Expert Guidance on Children`s Interactive Media

Expert Guidance on Children`s Interactive Media
Expert Guidance on Children’s Interactive Media
March 2011
Volume 19, No. 3, Issue 132
Air Hogs Hyperactive
Air Hogs R/C Pocket Coptor
Air Swimmers
Body and Brain Connection
Brain Buddy Plush Remote
Interactive DVD Set
Capture Cam
Disney Channel All Star Party
Dragon Quest VI: Realms of
Gummy Bears: Gummy Ear Buds
LeapPad Explorer
LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars
LittleBigPlanet 2
Magic School Bus, The: Oceans
Mario Sports Mix
Pac-Man Party
Plants vs. Zombies DS
Rock Star Mickey
Smarty Pants School
Speed Slider
Spy Net Video Watch with Night
Square of Life
Steel Diver
TeachTown: Basics 2.0
Tetris Link
TNT Reading
Vtech Peek at Me Bunnies Toys, p. 4
Price: $24/year for 12 PDF issues
4 8 Steps to Get Started
4 Security & Safety
4 Apps for each part of the
4 How to manage iTunes
News & Commentary on
Children’s Tech
icture if you will, your ideal early childhood learning environment,
say, in a daycare or a public preschool. Chances are, it is filled with
developmentally appropriate materials.
March 2011
Volume 19, No. 3, Issue 132
You have blocks, art supplies, room to move around and role play materials. But does your vision include an iPad in each area? In this issue of
CTR, we sketch out what such a preschool might look like, complete with
base costs, logistical issues and a list of apps to support each learning
area. For about $3000, you can greatly enhance a learning environment.
See page 5.
This issue also contains the first wave of 2011 tech toys, including some
links to some sites on page 4. In other news, March 2011 will see two
exciting new platforms: Nintendo 3DS and the next iPad. Apple has us
guessing on the iPad features (on the top of my wish list is a camera, better volume control and a USB or SD). You can see my complete wish list
EDITOR Warren Buckleitner, Ph.D.,
([email protected]) [WB]
Lisa Della Fave
([email protected])
([email protected])
MaryBeth Griffith
([email protected])
SUMMER INTERNS Ben Kates (video) and Andrew
Barnett (reviews)
Built from the ground up for augmented reality -- the Nintendo 3DS
Augmented reality (AR) has come up a lot
in the past year, as cameras are married
with motion detection hardware.
Wikipedia defines AR as live direct or an
indirect view of a physical, real-world
environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory
input. Last week, I spent two hours with the Nintendo 3DS and I think
that Augmented Reality just might be Nintendo’s secret weapon for
keeping a step ahead of the competition. I provide more details, here
This iPad Holder Runs Windows
Windows users who have been looking for fast, reliable, virus-free video
now have a solution. The iPad Holder
comes just in the nick of time, before
the iPad 2 is released.
The base-level package features a 17
inch high-gloss screen, turned off to
provide a contrasting background, and
a 6 cell battery for heft, to resist jolts.
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know that there are no ulterior motives behind our
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The dampened hinge tilts front or
back, making it easy to find the right
glare-free angle and a groove just
above the function keys supports
either vertical and landscape viewing.
PS. April fools.
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Grouped by age
CTR Editor’s Choice
March 2011
All Ages
Disney Channel All Star Party,
Mario Sports Mix,
Babies & Toddlers
Brain Buddy Plush Remote Interactive
DVD Set,
Vtech Peek at Me Bunnies,
Preschool & Kindergarten
Rock Star Mickey,
Smarty Pants School,
TNT Reading,
Early Elementary
Gummy Bears: Gummy Ear Buds,
LeapPad Explorer,
Magic School Bus, The: Oceans,
Speed Slider,
Square of Life,
TeachTown: Basics 2.0,
Upper Elementary
Air Hogs R/C Pocket Coptor,
Body and Brain Connection,
Capture Cam,
LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars,
LittleBigPlanet 2,
Plants vs. Zombies DS,
Spy Net Video Watch with Night
Steel Diver,
Products that scored 4.2 or higher
on the rating instrument.
Body and Brain Connection,
LittleBigPlanet 2,
Magic School Bus, The: Oceans,
Mario Sports Mix,
Plants vs. Zombies DS,
Middle School
Air Hogs Hyperactive,
Air Swimmers,
Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation,
Pac-Man Party,
Tetris Link,
The non-profit Mediatech Foundation is where we test and archive review copies of software. Visit for more information.
Above, the Brain and Body Connection.
Below, Little Big Planet, 2
Thanks to the following individuals, including the members of
the Mediatech Foundation, who
contributed their valuable feedback during the testing process.
Jenna Buckleitner, 15; Daniel Della Fave, 11; Nick
Della Fave, 15; Sam Coggins, 19; Kelly H., 11;
Thomas H., 14; Mohamed (Mo) Farid, 16; Caleb, H.
10; Ethan H., 12; Tyler Griffith, 17; Troy Griffith, 14;
Brett Griffith, 10; Michael Harrington, 14; Laura
Henry, 14; Ellie Hilgen, 7; Erin Hilgen, 15; Ben
Kates, 16; Matthew Kursa, 10; Frank Mondella, 13;
Matthew Mondella, 10; Alyssa Mondella, 15; Keith
Paternoster, 15; Greg Shriener, 26; Matt Ivans, 23;
Alese Maniragaba, 13 and the Serious Game Testers
(SGTC) club that meets at Mediatech on Fridays.
Products are tested and stored for public access
and research at the Mediatech Foundation
(, 118 Main Street,
Flemington NJ, a non-profit organization.
Update on
Tech Toys
Every spring, hundreds of toy inventors meet at Toy Fair in
New York City to show off their latest inventions. Some are
pretty amazing! Here are some links and videos.
