Age 5, Age 6, Age 7, App Reviews, Augmented Reality, Co-playing Apps, Preschoolers, Science Apps

Stellar Star Gazing apps for Curious Little Cosmonauts

The questions are coming thick and fast these days, ‘Mummy how is air made?’, ‘How do we think?’, ‘What are shadows made of?’ and most recently, ‘Mummy when can we go to Mars?’ I thought I had a few more years of being able to confidently answer all his questions, but apparently not! He’s not even five and I’ve been stumped on more than one occasion. But I know there’s always a fun way for us to discover these answers together and I love searching out the best apps to feed curious little minds. Thanks to a recent birthday present of a toy wooden rocket, moon buggy and satellite set, many of his questions are now about our night sky, stars and especially satellites. We found two apps which have (thankfully) provided us with a wealth of fascinating information about our night sky, so I can keep those answers coming! These really are beautifully made apps, a joy to use and 100% engaging for all ages. I’m loving using them as much as the kids are.

Sky Guide appSky Guide

We started off using the fantastic Sky Guide app which allows you to hold the iPad up to the sky and identify the stars above your head, or below your feet if you point it downwards. It’s a spectacular app which even shows satellites moving across the sky much to the deep delight of L Star (aka Mr 4 and three quarters). It’s aimed more at Continue reading “Stellar Star Gazing apps for Curious Little Cosmonauts”

Craft, Creative Projects, Creative Thinking, Preschoolers, Rainy Day Ideas

Easy Catapults: Physics Fun For Preschoolers

FlyingStartKidsCatapult Rain. Non stop. For WEEKS. If you were a fly on the wall in any number of rain drenched Sydney households over the past few weeks you would swiftly have become familiar with the noise of rampant tearing out of hair as exasperated parents were constrained to entertaining small children AT HOME. Facebook mums groups erupted with calls of ‘HELP!! ANYONE know where we can go…?’ Libraries overflowed with prams and tempestuous toddlers. Living rooms all over the city were demolished and redesigned by an army of tiny expert hands. The certain taste of parental desperation permeated the soggy Sydney air. In less sun burnt countries this much rain would warrant barely the raising of an eyebrow I’m sure, but here in Aus we’re pretty much set up for doing everything outdoors and the sound of gentle pitter patter on the roof strikes dread into the heart of many a fraught home bound parent. With all the indoor based creating, cooking, dancing and meltdown management (of both kids and self) I have been doing these past waterlogged weeks surely I Continue reading “Easy Catapults: Physics Fun For Preschoolers”

Age 5, Age 6, Age 7, App and Activity, App Reviews, Co-playing Apps, Creative Thinking, Preschoolers, Science Apps

An App and Activity for Mini Inventors! Play like Amazing Alex

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So I’m guessing you’ve heard of Angry Birds, but did you know they have a far more interesting cousin called Amazing Alex? The makers of AB have come up with this wonderfully inventive physics based app that challenges players to come up with creative solutions to various puzzles. Always a fan of apps that promote experimentation and lateral thinking, this app is on high rotation on our iPad.

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Amazing Alex encourages your little inventor to put on their thinking cap to try and work out solutions to a variety of puzzles, collecting up to three gold stars along the way. The stars motivate, but aren’t integral to the game, thus giving experimenting top priority over score. There’s no particular ‘right’ answer so kids can just enjoy creating various contraptions to solve the puzzle.

I had an idea to translate some of our favourite apps into real world activities and after being inspired by a water wall I saw created from old bottles, the Amazing Alex inspired Bean Run was born! As you can see from these pictures it’s basically some peg board with bits from the recycling bin screwed to it.

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L Star and I experimented with different materials, cardboard, plastic cups, old milk bottles to see which would work best. I bought some washing machine hose at the hardware store and that has been by far the most popular aspect of the contraption. We used the ever popular dried pulses (beans, chick peas etc) to pour through it and they make a very satisfying tinkling sound as they go through the pipes. It’s had a couple of reinventions now and little Cool A has gotten in on the action, liberally chucking stuff down the tubes and demanding more beans! We learnt lots of things along the way, like not to fasten the items to the board too tightly because they will invariably need moving five minutes later. Having containers at the bottom of each chute to catch the beans worked for us too rather than having one big container for the whole thing to sit in. It meant the boys could easily scoop up the beans to re use and managed the mess slightly!

As a side activity the other half of the peg board has become a fun threading activity that has occupied both boys, at the same time! Occasionally. For short periods…

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This was a terribly exhausting activity to set up in that it required me to plonk down one piece of peg board and one cup of pipe cleaners. Phew! L Star got right into threading the pipe cleaners back and forth creating a control unit which would move the peg board around on his command, apparently. Cool A thought he deserved a round of applause every time he threaded something on, to which I happily obliged! If  you don’t have peg board (which I bought at the hardware store) you could start with pipe cleaners and a sieve or a cereal box with holes poked through it for similar effect. Happy inventing!

