Educational Apps for My Son, Surprising Apps for Me

Geek Culture

I like to find fun and interesting apps for my iPad that both educate and entertain my son (4 years old). But it’s getting more and more difficult to sift through the growing library that is the Apple App Store. I love downloading the Lite versions — aka free/trial versions — to see how Decker responds. Even with most apps floating around $0.99, if you try out 30 or 40 apps (or more) per month, it can get a bit pricey if you don’t have a trial version to test. After downloading a trial version of an app, I can usually tell within minutes if it’s something that engages Decker. He is, after all, the best judge of what he likes and dislikes in food, TV shows, clothing… and apps.

After posting some bedtime story app reviews a few weeks back, I took a break from the hunt for apps for Decker. I had a sufficient number of trial versions (some provided by the app developers and a few others purchased directly from The App Store on my own) for Decker to keep himself entertained for a while, so I’ve held off until now to report back on a handful of apps that have received Decker’s Seal of Approval.

A number of apps didn’t make the cut — these were simply apps that Decker opened, poked around in for a few minutes, and then went elsewhere. This doesn’t mean an app stinks — it means Decker didn’t find it of interest. I got the same response from him when I tried to introduce him to fried okra (my favorite), so I’m going to hold off on reviewing the apps he didn’t take to right away… he may return to them (and okra) when his tastes mature.

So, without further ado, here are some really great little apps (in no particular order) for which Decker gives a big thumbs up:

Hickory Dickory Dock — this is one of those apps that surprised me greatly. When I first took it for a spin, I was immediately blown away by the beautiful artwork and animation. When you tap the screen to open the clock, the glass door opens with an amazing visual. That was my first hint as to the quality of this app.

The app teaches numbers and telling time (hours only, not half hour or quarter hour). Twelve mini-games are available, one per hour, and each mini-game has some little secret or special feature that must be discovered. I am so proud of Decker who discovered a few of the secrets all on his own without my help. One of them was extremely frustrating to me, but he figured it out in about two minutes of play. Kids just have a natural ability to uncover Easter eggs embedded in apps, and Decker continues to reach for this one. He especially loves two mini-games that involve launching the mouse through a tunnel and another that has you catching falling cupcakes as the mouse rides a skate.

The artwork, again, is top-notch, and the glass, wood grain, and metal elements that make up the clock are beautiful to look at… well, at least to me. Decker is all about the mini-games. My only complaint is that the sound (including the singing of the twelve very creative rhymes) is a bit low — the developers need to raise the volume a bit (if possible) because even at full volume, the songs are difficult to hear in a non-quiet room.

The Pirate’s Treasure – memory games abound on The App Store, and Decker already has two or three that he’s played over the last year. I didn’t know how he’d react to this new one but I had hopes given his interest in pirates and the fact that he loves to whip me in a game. He’s good. Very good.

The Pirate’s Treasure has some really fun elements that distinguish it from other memory games — first, it’s a two player game that requires a human opponent. Again, my wife and I get trounced quite often when we play him. Each player gets to choose their character from a group of 8 cartoonish (and cute) pirates. Each of them have a laugh or phrase that they like to issue when you swipe your finger on screen to cycle through the characters.

After both players choose a character, you press the play button and a collection of 30 coins are displayed. A compass near the bottom spins randomly at first to select the player who will go first… then it spins after each turn to remind the players who has the next turn. Finding a match gets you an extra turn. When you uncover two non-matching images, you get a hearty pirates Argh! When you uncover two matching images, a relevant sound is heard such as a BOOM for the cannons or a squawk for the parrot.

When the game is over, the winner’s character is displayed doing a pirates dance next to a chest of gold. Decker has since begun doing his own victory dance after he wins… which reminds me that it’s probably time to have a talk to him again about good sportsmanship.

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