Family Play: Curating and Sharing Apps in the Library

Holidays, especially those accompanied by a significant number of days off from school, are excellent opportunities to recommend family time activities for in and out of the library. Along with passive “programs” and early literacy toys for families to enjoy in the library, I recently pulled out books for a display which are great for sharing at bedtime, in the car, and any old time. I added to the display a sign with some of my favorite apps that are fun for the whole family and by design, encourage joint media engagement and coplay. Here are the apps I included in the Family Play Recommendations, many of which have been featured on our mounted iPad.

family-play-apps-for-kids

 

family-play-app

 

Sesame Street Family Play
Sesame Street

This is an app that sparks ideas for off-screen play. Even the most savvy parents and caregivers run out of ideas, especially in stressful situations when families are logging time in crowded doctors’ offices, at airports during flight delays, and inside during harsh weather. This app provides more than 150 ideas based on where the family is playing and how many will join in the fun. The familiar Sesame Street characters will appeal to both kids and adults who are fans of Sesame Street. The app is research-based and boost learning skills while promoting fun, family play. For librarians and teachers this app could be introduced to families during a program by letting children help choose an activity and then playing the game as a group. it might be used similar to a song cube.
iOS/Adroid
Paid
Ages: 3-6

Toca Hair Salon Me app

 

Toca Hair Salon Me
Toca Boca

This app is one of my favorite Toca Boca apps because of its broad age appeal. The idea is to cut, wash, color and style hair with multiple tools in this open-ended play app. The app uses a photo from the device and then with a few adjustments the image is ready to makeover. There are no gender preconceptions and the styling possibilities are only inhibited by imagination. The concept and the design invite onlookers to become participants and the repeat usage is high. I prefer this app over the other fun Toca Hair Salon apps, although they are also noteworthy, because of the ability to upload a photo instead of using the provided images and characters. There is just something disarming about seeing an adult’s goofy selfie being altered by a group of kids. I’ve used this with young children, tweens, and grandparents as a party game and program icebreaker. A quick introduction gets the group off and running quickly. Photos of the final product can be saved to the device.
iOS/Android
Paid
Ages: 3+

grandma-gourd

 

Grandma’s Great Gourd
Literary Safari

Grandma’s Great Gourd is a trickster tale, story app based on the award-winning picture book, Grandma and the Great Gourd by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Susy Pilgrim Waters. Reminiscent of classic stories like Little Riding Hood and The Three Billy Goats Gruff, this is the tale of a smart, adventurous grandmother off to visit her daughter on the other side of the perilous jungle.
The entertaining story is enriched with subtle, story-relevant interactive elements, an original musical score, friendly, almost familiar, narration, and sound effects which all bring the humorous, Bengali folktale to life. For example, readers help decide in which order Grandma negotiates with the three beasts in the jungle; a black bear, tiger, and fox. The paper book’s textile-like illustrations are digitized and slightly animated in the app, accentuating the layered effect envisioned in the original book.
Families can enjoy the story together in read-to-me or read-on-my-own mode from start to finish or the back button (once in the story) can be used to select favorite pages. The home and settings button can be found on the navigation panel also. A sound studio offers readers the opportunity to record personalized narration, in a particular home language for example, and new sound effects to become part of the story. The app also includes a physics based game featuring Grandma and a flying gourd and a way to learn more about the Bengali region of South Asia, Grandma’s World, through in-app, informational videos. Topics include wildlife, clothing, food, art and language. (This information was also included in Beanstack’s collection of media reviews.) Check out the Grownup guide for extension activities!
iOS/Android
Paid
Ages: 3-8

fairytale-play-theater-title
Fairytale Play Theater
Nosy Crow

Do your kids like dramatic play? This open-ended app lets children create their own retellings of 6 fairytales (featured in Nosy Crow’s story apps). Storytellers can change characters, backgrounds, storylines, and props from a select menu (again all featured in Nosy Crow’s story apps). They can even record narration and action which they can playback for an audience. Characters lip-sync along with the custom narration. This creativity app would be a lovely tool to extend book readings of fairytales to help kids learn the fundamentals of storytelling or a new way for families to create their own stories together and then present the final product as a show on a large monitor. The app is well-suited for multiple players either at home or in a classroom/library setting. The app is available in two versions- ‘standard’ with In-App Purchases and ‘complete’ with all of the available stories. If you want to try out the app before committing, go ahead with the standard version, but the complete version offers kids more flexibility.
iOS
Paid
Ages: 4-8 (Young children will experience a learn curve and may need initial help navigating the in’s and out’s of the app.)