1. To make a sculpture out of magnets, which of these would you use?
a) Buckyballs. http://www.getbuckyballs
b) Zen Magnets
c) Neocube
The answer is all three. Each consists of a set of small, strong, round
magnets made out of a special metal called Neodymium. Learn more
about the story of Buckyballs at
2. T/F Can a balloon swim like a fish, with no strings attached?
Visit to learn about Air Swimmers, a new kind of
radio controlled helium-filled fish that can be flown around a room,
completely untethered. Propelled by a large tail that flaps slowly from
side to side, the pillow-sized fish blimps come uninflated, and require
a trip to your local party store. They were invented by Blake English, a
Standford graduate student.
is made possible by
For the best online learning activities
for preschoolers, go to
/etots> and use the password
birthday 03. The web-based version
of this page contains live links, plus a
place to report any errors. CTR and
have commercial interests in the
sites listed on this page. Librarians
and teachers are permitted to copy
this page for non-profit use. To suggest a future topic or to report a bad
link, please contact the editor,
Warren Buckleitner
[email protected], or call
908-284-0404 (9 - 3 PM, EST).
3. Help! I need some ideas to build with my LEGOs
Don’t worry. Inspiration can be found at Make Magazine where people share photos of projects like
this SpongeBob Terminator robot. At you can learn about an artist,
Nathan Sawaya, who makes giant sculptures out of LEGO bricks. Finally check to see if there’s
a First LEGO League in your area, at Perhaps you can join a club to
create with other inventors.
4. Fill in the blank. Can you name the smallest tech toy ever invented?
a) What is the world’s smallest flying helicopter? ________________
b) Smallest toy robot? ________________
c) Smallest rolling video camera? ________________
Answers: (a) see the airhogs Air Hogs R/C Pocket Coptor
for a great way to torture your cat. (b) The Hexbug Nano moves like a bug, and is powered by a button
cell battery. Finally (c) see the Hot Wheels Video Racer, a tiny car with a tiny camera, for first person views of the
TO LEARN MORE. We spotted other reviewers besides us looking at the latest toys. The Parents’ Choice Foundation is the world’s
oldest non-profit review organization, and posts toy reviews at We also spotted the Oppenheim
Toy Portfolio crew at Toy Fair. They post videos at Time to Play Magazine features reviews by Chris Byrne (the Toy Guy) who is famous for his zany toy
reviews. Finally Scott Traylor, President of 360KID, has an eye for technology toys, and posts his videos at
LittleClickers Playlist: Learn About Tech Toys
This month’s YouTube playlist contains a selection of videos based on topics in this column.
See this page online, at
An 8 step
plan, with
costs, apps,
and other
Note that while we discuss Apple iOS specific devices, many of these ideas could be used with Android-based tablets.
Preschool-age children gather with older brothers, sisters or parents in Mediatech’s iPad Lounge. You can see the clear iPad storage container
mounted on the door, well within reach of a child. Notice that one of the iPads is tethered to the wall with a cable, to prevent theft. Other
devices, including a MobiGo, Leapster Explorer, Nintendo DS and an iPod Touch are available in other parts of the room.
carefully selected to supplement existing materials and classroom socialization patterns. This plan assumes you already
have wireless access throughout the room, and depending on
how much technology you already have, can cost between
$1800 to $4000 per classroom.
n a preschool classroom, the difference between a smooth
day and an utter disaster can be small, as any teacher
Experienced teachers also know not to skimp on the classroom
materials available to children during free play time. I’ve seen
a sand table soothe an upset child, simply because it gives him
or her something that is easy to use (just run your fingers
through the sand), fun to explore (we would hide small plastic
toys in the sand), and provides unlimited ways to create (especially when mixed with drops of water).
To keep things simple, we’ve decided to use the iTunes store as
a regular consumer, so an active iTunes account is required, to
be managed and fully controlled by the teacher. Note, however,
that Apple has educational purchasing programs, such as the
Volume Voucher, that lets you purchase apps in denominations
of $100s of dollars. These cannot be used to purchase apps
directly from the App Store. Visit to learn more.
These types of materials lie at the heart of any early childhood
It is also possible to purchase gift cards, to eliminate the need
for a credit card, but at the end of the day, somebody’s credit
card will be required. Also note that staff training should be
minimal for teachers who are already using iPhones, iPods,
iTunes or are comfortable downloading content to other digital
media players.
That’s why it is so important to consider the iPad, or any other
soon-to-be-invented multi-touch tablet or handheld device —
as an important new classroom material that can support an
active learner. The multi-touch screen makes it easy to accidentally succeed, with all five fingers (see the Taxonomy of Touch,
CTR, November 2010) and the 9-hour batteries can make it to
the end of the day. Other goodies include a microphone for
adding narration to a story, a camera putting your own face
onto the screen, motion sensitivity and enough memory to store
hundreds of apps. Now it is possible to hand a child a device
that can turn a beanbag chair into an ideal interactive learning
STEP 1: Start by finding and designating a Windows or
Macintosh computer to serve as your iPad content manager. For
purposes of budgeting, we’ve included a student model white
MacBook, currently selling for about $1000 (check for school
rates), but it is possible to use just about any Macintosh or
Windows computer, as long as it can run the latest version of
iTunes. In the ideal situation, this computer is a laptop with a
CD-ROM drive and a camera, making it possible to distribute
photos to the iPads, or move your existing CD library into the
music library. Don’t forget that iPads are good music players,
Getting Started
Here’s a step-by-step procedure for enhancing a typical preschool classroom with multi-touch learning. No traditional
materials are replaced. Instead, the technology and apps are
using the included USB/iPhone table. This is also a good time
to put your school’s logo on the main screen, or perhaps a
group photograph.
STEP 2: You’ll need an active credit card to set up an account,
and the teacher should be the main account holder, based on
the idea that they are given the maximum amount of control
over what appears on each screen. You’ll need one device,
either an iPod Touch but preferably an iPad, per 3 to 5 children.