Creative Projects, Creative Thinking, Preschoolers, Story telling

Creative Storytelling Ideas

Recently I’ve been trying to jazz up the old bedtime routine. You know how it is when you try to leave the room – the kids just wave you happily night night as they snuggle cozily under the blankets. No? Us neither. Sometimes it seems like designing a spaceship to take you to the fourth dimension would be easier than negotiating your way out of a kids room at bedtime. So I decided to change it up a bit and introduced a fun story activity so we can have a few laughs before bedtime and alleviate the rush to get everything ticked off the list before bed.

These cards from Eeboo are just brilliant for prompting creative story telling. Our 4.5 year old particularly loves the Robot set of cards, but they come in heaps of varieties.

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We’ve recently started Skyping with Nana in England once a week at bedtime so she can read the boys a bedtime story and we’ve introduced these cards into the routine after the story. Everyone has fun with them and hearing the way out extrapolations L Star comes up with can be quite hilarious. It’s interesting not only for creative thinking but also memory retention as L Star will often bring back something at the end of the story which was briefly mentioned right at the beginning.

Even little Cool A has fun with the cards and loves to be involved, mainly in handing out the cards and collecting them back into the box. Mmm, yeah, really tidily of course…

We also have this Magnetic Playboard from the same company which L Star got from a friend for his birthday. It has the same characters and is another fun way to explore story telling. Plus it features magnets which are always a hit.

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If you want to test the waters to see how your kids go with using cards like these, you could try printing a few fun free versions from these sites to get going: for Diego fans from Nick Jr, and another set from the fab folks at Kiwi Crate

And if that’s not enough Creative Story telling wonderment for you, you can always check out these ideas from the ever fabulous Kids Activities Blog: 10 Creative Story Telling Ideas. Happy story telling!

Age 5, Co-playing Apps, Music Apps, Preschoolers, Toddler Apps

Bubl Draw: your art makes music!

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I. LOVE. THIS. APP. Which is fairly self evident since I’m posting it on my blog. But I just love it when you come across that happy symbiosis of super fun apps that also promote creativity and curiosity. Plus it’s a fun one for kids and adults to use together and apps that promote co-playing are always a good thing. This app seems pretty simple and well, actually, it is! It is simple to use straight away but rewards deeper investigation. That’s one hallmark of a well designed app in my book.

Bubl Draw is an enhanced drawing app, every mark you make creates music. Experiment with colours, with different areas of the page and with different shapes. All will contribute to a fun composition based on three musical styles: Classic, Disco or Rumba. The instruments naturally complement each other and are always in tune (thankfully).

Both my kids (age 2 and 4) love this one and have even been known to play it together. For a short time… let’s not set expectations too high here! I enjoy playing it with them too but they definitely love to take charge with their own compositions!

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Age 5, Age 6, App Reviews, Book Apps, Preschoolers, Toddler Apps

Brilliant Book Apps to Enthrall All

We love books and book apps are a whole new fantastic way of enthusing young readers. The ones featured here are our pick of the bunch, those that have been heavily used and hugely popular in our house. Some have wow factor, some are sweet, all are brilliant! The list is in order of suitable age range: youngest to oldest.

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Interactive Alphabet (age 1+)

It’s chilled, it’s sweet and has just enough interactivity to keep their interest. Take a leisurely stroll through the alphabet and touch any of the pictures to interact. A for apple is one of Cool A’s favourites, touch it and the apple slowly gets eaten, cracks him up!

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Red in Bed (age 1+)

Very sweet introduction to colours for our youngest readers. Poor red is sick in bed and can’t go out to colour, so the other colours fill in for him, but get a few things wrong. Simple, bold drawings and basic interaction with quick responses make this a winner for little hands. Cool A totally adores this app, he thinks red’s ‘sick’ voice is hysterical. He also enjoys waking the little colour bubbles up when in bed and sending them to sleep at the end. Plus look out for the bonus secret colour bubble who likes to hang out with Indigo and Violet.

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The Monster at the End of this Book (age 2+)

This was one of our early favourites, based on a classic Sesame Street book of the same name. The story is funny, no annoying music and Grover is adorable. He’s scared there’s a monster at the end of the book and will do anything to stop you turning those pages! Which of course makes nothing more enticing… Wonderfully done and such a success that it spawned a second book app, Another Monster at the End of this Book, starring Elmo. Also worth getting. I just love Sesame Street apps.

