also just freely build to create a car, crane or a  rocket ship.
Anyone who has ever played The Incredible Machine knows the format: you start with a challenge, e.g., to get your monster over a bridge. To do so, you line up a set of blocks, ramps and other elements and touch “start” to turn on the gravity. If things don’t work, you can debug your design and try again. Progress is bookmarked and  saved for up to six player profiles and each can design their own monster.
Testers liked this app a lot, and found the puzzles to be addicting and realistic, but requested hints on some of the puzzles. Of course, this lack of help is also one of the charms of such puzzles. We especially liked how there could be multiple ways to solve the same problem.
Weaknesses are few but should be noted. The view is tricky to navigate when you are in the “build” mode; there are times when your invention might bounce off the screen. You learn how to adjust this with a two finger drag; a technique younger children could find frustrating.
The bottom line? Monster Physics combines plenty of content in a playful yet powerful experience that children will want to come back to play… and experiment; making this a rich educational experience.  Teaches: science, problem solving, deductive reasoning, logic . Dan Russell-Pinson. http://dan-russell-pinson.com/, $.99. Best for ages 6-up.
[Rating: 4.6] or .92%

Monster’s Socks
This 12-screen adventure is about a child-like monster (who is not scary) who wakes up to discover that he has lost his socks.
So he goes on an adventure that includes making a bridge, sailing a boat, and flying to the moon. The story resembles “Where the Wild Things Are” in some ways.
Especially noteworthy: the way this title breaks away from typical page flips and lets you instead freely move forward or backward through the story.
So it is possible to rewind if you want to see another scene again. In addition, there are simple interactive ingredients on each page. For example, you can unfold a bridge to help the Monster get across a stream, a process that is a bit tricky to learn the first time.
Emerging reading experiences are supported by the narrated text blocks, combined with a highly responsive format that children will want to return to time after time. Testers found the monsters English voice to be “strange” (but he is, after all a monster). We did not test other language versions. The graphics are both tasteful and beautiful. Testers also did not care for the anticlimactic ending, where he simply wakes up and finds his socks. All in all this is a wonderful contribution to any virtual ebook shelf. Available in: English, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. Teaches: reading, causality, language experience. Martin Hughes. www.monsterssocks.com, $2.99. Best for ages 3-up.
[Rating: 4.6] or .92%

Motion Math: Wings
Fast paced and engaging, here’s yet another excellent example of how touch screen and motion sensors can pull children into a concept.
If you’ve ever played a game like Doodle Jump or Scoops, where you lean the iPad screen from side to side in order climb higher, you get the idea of Motion Math Wings. In this case, you’re a bird, soaring from island to island. To make progress, you must quickly choose between two sums that might be represented either as a numeral or as a set of number cubes. In order to avoid getting pushed back, you must choose the larger numeral, at least in the level I tried.
At the easy level, which is free, you start with sets of dots — a challenge preschoolers can handle.  Next, you fly into labeled grids and finally symbols like (4 x 5).  There are ten levels to unlock, and eventually buy as an in-app purchase. If you were to buy all the content, it would cost $6.99. The more you fly, the more swag you can earn for your bird. This game contains beautifully orchestrated music, a nice touch. The bottom line? This is an excellent app to have in your learning toolkit. The engaging format pulls kids in. Just be aware that you’ll eventually hit a wall where you need to pony up some in-app money.  Teaches: math, logic, counting, quantities. Motion Math Games. www.motionmathgames.com, $free with in-app sales. Best for ages 4-up.
[Rating: 4.6] or .92%

Numberlys, The
Pricey but amazing, The Numberlys ($5.99) will go down as perhaps the most zany alphabet book ever made. It comes from the studio that created The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Lawrence Lessmore, directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg of Moonbot Studios. The experience blends art and interactive surprises that support the compelling story.
You start with a story, told by a comical narrator with a thick (perhaps Russian) sounding accent, who tells the story of a grey society that has no letters or words — only numbers. Based on the art style, it also has no colors.
As you swipe your way through the story, you help a small group of friends convert numerals like “8” into letters like “B” or “R” by shooting missiles, slicing the letters in half, bouncing on trampolines, spinning turntables, and so on. There’s a routine per letter, giving you plenty of surprises. There is even an intermission — a first for any app we’ve reviewed — right after the LMNO. The navigation system makes it easy to jump between pages, and there are options that let you turn on/off the help and/or the narrator.
The art mixes grey industrial art styles from the 1930’s (a Metropolis look), with a totalitarianism, Big Brother theme. Because of the way in which the art, interactivity and story work hand-in-hand, this title was awarded an honorable mention in the 2012 BolognaRagazzi Digital awards. Teaches: reading, art, music, the alphabet. Moonbot Studios. www.moonbotstudios.com, $5.99. Best for ages 5-up.
[Rating: 4.7] or .94%