Note that it is now possible to pick up a used iPhone 3, or older
iPod Touch as a donation, now that the iPhone 4s have been
released; certainly one of the benefits of constantly improving
technology. Keep the chargers safely away from children (e.g.,
all plugged into one power strip, on a higher shelf) and make
sure to fill all unused electrical outlets with safety plugs. In the
best case, you’ll have 1 device for every 3 to 4 children. If your
screen/child ratio gets great than 1:5, you run the risk of arguments over a scarce resource.
STEP 4: Sync, or connect each iPad to your computer using the
included wires. In most cases, the syncing process happens
automatically, once your host computer sniffs the iPad. This can
take some time, so bring a book.
STEP 5: Time to work on the security. Don’t forget that each
iPad is a portal to your credit card information. In addition,
you don’t want a child to accidently erase all your apps, or end
up on some obscure
web site. It is easy to
turn on or off these
features by exploring the Restrictions
tab, found in
Settings. Make sure
you don’t forget
your four digit PIN -
STEP 3: Prepare your content. Download the apps you want
(see the starter list), along with the latest copy of iTunes and the
iOS operating system. Next, transfer (or burn) any music CDs
or photo albums that you want to keep on the iPads. In choosing apps, make sure you support your curriculum. Once your
content library is stocked, its time to start filling up your iPads
- we recommend keeping this the same for each device. If you
plan on sharing setup privileges with a co-teacher, it is best to
think up and use a second PIN that you don’t use for personal
use, such as your banking. At this point, you might consider
budgeting for a protective case which can increase the chance
your iPad will survive a fall on a tile or cement floor. We don’t
recommend clear, plastic screen covers, however, as they can
reduce the responsivity of the screen.
STEP 7. Create a physical storage system. We mounted a clear
magazine rack on the wall, well within reach of a short preschooler. The clear plastic makes it easy to know if the device is
there or not, making it easy to see if the iPad is being used, and
giving it an easy to reach home that children can get used to
using. You may consider security locks if needed, that will tether the iPad or iPod Touch to a table.
STEP 6. Make your iPad hard to
steal. There are a few things you
can do. First, set up the anti-theft
features that come standard as part
of iOS 4.2 or higher. Here’s what
you do. First download and install
an app called Find My iPhone (it
works for iPads and iPod Touches, too).
STEP 8. Now its time to organize your apps. Start by fine-tuning the apps that appear on each screen, much like you’d test
out different materials on a busy shelf. Children are natural
app-browsers, which is why it is so important to put quality
apps on the home screen for them to discover. In addition, you
can use the iOS folder option to make folders (just hold your
finger down over an app icon until it starts to wriggle, and then
drag and drop it over another app). Here are some recommended Apps for each area of the curriculum.
After you register using your iTunes screen name and password, the app registers your device on a remote Apple server.
Now you can start the app anytime to see where your devices
are, superimposed over a Google map.
Recommended Apps
Here’s a list of some no-fail apps. You can place each set in a
different folder if you like, but make sure you put the good
stuff on the first screen.
Try it out first to make sure it works-- it’s especially handy if
you plan on letting your iPad devices go home for a weekend,
say with a staff member for inservice. We were able to successfully track four devices simultaneously. Once you’ve found
your ipad on the map from another iPad or iPhone, you can
choose to lock it up, wipe it clean of any information, or display
a please return message, along with a loud audio alarm.
Art Area
123 Color is a collection of dot-to-dot puzzles, that you touch
to fill in creating an active counting and letter recognition
experience. Visit KidCalc. $1.99. Ages 3up.
Color & Draw for Kids is an open-ended drawing program
that gives you the best of both worlds, free one finger scribbling on a blank screen, or coloring on one of 50 traditionallooking coloring book pages. You can also import your own
photos. Builds art, creativity, drawing, fine motor development. TipiTap Apps. $.99. Ages 3-9.
Color Collector (camera required) is another one of the
Tickle Tap App series. It turns your camera-equipped device
into a color sampler. Builds colors, visual discrimination. zinc
Roe Design. $1.99. Ages 3-5.
Doodle Buddy can be used to sketch out the plans for an
invention on an iPad screen. This app is easy to start and use,
and it uses multi-touch. Builds art, drawing, creativity.
Pinger. $free. Ages 3-up.
Drawing Pad turns your iPad into a smart easel. Because the
tools appear in a drawer on the side of the screen, you can
pull them out or put them away, as needed. Builds drawing,
art, creativity. Darren
Murtha Design.
$1.99. Ages 2-12.
Little Things is a welldesigned hunt and
find experience that
could be a wonderful
collaborative problem
solving experience.
Builds visual discrimination, matching and
logic. KlickTock,
$2. Ages 4-up.
SpinArt. Turn your
iPhone screen into a
paint-splattered mess
with this fun program.
Builds art, creativity, logic (spatial relations). Brian Smith. $1.99. Ages 3-up.
Language (Reading & Writing)
Green Eggs & Ham. Like the other Oceanhouse Media titles,
Green Eggs & Ham follows the same formula of pulling the
text and illustrations from the original Dr. Seuss story, and
presenting it, one page at a time with clear responsive labels.
The simplicity is refreshing. There are now a huge library of
Oceanhouse Media titles, all with this similar design. Builds
Science Area
Magic School Bus: Oceans marks Ms. Frizzle’s iPad debut.
Based on the Scholastic book The Magic School Bus: On The
Ocean Floor by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen,
the app is arranged in ebook fashion, with pages that flip and
hot spots that come to life. Content includes seven science
explorations, 26 real photos and 11 videos of underwater animals and plant life, plus a trivia game on 20 animals. Builds
science, ocean life. Scholastic Media. $8.
Ages 2-up.
My First Weighing Exercises HD. Turn your iPad or iPod
Touch into a balance beam scale. There are three modes of
play, each with three challenge levels, and it is possible to
alternate between ounces and grams. Builds math, equalities,
balance, addition, subtraction, sums, mental math. A&R
Entertainment. $1.99. Ages 2-7.