me-app
Me
Tinybop

Me is a playful, digital storytelling tool in which kids and their families design personalized avatars and then create self-portraits, of sorts, using the app’s prompts and the digital device’s microphone, keyboard, touchscreen, and camera. Multiple kids, or kids and adults, can each craft their own story with drawings, photos, and words. The prompts pop up on the screen like thought bubbles and a quick tap reveals a question or direction which encourages kids to share their likes, dislikes, and feelings. Kids document their world and answer the ultimate question, ‘who are you?’ Imagination is strongly encouraged so kids can easily create a story for a pet or imaginary friend. Unanswered prompts can be saved for later and more options will appear. All of the pieces of each creation are kept in one place – perfect for sharing with friends and family – but nothing is shared outside of the app. The prompts are silly, interesting, and even peculiar, but all are well-suited for the whole family. Me successfully uses fun activities and thoughtful technical design to help kids find their voice and share it with others. (This information was also included in a monthly article I write for the Homer News about early literacy and children’s media.)
iOS
Paid
Ages: 4+ (younger with help)

Miximal App
Miximal
Yatatoy

Miximal mimics what singing does for language development in a silly literacy app that invites families to mix animals and sounds. To play this flipbook-inspired app, families switch the three sections of a handcrafted animal illustration by swiping on the screen to the left or right until a picture of an animal is complete. Tapping on the arrow at the bottom switches the display to a screen listing the three syllables of the animal’s name- for example, ‘go-ril-la’. If the name and animal represent an actual animal, versus an imaginary one, then the illustration animates and the animal does a little dance. While the goal is to make a whole gorilla or penguin, for example, the fun is in finding out what a mixed up animal looks like. Try the app to see a ‘fla-qui-saur’! (Hint: flamingo-mosquito-dinosaur.) The app supports five languages. (This information was also included in a monthly article I previously wrote for the Homer Tribune about early literacy and children’s media.)
iOS
Paid
Ages: 3-7

dipdap-winter
Dipdap Winter
Cube Interactive

Dipdap Winter is one of two drawing apps by this developer that lets kids contribute to short video stories. I like to share this one at my library because it’s very relevant to the local experience. Snow is covering the ground and kids will be familiar with the activities. For kids in other regions this might be a nice intro to life in colder climates.

The app’s idea is basic, but offers lots of opportunity for conversation. Kids draw a missing element to complete one of multiple short stories featuring the character Dipdap. Kids are given a prompt and pulsating dotted lines to follow if they choose. Creating the missing elements supports early writing practice whatever they ultimately draw for the missing element is acknowledged and used in the story- very rewarding for young children just beginning to write and draw.  In the creation mode, kids watch the complete story first to give them context for their drawing and then they get to work. In play mode, they watch the short video story without adding their own drawings. It is easy to move back and forth. The stories are winter related and feature everything from snow play and baking activities to waking a bear from hibernation.
iOS
Paid
Ages: 3-6

An iPad for Anytime Use Now in the Library

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Just last week, we finally made an iPad available for use in our modest-sized, but busy, children’s library! I’ve been using iPads in programs for almost two years now, but this is the first time we’ve had one for families to use anytime. The first week has seen regular play by kids, mostly in pairs or groups.  We’ll be adding another iPad to our Teen Space soon, but here are the ins and outs of managing our first mounted iPad.Friends Play With the Felt Board App

First of all, we chose the iPad, versus another device, for several reasons.

  • the App Store has by far the best selection of high quality apps at this point
  • the iPad screen is a great size for viewing toy and story apps as part of a pair or small group
  • the mounted iPad is one of several we received as part of a grant so apps can be shared with the other devices we use in programs
  • I am a savvy iPad user so installing an iPad was helpful because I am the primary manager of this device

We mounted the iPad horizontally on one of the few free walls in the space using a MacLocks Wall Mount. It is across the room from the desktop and AWE computers, and also on the other side of the children’s library from the space where families with young children most commonly sit and read together. It is, however, in clear site of the circulation desk through the windows that separate the children’s library. The iPad is actually nicely situated in amongst the stacks in a part of the space that needs a draw- the 900s, biographies, magazines and audiobooks- and the device may be another tool for broadening kids’ exploration. While kids may like these types of materials, the device is actually attracting them to a space they may not naturally gravitate towards when they visit the library.

