When I visited the kids’ library at Houston Public Library last week, I learned 2 amazing things from children’s librarian Sandy Farmer: wii games were available for in-library checkout, and the library would soon be lending out ipads stocked with apps and games especially for kids. What a grand idea. I can vouch that kids under 10 find the ipad absolutely engaging. Not only has it become a permanent babysitter, it has caused endless number of fights about whose turn it is to play and which game to play and why can’t X play the 2 player version of the game. Out of the first few words to come from their mouths when they see me, I can say with certainty that one of them will be “ipad” followed with a question mark. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I use the device mainly for catching up on RSS feeds.
Over time I have downloaded a number of kids’ games – some cost money, but most of them were free. I haven’t really looked at the games themselves, but I have paid attention to which games are capturing their attention. I have two nieces ages 3 and 4 and two nephews aged 5 and 10. So I really have a good sense of what games are more likely to excite them. I have a bit of an educational background and have written about educational games here and here. Curiously though, I haven’t spent much time playing games (except for Wii Dance 2 – which I love). Mainly I like to see what games are engaging today’s youth and what kinds of narratives they are concocting with their games. For example, I have noticed that my nephew really gets into Will Wright’s Spore (and even though it isn’t educational per se, it does a good job of conveying the basic sequence of evolution and how societies progress and regress. On the Playstation, not only will my nephew learn about longer narratives like Harry Potter and Star Wars by playing the games, he will gleefully recount his adventures to anyone willing to listen. So these games can have a verbal component… plus they can drive kids to the original source material…always a good thing.
Ipad games are much less ambitious, but more intuitive. 3 out of the 4 children I deal with don’t even know how to read, and yet they managed to get through the menus and figure out the rules – something which amazes me to no end. I think there is value in letting kids play game just for the fun of it, but it would help if the games stressed some learning domain or made use of some cognitive skill. About 2/3 of the titles are free or Lite versions, and 1/3 are commercial apps. I’ll indicate if I remember whether they are free or cost money.
The best way to get a feel for the game is to Youtube and search for the game. For example: “Ipad World of Go.” Don’t forget to include ipad as a search term. Some of these games are available on several different platforms, and the ipad version might be substantially different.
Recommended Ipad Games by Sandy Farmer, Children’s Library for the Houston Public Library
Sandy Farmer’s blog about ipad games gives capsule reviews. I suspect Ms. Farmer has had to play and test a lot of games for the library, so she probably keeps tabs on the latest and greatest. (Her remarks are in italics). Incidentally Farmer also blogged recently about playing Xbox Kinect in the Houston Public Library, so that may indicate another gaming platform due to hit HPL soon.
- Jungle Fractions (2.99). Sandy writes, Jungle Fractions is a great learning tool for learning all about fractions from simple identification, to conversions, adding, and comparisons. A great tool for learning a difficult concept like fractions. Animals roar when you get the answer right and it makes great jungle noises.
- Jungle Time (2.99). Sandy writes, Does your child need to learn how to tell time? This is the app for you. You can match the hands on the clock to a digital time, learn to tell how much time has passed, or learn to tell time. The app rewards you with an animal growl. You can also change animals at any time. Clock styles can be changed as well as the level being played in the settings of the game. Level 2 covers 30 minute intervals, Level 3 is 15 minute intervals, etc. The jungle sounds add to the atmosphere as you play.
- Alphabet Freeze Tag. Sandy writes, Letters wander the screen as you try to touch them in alphabetical order in this winter wonderland. Great app for a child needing to learn the order of the Alphabet in a way that is entertaining. The final level is timed and children can compete with themselves and others for the fastest time.
- World of Goo. (4.99). Although she hasn’t written about it yet, Sandy Farmer recommended this game as a puzzle game that used physics. you chain together balls of goo to form objects (bridges, etc). I haven’t played it yet, but it looks fascinating.
My recommendations (based on watching my nieces and nephews).
- Feed Me. Great learning game appropriate for 2-4 year olds. Started out with identifying numbers or letters, but now focused on identifying patterns and images.
- NobyNobyboy. Surreal drawing game, with lots of movements and sounds. Frankly, I didn’t get it, but the kids under 5 loved doodling with it. I like this one and jellycar because they are very constructivist and open-ended.
- Jellycar2 (disney) Another action-oriented build your own car game for 4-6 year olds.
- GearedHD. A good game about mechanical things and shapes. Probably appropriate for 5 to 9 year olds.
- Soosiz HD. This game has minimal educational value, but it’s extremely engaging; my nieces and nephews seemed to love this game more than anything. Great music, funny effects, lots of adventures and scenery. Cost $3 i think.
- Cut the rope. Excellent mechanical and cause-and-effect game. For kids ages 4-10. All of them love it.
- Memory Cards. Free memory game….like concentration with several variations. Can play with up to 3 more players. The best thing about this game is that even though the game is challenging (it’s about memory), my 3 year old can play it very well (often better than the other kids).
- Fruit Ninjas HD. movement-oriented game that’s more about colors, how to combine them. They love the movement and excitement of this game.
- Alphabet Car HD Lite. Sort of mindless letter-chasing game which the kids 3-5 like.
- Pedlar Lady. Multimedia children’s book with some mild interactive effects. $5. Whenever I show adults this book/app, they flip out, but kids don’t seem to be as impressed. Probably for ages 8-10.
- World Factbook. Geography encyclopedia whose target audience is probably adults, but it’s easy for older kids (8 to 12 year olds) to use it to explore the world. Cost money.
- Star Walk.. If you don’t know it already. Real time constellation guide.
- TanZen (and Tanzen Lite). Geometry, match the pattern puzzle game. Good for 8 years and up.
- Catcha Hd. Good strategy game where you have to enclose a mouse with mousetraps, thus preventing him from escaping down a hole.
Out of these games, here are the ones which grabbed me as an adult: Catcha HD (very tricky!) and Cut the Rope (lots of variations, and involves lots of mechanical thinking).