Solar System for iPad. For a child with an interest in the
stars and planets, this app is fun to just explore, despite the
need for reading. Touch a planet, moon or comet to explore,
in this carefully crafted interactive science poster that covers
every corner of our Solar System. Builds science, astronomy,
the solar system, planets. Touch Press.
reading, word recognition. Oceanhouse Media. $3.99. Ages 3-up.
Interactive Alphabet 1.5. Each letter becomes a toy, in this
well designed, responsive alphabet book that following a simple, tried-and-true technique. Builds reading, alphabet. Piikea
Street. $3. Ages 3-6.
Letter Writer: Oceans is one of two letter tracing apps (the
second is Letter Writer: Space, for lower case). Children move
their finger over each letter to learn how it is formed, with
autocorrecting feedback. Builds writing, letter tracing, fine
motor coordination. Barking Dog Interactive. $.99. Ages 3-7.
Montessori Crosswords is a set of well designed crossword
puzzles, with picture cues and audio for each word. Builds
reading, writing, language. L’Escapadou. $3.99. Ages 3-up.
Nash Smasher! If you want to try an excellent example of
good ebook design, try Nash Smasher! by Bill Doyle with
illustrations by Troy Cummings. Of course the design is
helped along by a good story. Builds reading, emotions, fine
motor. Crab Hill Press. $1.99. Ages 4up.
PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Children's ebooks on
the iPad don't get much better than this interactive rendition
of Peter Rabbit, where every touch makes something interesting happen in support of the story. Builds reading, language.
Loud Crow Interactive Inc. $5. Ages 4up.
Toy Story 2 Read-Along is a 23 page/screen adaptation that
mixes highlights of the second movie (Toy Story 2) with two
games, two songs and three coloring activities that let children smart color the page outlines. Builds reading, language,
logic, creativity. Disney Publishing Worldwide. $4.99. Ages 3-9.
Toontastic. Turn your iPad screen into a puppet show.
Children can record their own voices as they add clipart.
Builds creativity, language, planning, art, music, telling stories, cartoons. Launchpad Toys.
$3. Ages 5-up.
Do you make children’s apps?
Don’t miss Dust or Magic’s 2nd Annual AppCamp, May 22-24
(Sunday - Tuesday), Asilomar, Monterey California, where
marshmallow roasts on the pacific beach mix with conversations about the next great app.
$14. Ages 7-up.
Ultimate Dinopedia: The Most Complete Dinosaur
Reference Ever lets children explore 600 types of
dinosaurs. Builds science, dinosaurs, ecosystems. National
Geographic Society. $6. Ages 6-
Boogie Bopper. Another one of the Tickle Tap Apps, Boogie
Bopper lets children play ten simple melodies like Bingo and
Mary Had a Little Lamb by touching a rainbow shaped xylophone, with circle-shaped keys arranged from low to high.
Even an accidental tap plays the right note, and a series of
taps can create the song. A second more open-ended mode
lets children freely construct their own instrument, by moving musical balls around the screen. There's not a lot to do,
but you can't beat the design for giving children a way to
explore melodies. Builds music, melody, rhythm, causality.
zinc Roe Design. $2. Ages 2-4.
Magic Piano. Turns your iPod into a zany piano keyboard
with social features, that let you share songs with other players, from around the world. Builds music, rhythm. Smule,
Inc. $.99. Ages 4-up.
Math Area
Fish School makes the screen into a letter and numeral busy
box, where failure isn't an option. Builds logic, math (counting, numeral recognition) the alphabet, letter recognition,
shapes, memory. Duck Duck Moose Design. $.99,
$1.99. Ages 2-up.
My First Tangrams HD.
This $1.99 app includes 36
tangram puzzles, with
drag-and-drop autocorrecting. A&R
Entertainment. $1.99.
Ages 3-up.
My First Wood Block
Puzzles. Part of the
Learning is fun educative
game collection, this puzzle app lets you press a
block to swap it as you try
to reconstruct the picture.
It features nine different
animals, three difficulty levels,and sound effects. Builds classification, matching. A&R Entertainment. $1.99. Ages 2-7.
Park Math. Another great app from Duck Duck Moose turns a
playground into things to count, weigh, compare and classify.
There are two levels -- Pre-K and first grade. Builds math,
counting, quantities, adding, subtraction, numerals. Duck
Duck Moose Design. $1.99.
Ages 3-up.
Symmetry Shuffle. Anyone who has ever packed a suitcase
knows the value of spatial intelligence -- the ability to manipulate shapes in your head. This app contains 12 sets of objects
that can be slid, flipped and turned, until all the shapes are
correctly aligned. Builds math, geometry, spatial relations.
Carstens Studios. $1.99. Ages 4-up.
Tickle Tap Toddler Pack contains five activities in one iPad
friendly app. Builds logic, sorting, counting, music, language.
zinc Roe Design. $4.99. Ages 3-6.
Old MacDonald Piano is a 17 key (octave + 2) piano keyboard, that includes four modes: Play and Sing Along (play
Old MacDonald by following highlighted keys), Learn the
Song (play and sing along, also with highlighted keys),
Karaoke Mode (record your voice and piano playing by following words in English, Spanish or French) and Free Style
Mode (free experimentation). See also Twinkle Twinkle Little
Star, which shares a similar design. Builds music, piano.
Kiboomu Inc. $0.99. Ages 3-up.
TonePad. Make musical patterns, and play with the structure
of music. Builds music, timing. LoftLab. $free. Ages 7-up.
The iPad is less than a year old, yet there’s no doubt it, and
devices like it, will transform how children play and learn. As
you would with any traditional material, try each app with different children and change things around once in a while to
keep things interesting. After all, starting each day with a set of
fresh, fun, engaging materials can greatly increase your chances
of a smooth day.
Feature Reviews
MARCH 1, 2011
Here's an alphabetical listing of new products, along with a full review, ratings and tester
feedback. The "Entry Date" refers to the date we first learned of the product.
