Sunday, June 8, 2014

Best interactive learning app for preschoolers: Leo's Pad Appisode 6 is a new Top Pick!

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 10.50.57 PM Five

Bottom Line: Simply one of the best apps there is for kids up to age six. It’s also appropriate for older kids through about age 8 who are still targeting the skills in this app, since it’s not “babyish” in any way. This newest appisode targets problem-solving skills, impulse control, fine motor skills and more. Every part of this app is currently free, with no ads. It’s a must-download.

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Leo2Leo’s Pad by Kidaptive has been one of my six-year-old daughter’s favorite apps ever since it was released, and I made the first appisode a Top Pick app. The individual “appisodes” were previously available by in-app purchase, but they’ve been totally free since this past July! And the sixth appisode was just released at the end of April.

Like the other appisodes, this newest release features a young Leo (inspired by Leonardo da Vinci) experiencing a compelling adventure that just happens to teach kids at the same time. The style is video mixed with interactive game, and they capture my daughter every time. The graphics on Leo’s Pad are so wonderful, I forget that I’m even watching something on an iPad. When the water splashes, it really looks like water drops.

Leo3The games are interspersed with the story, and it's designed to be played until the app moves on, but one of my favorite features is the ability to skip ahead or back to a preferred game or story from a menu screen accessible on every page.

This story involves looking for a wishing fish, and for those new to the app, is stand-alone from other appisodes. Leo and his friend, Fusch (Confucius), work together to use science and invention to find the sneaky fish to move it to Fusch’s koi pond. Cinder (doesn't everyone need a little sidekick dragon?), is along for the ride.

The first activity in Appisode 6 addresses directionality and visual attention — the child feeds a particular fish in the pond by noting the direction in which it faces, and tapping that side of the screen to throw food in. The other two fish in the pond point in various directions. Tnd the game reminds me of a preschool version of a game found in Lumosity, the very popular app for mental acuity for adults. It’s important for a child to maintain attention as well as control the first impulse of tapping in the direction of the other fish.

Leo5A tracing activity follows the fish feeding frenzy, but it’s a tracing activity that actually may capture the attention of a variety of learners, unlike the typical tracing in letter apps (tracing mostly just letters). The user helps Leo trace the parts to make a submarine. It gradually requires the line to be very close to the model as the child improves accuracy, but the positive encouragement is done nicely. The line turns red (instead of green) when it strays too far from the model, and a happy voice encourages with a “That’s OK. Let’s try again!” After tracing, the submarine is assembled, using a blueprint-style drawing to help put the pieces in the right spot.

Leo and his pal encounter another obstacle when the submarine is completed, and that’s an underlying message in the whole app — what to do when something doesn’t work right. It’s hard for kids to develop that mental perseverance, and I like seeing it modeled in this app.  Of course, Leo finds a plan for fixing the problem!

Leo4The solution involves a ramp and a build-a-better-mousetrap mentality. The child has to combine toys to help break a rock blocking the way. I will admit that my brain does not always work this way, and I found it challenging yet very fun. I’m excited to use the app with my kids at work who are working on problem-solving and verbal expression.

The next game surprised even me (already a fan of Leo’s Pad) with its creativity and educational benefit for kids. When Leo and Fusch get the sub underwater, they finally spot the wishing fish. To entice the fish closer, the child (or, in my case, adult who finds this game quite fun) is instructed to make a face like the wishing fish, making use of the iPad’s camera. After matching multiple expressions, there is then a short quiz about choosing which fish picture is happy.

Catching the fish is, of course, not without problems. Cinder places the fish food on a dish, and the user taps the screen only when the wishing fish is eating the food. Again, this game helps work on visual attention and impulse control. Anyone who knows a preschooler knows that impulse control is something definitely worth working on. If the user taps before the wishing fish is eating, hel just scares it away.

Leo6You’ll be glad to know that I did eventually catch the wishing fish, and I was excited to see what kind of wish Fusch and Leo might make. But the story takes a nice turn when Fusch notices that the fish is not happy, and a quick moral lesson results, with a catchy tune about kindness. It’s important to think about others, too, not just what we want.

One of the best aspects of this app is how it grows with your child. At first, the tracing game allows for much more deviance from the line, but with continued success, the amount that will “pass” is significantly decreased. On the submarine assembly, eventually the user has to rotate the pieces in the right direction, too.
The story/video part of the app also expands vocabulary, by discussing words like propeller, hatch, and rudder for the submarine. This vocabulary focus is evident through all appisodes, and is a real strength.

There just isn’t much I would change about this app. Every time I thought of an idea, I realized that it was an area that would change as my child (or I) got better at the skill. I did think it would be a nice addition if the final game, catching the wishing fish, included another learning aspect such as putting out a particular amount of food, or even just had more fish on the screen at the same time. But I can’t actually say that it doesn’t happen — maybe after I get better at controlling my impulses, I’ll get more challenging work in this section.

In my review of Appisode 1, I commented about the need for a pause button, which is now available by tapping the drop down menu at the top of every page! This also does turn off the music (as a mute button would). However, the picture is not visible when this menu is used, so it's still difficult for parents and educators to talk about what is happening on the screen.

Leo7Unlike my first review, there were no glitches at all for the games. Everything worked as expected the first time, and my daughter was able to play independently the first time. The parent's section has also been expanded, and is now available on the app as well as online. This section shows progress and a timeline of play, a question of the day for parents to answer about their child's development for use by the app's developers ("Of the activities listed, which would you pick as your learner's current favorite?"), and many suggestions about how to extend the learning time outside of app play.

The extension activities are complete ideas, too, not just a quick line telling parents to read together. One suggestion involved inviting your child to play kitchen, and it also includes some of the ways to make the activity more beneficial. There are also articles about the different areas of learning (such as phonological awareness) and how different appisodes address each area. The total progress across all appisodes toward the seven core skills is also easy to see.

Leo's Pad is a must-download for anyone who has, works with, or might someday work with, preschool kids. Across all of the appisodes, many different skills are targeted in a way that is interactive and fun.

Prof leoHeather H. had a lot of fun making fish faces, even if she's pretty bad at a duck face. was paid a priority review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.

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