One unexpected wrinkle we’ve been dealing with is charging the iPad. There is an outlet located right below the iPad, but it’s difficult to plug the charging cable into the device while the iPad is in the mount, which we were hoping to do. Since we don’t want to open the mount every night to charge the device, we decided to tuck the cord into the mount and leave the small square piece that goes in the outlet out of reach until it gets charged at night. We’re hoping that works.

Like other libraries we decided to offer one app at a time on the iPad. We don’t have the resources to switch out the app each day, but we are going to keep each app on the iPad for one week. The device is locked into the one app using Guided Access and prevents kids from accessing the settings or other content we want left alone. The one app method also has proven to help kids focus on the task at hand and self-regulate their digital media use. Once they are done exploring the app, they move on to another activity and allow other kids and families to have a turn. We don’t enforce time limits based on our experience with the AWE computers which targets a similar age group. Over time we found that AWE users rarely explored for more than 30 minutes and so we don’t feel the need to control their use.

Because this iPad is in our children’s library, we have chosen to focus on apps, both toy and story, that support early literacy among kids under 9. Will older kids test out the apps and even enjoy them? I have no doubt. In fact a group of 10-12 year olds giggled away as they told each other stories with the iPad this past week.Felt Board app and Older Kids

To select apps for the public iPad, in addition to apps I share in programs, I use the rubric I mentioned in an early post. The first app I added to the iPad was Software Smoothie’s Felt Board. It’s one of my favorites and it doesn’t use sound. While sound isn’t a deciding factor in what apps we’ll feature, we didn’t want to add much more background noise to the children’s library. It’s a non-shushing space, but after school the volume gets pretty loud with just a conversational level because of the number of people.

Every week I also add the App of the Week to my library’s Pinterest App of the Week board so family’s can find the apps we’ve previously recommended.

What’s up for next week? Toca Boca’s new Toca Kitchen 2, an updated version of Toca Kitchen. Here’s why:

Toca Kitchen 2 let’s kids play with pretend food and imaginary guests who respond to meals in silly, and sometimes surprising, ways. This is a toy, not a game with points, coins, or levels, and kids will delight in the freedom to create digital concoctions from the array of whole food items found in the kitchen’s fridge. Food can then be prepped, cooked, or juiced and fed to one of three culturally diverse guests (a woman, a man or a kitchen monster).
The mostly wordless app supports multi-touch and is easily enjoyed by friends or family members playing together. The app is free of 3rd party ads, links and in-app purchases.

Toca Kitchen 2 is currently only available on iOS. The special launch price is $.99. The app is great for ages 3-6, but older kids (and adults) may enjoy playing along also!

Social and Emotional Skills Are On My Mind, part 1

Like many librarians and educators, I spend a lot of time focused on early literacy. Whether its in storytime, when I’m selecting materials, or in conversation with parents and caregivers I’m thinking about how fun activities, stories and tools can strengthen early literacy skills. Underneath the literacy layer, though, is a deep interest I have in the social and emotional development of little ones. I’ve been looking at books and digital media through this lens. With this post, I’m starting a mini-series about some of the books, literacy tools and apps I like for their overall high quality and the way they address the emotional and social side of growing kids that are creative, flexible, curious, caring, and ready for the dynamic world we live in. The recent release of Toca Boo was well-timed, so I’ll start there.

Photo credit: tocaboca.com

Photo credit: tocaboca.com

Toca Boo
Toca Boca
iOS (5.0+)
$2.99
3-5 years

This new app by the developers at Toca Boca is an interesting one. I’m a huge fan of Toca Boca’s apps so I was ready for the smooth navigation, the open-ended, noncompetitive play, inclusion of facial expressions and representation of emotions, multi-touch capability that encourages joint media engagement and the minimal language that makes the app universal. This app has all of the elements that I look for in an app to share in a program or recommend. Toca Boca knows their audience well.