Ease of Use 9
Body and Brain Connection
Designed by the same team that made Brain Age for the Nintendo DS back in 2006
(Dr. Ryuta Kawashima), Namco's Body and Brain Connection takes advantage of the
Kinect's ability to know where your body is at any given time, bringing an exciting
new twist (at times literally) to the puzzles.
To enter your answer, you might have to kick balls into a goal, or move your arms
Good Value
in order to line up bridges to direct a moving stream of traffic. As a result, this is one of
the most educationally interesting products we've reviewed.
Like the older Brain Age title, you are given a pre-test, and your progress is
recorded as you play. If you do better, the challenge increases, but if you start getting
wrong answers, the challenge decreases. Content includes twenty activities designed
to cover math, logic, reflex, memory and physical-related exercises.
This is one of those titles that makes you feel as if you've just taken an SAT. If your
up for the challenge, and you really want a mental/physical workout, by all means get
this title.
Details: Namco Bandai Games America Inc., Price:
$50. Ages: 6-up. Platform: Xbox Kinect. Teaches/Purpose: memory, logic, math, gross
motor . Rating (1 to 5 stars): 4.8 stars. Entry date: 12/13/2010. [WB]
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
Disney Channel All Star Party
This collection of 34 Disney-related mini-games for 1-4 players is a mixed bag.
Some games are fun, others confusing.
Designed exclusively for the Wii, this game features characters from seven Disney
channel shows, including Camp Rock, Sonny With A Chance and Wizards of Waverly
We lost badly in the Monster Truck race, but had fun (and won easily) throwing
ESRB Rating: Everyone, Comic Mischief
water balloons in Camp Rock, although the idea of tossing balloons at innocent
campers is a bit troublesome.
You can jump to a tutorial at anytime -- even in a game, which is a nice feature, and
the controls are explained well. The more you play, the more games you unlock. There
are both circuit mode and free play mode, and high scores can be saved.
Commercial messages include embedded Disney themes, and trivia about each
show. There's a bit of a "star worship" aspect to this title that we find distasteful, but
that's a call best left to you, the reader. All in all, this is a nice collection of activities.
Developed by Page 44 for Disney Interactive Studios.
Details: Disney Interactive Studios, Price: $50.
Ages: 6-up. Platform: Wii. Teaches/Purpose: logic, Disney trivia, timing, gross motor.
Rating (1 to 5 stars): 4.1 stars. Entry date: 10/26/2010. [WB]
Ease of Use 8
LittleBigPlanet 2
Educational 10
Sackboy has never had it better than in this second edition of LittleBigPlanet.
There's a new story mode, with a bigger, reshaped world (Sackboy is the lead character
Entertaining 10
and your avatar). Our testers found the game easier to get started with, and had a hard
Features 10
time leaving this game.
Content includes 40 new story levels across six themes. A new Create Mode lets
Good Value 10
you make better levels and new games across multiple genres.
Everyone, Comic Mischief
Some features have been simplified. You can reset the controller button for any
object and change the rules to any level using Direct Control. Other new features
include four-player offline/online multiplayer that lets you include scoreboards and
other elements in your creations. There are new gadgets including a grappling hook
for swinging, and power gloves for picking items up and throwing them;
Customizable Sackbots; a cinematic cut-scene maker; new create materials including
Filters, Plasma, and Electrical Neon; and new create tools including a Level Link Badge
to jump from level to level. LittleBigPlanet 2 works with content from the first edition,
allowing you to play in the online community levels created with the original game.
Developed by Media Molecule Ltd. for Sony.
Details: Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc.,
Price: $60. Ages: 5-up. Platform: PlayStation 3. Teaches/Purpose: creativity, logic,
physics. Rating (1 to 5 stars): 4.8 stars. Entry date: 12/7/2010. [WB]
Magic School Bus, The: Oceans
Ms. Frizzle comes to the multi-touch screen, in the app version of the Scholastic
book “The Magic School Bus: On The Ocean Floor” by Joanna Cole and illustrated by
Bruce Degen. Arranged in ebook fashion, the app takes children on a tour of the basic
parts of the ocean. At any point, you can touch any child to hear some dialog, and at
several points, tilt the screen to interact with the graphics. In addition, you can touch
the words to hear the story and then touch again to pause and touch speech bubbles to
hear what the characters are saying. Content includes seven interactive science
explorations, 26 real photos and 11 videos of underwater animals and plant life, plus a
trivia game on 20 animals.
Details: Scholastic Media, Price: $8. Ages: 2-up. Platform:
iPhone, iPad. Teaches/Purpose: science, ocean life. Rating (1 to 5 stars): 4.5 stars. Entry
date: 1/3/2011. [WB]
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
Mario Sports Mix
Containing something for everyone, Mario Sports Mix brings four sports to the Wii
console with a flair that could only come from the designers at Nintendo.
The games -- volleyball, basketball, ice hockey and dodgeball, can be picked up and
played with 1 - 4 players, with or without a Nunchuk (although a Nunchuk is
preferred), in tournament or exhibition play, or against other real players, online.
You can play as one of 12 Nintendo characters or as one of your Miis, and the
ESRB Rating: Everyone, Mild Cartoon
controls are easy to learn. In many cases, the same move works in two games, so you
only have to learn the controls one time. Each game starts with a short tutorial that can Violence
be skipped, and there are three levels to each game. We tried the easy level, and were
able to easily score points; a sign that this game could work with children as young as
There are some usual Mario style twists, for example, you can collect coins while
you play to earn extra items, like a Koopa Shell to use as a shield in Dodgeball. Each
character has unique moves, and stereotypes. For example, Mario has a fireball;
Princess Peach uses heart-filled attacks.
In each sport, you can play with up to three players cooperatively or with up to
four players competitively in a two-on-two match. If you like Mario-style games, you'll
love Mario Sports Mix. Buy it.