Playful Minds: Math
Want to see what the home-based math curriculum of the iPad age looks like?  Designed by the highly regarded French app developer, GameLoft, Playful Minds is a well-designed $3 iPad-based math curriculum that packs a punch. You get a leveled, K-2 math curriculum, mixed with an assessment system along with a set of arcade-like games to reinforce the content — all for the price of a cup of coffee (that’s nice coffee, for our office).
After you login (with an email address) you see a series of islands, each with an animal professor host, along with a game-board. Each stop represents a new set of problems. This visual metaphor works nicely, helping children know where they are in their math education. The problems are mostly multiple choice or correct answer. They’ve been pulled from “Skill Sharpeners Math”  — one of many inspired by the NCTM standards for K-2. Content includes 300 exercises and mini-games organized around Algebra, Geometry, Data Analysis, Measurement, and Numbers & Operations. Directions and explanations are displayed in print and by narrator; the app can handle up to five children. Features include the ability to adjust sounds and toggle between US or UK English.
While the initial cost ($3) is low, consider also that your child will encounter in-app sales in the store. Here’s how that works: as they play, children earn items such as clothing for their avatar. In the store, they are shown better items, sold for more coins. They are sold in units of 1000’s and cost roughly $2 for a complete set of clothing. It is possible to buy $100 worth of coins. To gain access to the progress reports, you need 10,000 coins; about $10. All things considered, the price seems reasonable, and it is possible to play through the games unhindered by in-app sales. But it is important for you and your children to know how these types of apps make money.
The activities are well designed — very clean, and fairly high in child control. Children can escape at any point, and they can see where they are in the curriculum. The main drawback is that there is a rather narrow window of time in a child’s development when starting this app makes sense. All in all, this is an important new app to keep an eye on. We’ll hope to see more in the series.  Teaches: math, logic. GameLoft. www.gameloft.com, $2.99. Best for ages 5-8.
[Rating: 4.6] or .92%

PokéPark 2: Wonders Beyond
A cross between a Pokémon game and Animal Crossing (with a bit of “Carnival Games” tossed in), PokéPark 2: Wonders Beyond is fun, with plenty of opportunities for reading practice, and informal learning.
The game is easy to learn, with tutorials built in, although the pacing can be slow due to the fact that the frequent dialog sessions can’t be skipped. You can play as one of four different Pokémon, including Pikachu, Oshawott, Snivy, and Tepig, as you make your way through PokéPark and try to save the missing Pokémon. Once you get to the Park (an exotic theme park) you can try your hand at different game attractions that can be played with up to four players using the Wii Remote. These include a shooting gallery, dancing, and flying through space in a race around the stars. As you explore, you can make friends with other Pokémon by playing games such as Chase or Hide and Seek. All in all, there’s a lot to do and discover in this fun game, with no worrisome content. If you like Pokémon characters, you’ll like this game.  Teaches: logic, reading, fine motor coordination, language, memory, maps, spatial relations. Nintendo of America. www.nintendo.com, $50. Best for ages 6-up.
[Rating: 4.7] or .94%

Princess Fairy Tale Maker
With a core design nearly identical to Draw & Tell (CTR March 2012) this open-ended creativity experience is designed to let children play with princess-related themes. Besides the ability to freely draw and drag-and-drop stickers, children can record and play back their own puppet shows, which can also be saved.
If you’re looking for Disney-style graphics or Barbie-like princesses, you won’t find them in this app (the designers at Duck Duck Moose are also parents of young girls).
Is it possible to have a princess-themed app that is non-gender-biased? Perhaps. If so, this one comes close.
There are some minor weaknesses. We would like the clip art to be easier to resize using traditional pinch and pull multi-touch mechanics (instead you have to deal with a resizing box). Adding new clip art to a picture requires two touches — one first to select, the second to move onto the screen. There is no “traditional” coloring mode; instead pictures are auto-filled with the colors or patterns you choose. We especially liked how you can import your own photos into this app, to mix with the large non-commercial library of clip art.
Now even Grandma or the pet dog can be the princess. All in all, this is another powerful creativity experience for children based on a popular theme.  Teaches: creativity, pretending, princess. Duck Duck Moose Design. , $1.99. Best for ages 3-8.
[Rating: 4.6] or .92%

Rhythm Heaven Fever
Like it’s Nintendo DS predecessor, Rhythm Feature (CTR April 2009), this Wii edition is both fun and addicting, and it presents an outstanding way to experience the beat of different songs.
After you choose one of the four game save slots to save your progress, you can take the tutorial, which is recommended, to learn how to master each one of the 50 levels.
This requires expertly matching button presses on the Wii controller with events on the screen to make parts on an assembly line or sink golf shots. If you hit the target beats, you are rewarded with an enhanced version of the song. This game is a classic embodiment of the old phrase: easy to learn, tough to master.
Features include some additional 2-player rhythm games. Note that all the games are new to this version, although people who have played the Nintendo DS game might recognize familiar characters. Much of the music was created by the Japanese pop music producer TSUNKU. Developed by Nintendo and TNX.
The bottom line — if you’re looking for an excellent way to develop beat competency, look no further than Rhythm Heaven Fever.  Teaches: rhythm, music, beat. Nintendo of America. www.nintendo.com, $30. Best for ages 6-up.
[Rating: 4.7] or .94%