What’s different about Toca Boo is that it deals with the illusive fear emotion, underrepresented in the world of apps for young children. Just in time for Halloween, Toca Boo features a a small ghost named Bonnie who happens to be a young girl who dons a white sheet for the scare games she instigates in the low-lit house at bedtime.  Inspired by the classic hide and scare game and Tove Jansson’s Moomin world, the open-ended game lets kids play with feelings of fear, tension and the element of surprise in a nonthreatening, kid-friendly experience.

Bonnie is the mischievous star in a cast of colorful characters who’s theatrical reactions to Bonnie’s scares spark instant giggles. The identical twins, the braces-clad, phone obsessed teen, the blanket-toting toddler, the old man with stilt-like spindly legs and the disco dancing rotund old woman wander the house with Bonnie in pursuit. When Bonnie is near, a tap on the unsuspecting victim causes a scare. Many of the rooms, like the bathroom and bedrooms feature hiding places highlighted by a subtle blue light.  Dragging Bonnie to the hiding place lets her sneak up behind her next victim more easily making his/her reaction more hilarious. The app player can tap lights and sounds to startle the family members, adding to the not-so-spooky atmosphere.

Each family member reacts in a different comical way- the twins may bump into each other and see stars, the old woman’s hair might pops out of her tightly wrapped hairdo, the old man’s spindly, stilt-like legs sometimes wobble before he falls down. The teenager sometimes falls down and sometimes screams revealing a mouth full of braces just before his pants fall down. (Not to worry, a long shirt keeps things covered so nothing is exposed.)

To ease any anxiety, the developers have added a few special touches. They gave each character a light source which they can shine on Bonnie if the app player doesn’t hide her quickly enough. If she is spotted, the light bearer chuckles. They also provided some refreshments for Bonnie that customize her scare tactics and help lighten the mood. Bonnie farts to scare her victim after eating plums and breathes fire after eating peppers. The results are hilarious, helping to make this noncompetitive game easy to enjoy!

Over time the small number of rooms and characters may limit repeated play, but the developers may have plans for that. In the meantime, Toca Boo is a fun, not so scary app to explore together with young ones during the Halloween season.

Here are a couple more apps that help kids address fear and tension (and may be perfect for Halloween):
Go Away, Big Green Monster!
The Monster at the End of This Book…starring Grover!

What apps do you like for talking about fear and tension?

Preschool: Mustaches

Sometimes storytime is just plain silly.

After seeing my own kids and their friends walk around with fake mustaches on multiple occasions, I had to buy some to go along with some new mustache and hair related books I found. I’ll admit that it was a bit of a mental challenge to turn stick-on mustaches into an early literacy program, but it can be done (as others have proven). The great part of using mustaches in storytime is the opportunity it allowed to generate conversation in a light hearted way- mustaches are silly things! They also provided an avenue for talking about differences and similarities and, well, the chance to read stories allowed while wearing a fake mustache! I’m not too proud to show up wearing a mustache, or some other accessory, if it makes for a better storytime experience.

In planning, I considered interactivity, movement, ECRR early literacy skills (and practices), engagement, the art extension possibilities and the fun factor. Since it was still March, I also wanted to bring the letter ‘M’ back into the spotlight.  Here’s what I did.

We started with the Song Cube, always a hit.

Keynote of Mustaches

I then introduced the storytime theme with Keynote slides on my iPad featuring the variety of mustaches judged at the International Beard and Mustache Championships. I can honestly say every kid, and even a few adults, in the room had no idea there was such an event. Each slide I created had an image of someone with a mustache and the name of the mustache style underneath. As I pointed to each name, we talked about it, especially how the mustache got its name. If the person in the photo sporting the mustache was famous, we talked about why. Using a Keynote slideshow, even with the just the iPad screen, catches the kids attention and allows me to provide additional information that compliments the storytime content.

Then I passed out the mustaches. We took a couple of minutes to sort out which shape and size the kids wanted to wear and what it was called based on our new found mustache knowledge. I bought them in two different places- Old Navy (by the checkout) and at Oriental Trading. The mustaches I got from Old Navy were on sale and better quality, but they didn’t have the number I needed.

Here is where the giggles come in.