Details: Nintendo of America, Price: $50. Ages: 5-up. Platform:
Wii. Teaches/Purpose: Sports. Rating (1 to 5 stars): 4.7 stars. Entry date: 6/24/2010.
Pac-Man Party
You can play with up to four players in various virtual game boards, in both
competitive and cooperative challenges in this complicated board game, featuring Pac
Man characters. Content includes 45 minigames including racing, eating, and rolling a
giant snowball.
You can also knock your friends off a mountain top or test your precision and
endurance skills in curling, tennis and golfing challenges. There are three modes of
play: Story Mode (lets you explore all the game board worlds); Mini-Game Mode; and
Party Mode. You can use Power Cookies during minigames to level the playing fields
by increasing a character's size or putting extra force and speed behind each effort.
Extra content includes the original arcade versions of Pac-Man, Galaga, and Dig Dug.
There are a lot of computer-controlled events that remove the control from the
player. If you have the time to figure out this game, it is a possible borrow. Otherwise
Details: Namco Bandai Games America Inc., Price:
$40. Ages: 8-up. Platform: Wii. Teaches/Purpose: some reading, logic. Rating (1 to 5
stars): 3 stars. Entry date: 8/27/2010. [WB]
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
ESRB Rating: Everyone, Mild Cartoon
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
Plants vs. Zombies DS
While the graphics aren't nearly as good as the iPad version, this DS edition of
Plants vs. Zombies nicely captures the spirit of the game. It has all of the gameplay of
the original PC edition with added single or multi-card multiplayer options, five game
modes, four all new mini-games and 14 achievements.
In the game, a mob of zombies is about to invade your home and you must use
strategically placed home guarding plants to stop them. Each plant has a different
attribute, and they must be deliberately placed on the grid with the DS stylus in order ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+, Animated
Blood, Cartoon Violence
to successfully stop each Zombie. Winning takes planning, logic, and fast hand-eye
coordination. You can also create your own zombie with the Zombatar. Testers liked it.
Note see also the iPad/iPod Touch version.
Details: PopCap Games, Price: $20. Ages: 8-up. Platform:
Nintendo DS. Teaches/Purpose: temporal relations. Rating (1 to 5 stars): 4.5 stars.
Entry date: 1/28/2011. [WB]
Future Releases
MARCH 1, 2011
This section contains a listing of products in the process of being reviewed, but not yet rated. We
also include significant updates of older products.
Air Hogs Hyperactive
Small and fast, this $50 RC car uses a higher frequency radio controller (2.4 Ghz) for
greater range than ever before. It is designed to be used indoors or outdoors.
The small Lithium Polymer battery is charged from six AA batteries that are not
included, that are stored in the controller, like other Air Hog toys. Includes a selection of foam
and rubber tires for different types of racing. Coming Fall 2011, visit
Details: Spin Master Ltd., Price: $50. Ages: 10-up. Platform:
Smart Toy. Teaches/Purpose: An RC vehicle. Entry date: 2/13/2011.
Air Hogs R/C Pocket Coptor
Hard to fly but amazing to watch, this small helicopter is no bigger than a marshmallow,
with two blades and a counterweight. According to Spinmaster, it is the world's smallest
flying helicopter, a fact we did not confirm. However, it does look like some sort of dragon fly
when you first see it. Designed for indoor use, it features a crash-resistant plastic hard body,
twin rotors for stability, and steady-fly technology. Includes pocket copter, controller, and
carry case/charger. Powered by 3 AAA (for the remote) and 6 AA batteries (for the power
If you're looking for a starter helicopter, there are better, easier to fly options for the
same price.
Details: Spin Master Ltd., Price: $35. Ages: 8-up. Platform: Smart
Toy. Teaches/Purpose: spatial relations, operating remote controls, flying, physics. Entry
date: 2/18/2011.
Air Swimmers
A school of large fish was spotted recently, swimming high over the exhibits at the Javits
Center recently at Toy Fair. Air Swimmers ($40, William Mark Corporation,
are radio controlled helium-filled fish that can be flown around a room, untethered. Propelled
by a large tail that flaps slowly from side to side, in a very fish-like way, the pillow-sized toys
come uninflated, and require a trip to your local party store before they can swim -- or fly.
Each fish is powered by 1 AAA battery, which will provide about 4 hours of flying time,
after they are filled with helium. They'll last about two weeks before you need to refill them,
unless, of course, you meet a ceiling fan.
Air Swimmers were invented by a Stanford student, Blake English (pictured), as part of
a product design course. Based on the crowd gathered around his booth at Toy Fair, he
deserves a passing grade, although the true test will come in May, when the first fish appear
in toy stores. See the video here at
Details: William Mark Corporation, Price: $40. Ages: 10-up. Platform:
Smart Toy. Teaches/Purpose: An RC toy. Entry date: 2/17/2011.
Brain Buddy Plush Remote Interactive DVD Set
This plush elephant works as a remote for the interactive DVD (included), allowing your
child to play the multi-game Learn'n Play DVD without using your computer's keyboard or
mouse. The DVD covers letters, numbers, shapes & colors, and animals.
Details: The Brainy Company, Price: $35. Ages: 2-5. Platform:
Smart Toy. Teaches/Purpose: letters, numbers, shapes, colors, animals. Entry date:
MARCH 1, 2011
Made from Neodymium -- a rare earth metal mined in China, Buckyballs are a brand
name for a set of small, strong magnetic balls, sold in sets of 216 for about $30 each. Similar
magnets are sold under other brand names, such as CyberCube, EuroCube, Nanodots,
NeoCube, QQMag, TetraMag and Zen Magnets.
The balls are strong enough to stay in a loop for a bracelet or necklace. They can be very
dangerous if two or more are ingested, because the strong magnets could pinch the walls of
intestinal passages (or worse). So don't eat them.
It is possible to make just about any shape from a set of balls, including a geodesic dome,
as designed by Richard Buckminster Fuller (hence the name, "Buckyballs").