Scoot & Doodle
Collaborative and creative, here’s an example of how technology can enhance interpersonal relationships. By now we’re all familiar with services like Skype or Facetime, where one or more people can share the same video call. These services can be wonderful for children, as a way to stay in touch with remote grandparents. But talking heads can get a bit dry.
Scoot & Doodle works specifically with Google Hangout (you need a G+ account to use it) so that children can draw and doodle, with up to ten other people — at the same time. The shared screen can consist of either a drawing area, for realtime shared scribbles, or a set of props, such as a hat that morphs itself onto the head of whoever is on the screen using Google Effects.
Scoot & Doodle gets access to your Google + contacts, so yes, be suspicious. When I asked “how do you make money?” there was a pause. Learn more about Scoot & Doodle’s Google+ Hangouts App at http://scootdoodle.com. Teaches: drawing, communication, socialization, collaborative play, creativity. Scoot & Doodle. , $free. Best for ages 3-up.
[Rating: 4.8] or .96%

Sonnets by William Shakespeare, The
Ready to sample from a buffet of masterfully spoken English? The Sonnets by William Shakespeare is waiting, providing you don’t mind the $14 price of admission.
The heart of the app is a collection of 154 readings performed by famous actors and Shakespeare scholars. As you listen, you can watch the score of the Sonnet which has been synchronized to the reading, line by line.
Additional content includes interviews with scholars such as Katherine Duncan-Jones, James Shapiro and Henry Woudhuysen. You can also see a copy of the Sonnets as they first appeared when published in 1609. You can also add your own notes, which can be shared via various social media outlets.
Every so often we review an app that makes us wish we were back in high school or college taking classes that we admittedly struggled with at the time. Knowing we would have greater understanding and interest in a subject if we had exposure to certain apps that utilize the technological advances of today excites us for modern students  The Sonnets by William Shakespeare is one such app.  Teaches: Shakespeare sonnets, reading, language, English, poetry, poem. Touch Press. www.touchpress.com, $13.99. Best for ages 10-up.
[Rating: 4.8] or .96%

Trucks by Duck Duck Moose
Playful yet powerful, here’s another easy, solid app from Duck Duck Moose.
Weaknesses to note include a confusing first screen that shows you a parade of the interesting trucks in the app, but doesn’t let you play with them right away, and the choice of a Christmas song (Jingle Bells) which seems strange in July. All the music is excellent. These are minor issues: children quickly learn to follow a large arrow to get to the main menu, and it is easy to mute the music.
The five activities give you plenty to do. You can wash a car after a trip through some mud, sort trash with the recycling truck, make a car have a flat tire by placing items in the road (our favorite), followed by a tow ride to the garage to put on a new tire. All in all, this is another very solid app that children will want return to.
Each activity pulls you into the activity by letting you spray the hose in the car wash, or operate the lift in the garage. The final activity, the Car Parade is interesting — children use a stop light to adjust the speed of traffic — a nice prop for bringing up a very important topic (how traffic lights work). All in all, this is another solid app from Duck Duck Moose that nicely capitalizes on a common play pattern.  Teaches: vehicles, transportation, recycling, ecology, sorting, science, traffic lights. Duck Duck Moose Design. www.duckduckmoosedesign.com, $1.99. Best for ages 3-7.
[Rating: 4.8] or .96%

Write My Name
This clean, teacher friendly app is ideal for helping children learn to write their own letters and words using the correct sequence and strokes by tracing uppercase and lowercase letters.
Features include: meets some of the basic reading and writing Common Core State Standards for kindergarten such as the introduction and mastery of print and word recognition concepts; create 36 custom name tags with your own pictures and recordings to personalize learning for your child; animations upon completion of each letter or word; more than 100 common sight/Dolch words; records student progress as word cards are completed; and a fingerpaint mode that shows completed letters in child’s own handwriting. There are no advertisements or in-app purchases
The app features three activity areas to explore:  ABC alphabet book focuses on learning and tracing the individual uppercase or lowercase letters; Word cards introduces 100 common sight words where children trace words in uppercase or lowercase letters. Once the word is traced, the word card comes to life with colors and animations. When your child traces the word a second time a star stamp is added to the student’s word journal; and  My Name allows parents and teachers to create up to 36 custom nametags, including the child’s name, with a picture for children to practice writing words or phrases that are especially meaningful for them.
This is one of many apps that could be used for a teaching rotation.  Teaches: language, sight words, upper/lower case, writing, letters. Project Injini. http://www.injini.net, $4.99. Best for ages 4-6.
[Rating: 4.7] or .94%

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