All of the mustaches went on faces, at least initially. Then as I read the first story, they started to get peeled off and stuck on other random body parts. One even ended up on a little boy’s chest, followed by “Look, mine is chest hair just like my dad’s!” Too funny!

Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos Photo Credit: www.authorbridgetheos.com/

Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos Photo Credit: http://www.authorbridgetheos.com/

Book: Mustache Baby (Clarion Books, 2013)

A baby is born with a mustache… wait, what? The kids thought this was a bit strange, but loved the pages that showed baby’s transition as the mustache turns from a good guy mustache to a bad guy mustache and then back to a good guy mustache. Sweet story.

Mo's Mustache by Ben Clanton Photo Credit: http://www.benclanton.com/

Mo’s Mustache by Ben Clanton
Photo Credit: http://www.benclanton.com/

Book: Mo’s Mustache (Tundra Books, 2013)

Mo is defining his identity. He thinks a nice black mustache will do the trick, but finds that every attempt he makes to differentiate himself from his friends leads to copying. Eventually his friends remind him that copying is the best form of flattery and that he is awesome. A final fashion show reveals everyone’s individuality, even Mo’s. This book offers opportunities to talk about the different mustache styles we learned about in the Keynote.

Toca Hair Salon Me by Toca Boca

Toca Hair Salon Me by Toca Boca

 

Activity: Toca Hair Salon Me app (Toca Boca, 2013)

I am always on the lookout for high quality apps to will add value to storytime. I am a huge fan of the open-ended Toca Boca toy apps with their cross-cultural appeal, game-less design (no coins, points, etc.), and imagination-inspiring nature. I thought this app might fit well with one of the smallish groups I have. It didn’t quite work how I thought it would though. I took a photo of myself before storytime and I intended to have the kids decorate and manipulate my selfie, but things got a little crazy and I was managing kids rather than exploring the content with the group. This app may work better with a large screen and the kids sitting in a circle, touching the app one at a time. It is a nice app in a one on one setting, which I mentioned to parents.

We gently moved on to another song and book when I saw what was happening, not unlike what I do if a parachute, book, or song is not a good fit. The good part about sharing this app was showing families how it worked and describing why I think it is a quality app- both useful for families searching for and evaluating apps to explore with their kids.

Song: If You’re Ready for a Story
…bend and stretch
…clap your hands
…sit down please (with slide whistle)

Big Bouffant by Kate Hosford & Holly Clifton-Brown  Photo Credit: http://lernerbooks.blogspot.com/

Big Bouffant by Kate Hosford & Holly Clifton-Brown
Photo Credit: http://lernerbooks.blogspot.com/

Book: Big Bouffant (Carolrhoda Books, 2011)

While storytime was focused on facial hair, I just had to include the hair that grows on top of our heads. This is the story of Annabelle who is frustrated by the sameness that proliferates at school. She decides that styling her hair like her grandmother’s bouffant is the way to go. At first her mother resists and Annabelle must use her creativity to style her hair on her own. Eventually mom pitches in and creates the impressive hairdo. other kids are so impressed that they follow suit. The book is rich in creativity and even offers opportunities to introduce measuring and comparing, both great math skills.

For the art portion of the storytime, I made three stations.

Art Station: Watercolor Tape Resist ‘M’
I found this project idea at Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas. While we didn’t make mice, the watercolor painting was a hit. This was a new experience for many kids and they loved the chance to just paint. I taped the letter ‘M’ on pieces of cardstock before storytime and then had everything set up for the budding painters. The idea was to paint all around the tape so that when you pull of the tape, you’ll see the unpainted letter amongst the beautiful watercolors. Sorry, but I didn’t get a photo of the finished product!

Materials:
cardstock or other heavy paper
watercolor paints
paintbrushes
blue painter’s tape (or masking tape)

Art Station: Macaroni M
I printed out a coloring sheet from the internet and made bowls of glue, paint brushes, and macaroni noodles available for station #2. These kids love glue, but don’t often get to paint it on. The younger kids especially loved this.

Chalkboard TimeWriting Station: Chalkboard
I discovered a brand new feltboard and chalkboard in the bowels of our library recently! I decided it was time bring out the board and the big tubs of colored chalk we have in the cupboards. Kids wrote their names, colored, drew pictures, and told stories together.