The magnets can be plated with zinc or silver. In this YouTube video, we talk with
Buckyballs brand creator Jake Bronstein during Toy Fair 2011 to learn the story of Buckyballs,
including how they are made, and where they come from.
Details: Maxfield & Oberton Holdings, LLC, Price: $30 and
up. Ages: 8-up. Platform: Toy. Teaches/Purpose: classifying, patterns, comparing quantities.
Entry date: 2/20/2011.
Capture Cam
This motion-activated digital camera has an adjustable motion sensor. When it sees
movement in the room, it takes a photo, or a series of images in rapid succession.
After adjusting the angle of the motion sensor, you place the camera and try not to set it
off. The camera can hold 30 pictures at a time. Photos can be connected to your computer
using the included USB cord, or uploaded to the Spy Photo Lab editing software (available for
free download at So, if you want to put the photo in the middle of a
“Wanted” sign, you could. For quick snap-and-go missions, the motion-activated Capture
Cam can also be used as a manual push-button camera.
Details: Wild Planet, Price: $35. Ages: 8-up. Platform: Smart Toy.
Teaches/Purpose: photography. Entry date: 2/28/2011.
Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
Designed for the Nintendo DS, this action adventure game lets you travel through
multiple worlds to gather allies and battle monsters in order to defeat evil forces. Sound
familiar? There's a lot of depth to the game, however, with 15 character classes, and the ability
to change between classes on the fly.
Details: Nintendo of America, Price: $35. Ages: 10-up. Platform:
Nintendo DS. Teaches/Purpose: logic, creativity. Entry date: 2/10/2011.
Gummy Bears: Gummy Ear Buds
The outer portion of these ear buds are shaped liked gummy bears. The package smells
like gummy bears too, but the actual ear buds just smell like plastic. They come in different
colors and scents, and are compatible with iPod, iPhone, and MP3 Players. Our testers were
less than impressed with the sound quality.
Details: Sakar International Inc., Price: $call. Ages: 5-up. Platform: ear
buds. Teaches/Purpose: a peripheral. Entry date: 2/10/2011.
MARCH 1, 2011
What's next from Vtech, following last year's MobiGo? An $80 touch tablet-like platform,
called InnoPad, designed for ages 4-9. Note: See also LeapPad Explorer for a similar product,
from Leapfrog.
Features include a 5” LCD touch screen, a tilt-sensor, microphone, headphone jack, SD
card storage and a USB connection to a computer for downloading additional content.
Software will come on $25 cartridges, and will include E-books that feature Toy Story,
Dora the Explorer and Disney Princesses, a music player, games and an Art Studio with
painting and drawing applications, for use with either fingers or the included stylus. It also
provides a Photo Viewer/Editor. There will be nine cartridges at launch, plus an MP3 player
for both videos or songs, a Calculator, Calendar, Notepad, Clock with personalized voice
alarm and Friends Address Book.
Visit to see a list of downloadable content. VTech
promises "over 100" download titles by the end of this year. A Learning Lodge Navigator is
designed to track progress.
Details: VTech Electronics North America, Price: $80. Ages: 4-9.
Platform: Smart Toy. Teaches/Purpose: early learning, reading, all school subjects. Entry
date: 2/13/2011.
LeapPad Explorer
Coming later this year from Leapfrog, a new tablet-style configuration of the Leapster
that is designed around the existing didj (Flash-based) technology.
Features include a slightly larger 5 inch color screen, accelerometer (for tilt input), single
touch screen with stylus, d-pad controls, USB, camera, 4 AA batteries, 2 GB of memory and no
SD card expansion. It also has a built in microphone and a headphone jack. According to
Leapfrog, the software library will include 80 "apps" or cartridges that will include 14
LeapPad titles, 20 Cartridges plus about 50 activities that can be downloaded. A fall release
date is planned. While it costs about $20 more than the Vtech InnoPad, it also has the
included camera.
Details: Leapfrog, Price: $100. Ages: 4-up. Platform: Smart Toy,
Leapster. Teaches/Purpose: all school subjects. Entry date: 2/11/2011.
LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars
Originally scheduled for release last Fall, LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars is the next
chapter for the series that was one of the first to bring drop-in, drop-out interactivity to the
Developed by the original team at Traveller’s Tales, the game will ship on March 22,
2011 for Windows, Wii, Nintendo DS & 3DS, PS3, PSP, and Xbox 360 systems.
Content will include LEGO-ized characters from both seasons of the animated television
series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, as well as characters from the theatrical Star Wars Saga.
Features will include new battle modes including head-to-head combat and a better
level builder,so that you can make your own bases and battlefields. You can play as a Jedi or
Separatist; and new play modes include Squad command, Lightsaber slicing, Lightsaber
jumps, long distance Jedi attacks and Grapple Tie-Ups. Visit Prices
are $50 for Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, $40 for Nintendo 3DS, and $30 for Nintendo DS,
PSP, and Windows.
Details: LucasArts, Price: $50. Ages: 7-up. Platform: PlayStation 3,
Wii, Xbox 360, PSP, Nintendo DS. Teaches/Purpose: logic, socialization. Entry date:
MARCH 1, 2011
Rock Star Mickey
Coming Fall 2011, a scaled back Rock Star Mickey from Fisher-Price. Mickey is dressed
in rock star gear including sunglasses and a guitar.
As he sings, his head bobs, he kick-steps and finishes with his signature move, the
mouska-split, where he plays the guitar with his nose. Songs include "You Really Got Me".
Runs on 4 AA batteries, included.
Details: Fisher-Price, Inc., Price: $50. Ages: 2-up. Platform: Smart
Toy. Teaches/Purpose: dancing, music. Entry date: 2/28/2011.
Smart-e-Dog plays music, games and interactive stories by squeezing his paws. He can
be personalized to call your child by name, or speak Spanish (included), French or Chinese
(available for download from online store). You can also download additional content from
the online store listing 8,000 songs, 100 stories, and 30 games. Also available: Smart-e-Cat.