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The Three Little Pigs (age 3+)

This app was made by Nosy Crow and if you love a good book app, get to know that name. Really I could have chosen any of their lovely fairytale books. There are loads of interactive surprises and some cunning use of the iPad format, such as blowing in the microphone to help the wolf blow the houses down, or tilting the screen to find hidden characters. The stories are read in children’s voices which kids always love to hear. Also available are Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk.
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Bartleby’s Book of Buttons Vol 2 (age 3/4+)

Bartleby has already rated a mention on this blog as one of L Star’s favourite all time apps. Both my boys are button fanatics and wo betide anyone who tries to operate the microwave or dial a phone number by themselves! Noooo! Button armageddon will be visited upon you. Well thankfully Bartleby saves the day, a whole story with various buttons to operate (although never enough for my two), puzzles to solve and a curious enough story to get them interested. Sadly it’s a To be Continued… which is very frustrating, but that hasn’t stopped this being super popular in our house. The mystery is, where did Bartleby Vol 1 go? No word from the developers.

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Millie’s Crazy Dinosaur Adventure: Book 3 (age 4+)

We have enjoyed Milly’s third adventure just as much as it’s two predecessors. It’s a fun tale with heaps of switches, levers and buttons (yay!) to activate to progress the story. Millie forgets a birthday present for her friend so invents a time machine to go back in time to get herself out of trouble. Except the dial is set a little too far back in time. The ‘Story Switch’ feature enables you to choose the path the story takes and there are secret stickers hidden on each page which encourage investigation and experimentation. L Star loves this book and when I asked him why (hoping for some useful insight to use in this review) he gleefully told me it’s because he likes it when Millie almost gets eaten by a dinosaur and he wishes she would. OK! Maybe the developers could take that on board and Millie could get eaten in her next adventure? Yeah, he is 4. Whether he roots for the heroine or not, he still has a great time with Millie and her adventures.

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Dinoboy (age 4+)

We love this one for it’s imaginative whimsy and the lovely hand illustrated pictures. It’s also one of the few multiple choice books we’ve come across, so the kids can decide what happens next and experience a different story on each reading. There’s something to do on each page before the story can progress and L Star returns to this one again and again.

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Rom and the Whale of Dreams (age 6+)

A truly beautiful book, more in the style of a traditional picture book with exquisite illustrations and simple animation. We love a story about imagination and curiosity and this one does not disappoint: “In a land where no one dreams, Rom – a gypsy prince – dreams of a strange creature: a whale with lion’s paws and butterfly wings. Convinced that the animal exists, Rom travels to strange lands in search of it…” Aimed at older kids 6-8, but this has been a lovely reading experience for L Star (4) and I.

In one of my next posts I’m going to review some truly spectacular books incorporating Augmented Reality. What is that? Well it brings a whole amazing 3D aspect to your story time. But don’t worry if you don’t have a clue how it works,  I’ll be going through a quick run down of exactly what it is and how to make it work on your iPad. Suffice to say it’s purty fricken cool…

What are the favourite books apps at your place?

Age 5, Craft, Creative Projects, Preschoolers

Fractious siblings? Try RICE!!

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It was a usual morning at our place. Kids had been wrangled into clothes for the day and convinced to at least sit at the table and look at breakfast. All was fairly harmonious and contained, until, we reached the notorious second stage… the END of breakfast. This day we had no plans, so no rushing around getting snacks and shoes. The boys slid off their seats, had precisely one nano second of ‘playing nicely’ and smoothly proceeded to the inevitable squealing, fighting, snatching and pouting.

But! I was prepared. Today we were making balloon yoyo’s. I love a simple craft activity and this was one of those ones where I already had everything in the cupboard. Inspired by this post I thought this would be a good one for engaging both boys. OMG. How did I not know that RICE would turn two Tasmanian devils into happy little lambs? I kid you not.

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Two baking trays, 2 bags of rice, a variety of small cups, spoons and cardboard toilet roll tubes and we had major experimentation going on. I think in more experienced circles they call these kinds of activities Sensory Boxes. I hoped that they might play with the rice for a while before we got to the yoyo part, but they played FOR AN HOUR. With me in attendance, it wasn’t that amazing that I could sit and… well, even just sitting would be good, but they stopped trying to kill each other and were totally absorbed. I added lentils, kidney beans and any other dried pulsey type things that were dying in the back of my pantry. More the better. L Star was making ‘breakfast’, then a whole little world for sea life, whilst Cool A mainly enjoyed scattering everything on the ground and filling up small cups.

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Finally L Star started to investigate the balloons I left on the table and started to fill them up with the mixture he made, completely of his own accord. We worked out how to make our own funnels from cardboard, I added the elastic bands and we went from having a fairly tranquil activity to a super active chaotic fun one. The boys went nuts with the yoyos. We took them to a play date and their friends went nuts with them. A few days later and they are still popular. In summer I’m going to make them with water instead of rice. This activity was a major winner on all counts for us, with so many creative boxes being ticked!

photoThe joy of a bouncy yoyo!

App Reviews, Free Apps, Mindfulness, Preschoolers

Breathe, Think, Do: An app to help kids deal with challenges

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Patience, hmmm… clearly a learned skill wouldn’t you agree? Can’t say I know that many… any… kids (or adults!?) that are naturally full of calm and zen?  Let me cast my mind back to, er, oh yes! To the misty distant past of 1 hour ago at lunch when L Star was sitting upside down in his chair at the table with his feet smiling sweetly at the rest of the family as we ate our eggs. Mr Fidget could not sit still and was struggling with staying the right way up long enough to eat a few morsels. The volume from all was getting louder and louder and the whole family could have benefited from taking a few deep breaths. I try to model patience to my kids but have to admit that the 15,000th request/demand of the day, or an upside down boy at the dinner table waggling his feet at the food, well, on the wrong day that might just press a few buttons. So any tools that can help me pass on patience and de-stressing skills are most welcome. In this recent post I mentioned how both adults and kids can benefit from understanding how to slow down and be more mindful and this is one app that we’ve been practicing with that successfully introduces these concepts. Sesame Street have done a stellar job, the app is part of a series to help kids build emotional resilience, which is a monumentally important life skill we can help them with.

The cute Sesame Street blue monster engages kids by getting them to help him deal with problems. Kids have to choose how the monster deals with each situation, this helps them learn strategies for dealing with similar situations in the real world. Kids learn a good emotional vocabulary, a calm breathing technique and an approach to tackling problems: ‘Breathe, Think, Do‘.

Features as mentioned on the Breathe, Think, Do app store page:
• Explore five interactive activities with a unique, everyday challenge
• Tap, pop bubbles, and more to help the monster breathe, think, and do to solve problems and feel better
• Personalize encouraging phrases that your child will hear as they help the monster think of a plan
• ”Breathe with the Monster” activity to help children practice taking deep breaths to calm down
• Robust Parent Section with great resources for navigating everyday challenges with your young child

These days I’m often encouraging L Star to Breathe, Think, Do at many different points in the day. And quite frankly it’s good for us grown ups too. I also found these printables from Sesame Street to go with the app, some of which I’m going to put in key hotspots where trouble can strike. Hope these help you to a calmer happy household 🙂

Music Apps, Preschoolers

Toc and Roll: Cool and easy songmaker for kids

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We’ve just been away on holiday and I prepped our iPads with a few new apps to try on our trip. This was one I couldn’t wait to try with L Star, an app that makes music sequencing accessible for kids. Genius! Users can easily compose songs using a library of simple and catchy loops from a variety instruments (piano, guitar, drums etc) and even add effects such as delay and reverb to individual instruments. I wondered whether it might be a little advanced for L Star but I needn’t have worried. This beautifully designed app intrigued him from the moment we opened it. The simple design layout made it easy for him to understand what was required, whether adding instruments or adding loops to our instrument tracks.

Best of all you can record your own voice and add that to your composition. It was so much fun working it all out with trial and error. It encouraged L Star to really explore and be creative with the options. The cute graphics help too, the red record button jumps up and down when in use, apparently hilarious, which motivated him to keep recording his beautiful voice.

The first time we tried it out was on the aeroplane, you can imagine the background noise we were contending with! Not the ideal environment but L Star throuroughly enjoyed himself and played with it for at least 30 mins, super proud of himself each time he made another recording. Then he had to try out all the effects and add them to most of the instrumental tracks. Oh yes. We made some truly, er, mind bogglingly… interesting compositions!

A bit more practice and a quieter environment and our skills improved rapidly. We learnt it was a good idea to lay the drum track down first so we could sing over that and get the beat of our singing right. Additionally headphones would be a good investment for recording so the iPad is not recording the sound coming out of the speakers, only the sound of the voice. This is a fantastic app on many levels and one that the adults enjoyed using with the kids, which was an added bonus as it became a family activity.

Craft, Creative Projects, Preschoolers

Cool Cardboard Castle Creation

Cool Carboard Castle Creation

How gorgeous is this home made castle playscene? Fun in the making and in the playing. With a random abundance of cardboard boxes at our place at the moment I thought this might be right up our street. And no purchase of (more) crappy plastic toys required. In fact we may even be able to eject a few to make room for this.
You’re looking at this thinking, yeah, she’s one of those super-handy-at-craft-type-people aren’t you? Well… no. I have no idea how ours will turn out and in fact I can almost guarantee it’s going to be more along that ‘Nailed it’ meme that’s going around the web (check out this cake one if you have no idea what I’m talking about, cracks me up).
The fun will be in the spending of time with L Star working on a project together, in the discussion of ideas and the act of creating. If I’m brave I may even post a pic of our probably slightly more disheveled cardboard masterpiece.
Click on the pic for the link to the super trendy Mermag blog for details and templates.