Details: The Brainy Company, Price: $40. Ages: 2-5. Platform:
Smart Toy. Teaches/Purpose: language. Entry date: 2/28/2011.
Smarty Pants School
Smarty Pants School is an app for the iPad designed to enable parents and teachers to
evaluate children’s basic reading skills according to the recommendations of the National
Reading Panel. The app assesses a child's early reading skills in five critical areas: Letter
Knowledge (how well the child knows the letters of the alphabet by name); Phonemic
awareness (how well the child can hear, identify and compare the sounds that make up
words); Phonics (how well the child understands the relationships between written letters
and spoken sounds); Reading "phonetically (how well the child can decipher simple words);
and Spelling "sight" words (how quickly the child can recognize and spell common,
sometimes irregularly spelled words). This assessment takes less than 10 minutes and is full
of positive encouragement and game-like activities designed to reduce children’s test anxiety.
At the end of the assessment the child's performance in each basic skill area along with
standard grade-level expectations is provided, along with suggestions as to the Smarty Pants
class most appropriate for that child’s current reading skills. It also offers links to activities
parents can do with their children at home.
Details: Smarty Pants School LLC, Price: $free. Ages: 4up. Platform: iPad. Teaches/Purpose: reading. Entry date: 2/9/2011.
MARCH 1, 2011
Speed Slider
This bowl-sized toy is designed to be kicked like a soccer ball either alone, or in groups
of up to six.
The sturdy, half-dome component has a slick, flat underside so it can glide smoothly
across the floor in response to a light toe tap (for small play areas) or a power kick (for larger
The dome contains four big buttons, each displaying a different color, number and
direction. The top of the dome has a fifth colored button and a speaker that calls out
commands. Commands include colors, numbers, math problems, double digits, and
sequences. Players kick the buttons that correspond to the command. (Example: “9 minus 7”
– player kicks button # 2; “Dribble” – player kicks left button, then right button, then left
button; “53” – player kicks button # 5 then button # 3.)
Younger players have the option to start with more basic commands, such as a single
color or number, and work their way up to more challenging levels. Depending on the
number of accurate kicks in each round, the game will either stay in beginner mode or
automatically advance to games that incorporate a wider variety of commands and longer
rounds. The game plays music, tracks each player's time or score and announces the results.
Four additional games include:
• Speed Tap – player taps the top button, alternating feet, as many times as they can in
a timed skill drill;
• Speed Keep Away – players take turns trying to keep one player from gaining
possession of the slider;
• Speed Pass – players work toward a shared score in a cooperative pass-kick version
of the main game;
• Speed Memory – player kicks the slider in the same order as a growing series of
memory-building commands.
Coming Fall 2011.
Details: Wild Planet, Price: $25. Ages: 6-up. Platform: Smart Toy.
Teaches/Purpose: lower body coordination, math facts. Entry date: 2/28/2011.
Spy Net Video Watch with Night Vision
The follow up to last year's Spy Net Video Watch, this new version looks the same, with
the added ability to take videos and photos in complete darkness, using a night vision mode.
You can capture images of 'shadow agents' with the new Spy Net's Most Wanted feature, and
play new missions and games. The capacity is the same: 20 minutes of video or over 3 hours
of audio, or up to 2000 photos.
Details: Jakks Pacific, Inc., Price: $60. Ages: 6-up. Platform:
Smart Toy. Teaches/Purpose: representational play, language, photography. Entry date:
Square of Life
Looking for a collaborative science project for your preschool or elementary classroom?
Bucket Buddies and Square of Life are designed to get classrooms working together. They are
collaborative projects sponsored by CIESE (Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science
Education). Visit or http://www.ciese.
Details: Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education, http://www.ciese.
org/curriculum/squareproj/. Price: $free. Ages: 3-up. Platform: Windows, Mac OSX,
Internet Site. Teaches/Purpose: science, biology. Entry date: 2/27/2011.
MARCH 1, 2011
Steel Diver
Can you steer your tiny submarine through a 3D underwater maze? This combat game,
launched along with the Nintendo 3DS combines side scrolling arcade action with an
augmented reality game, where the 3DS becomes a periscope. You start by choosing from
three submarines, controlled using the lower touch screen. You have to be careful to avoid
enemy submarines, depth charges and sea creatures.
When in battle mode, the 3DS gyroscope turns the entire game console into a controller.
There are both quick play and mission modes, and games can be saved.
A two-player strategy mode lets you fight against another player. While the graphics
seem small, the 3D effects make it seem like you're looking into a real fish tank, with bubbles
adding depth.
Details: Nintendo of America, Price: $40. Ages: 8-up. Platform:
Nintendo 3DS. Teaches/Purpose: timing, logic, strategy, problem solving. Entry date:
TeachTown: Basics 2.0
Designed for young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders with a development age
of three to seven years, TeachTown: Basics covers Pre-K through first grade curricula and
teaches concepts that improve performance in six key learning areas: Language Development,
Language Arts, Cognitive Skills, Social & Emotional Skills, Adaptive Skills, and Mathematics.
Each of these areas has five levels that follow a developmental progression, with increasing
linguistic, cognitive, and/or social complexity. Teachers complete a ranking questionnaire
regarding the student's current performance, giving the child a starting rank for each domain.
The curriculum is then based on student performance and is adjusted for each student, and
curriculum can be customized to meet IEP goals.
The instructional program offers On Computer Programs connected to motivational Off
Computer Activities. The On Computer Lessons motivate children by offering cartoon
rewards and animated games upon completion of the lesson. These rewards are awarded on
an Intermittent Reinforcement Schedule, meaning they get a reward on average for every four
correct answers.
Subscription prices start at $40/month, or $380/year for in home use. For school
pricing, please call.
Details: Teach Town Inc., Price: $40/month and up. Ages: 3-7.
Platform: Windows, Mac OSX. Teaches/Purpose: language and social skills. Entry date:
Tetris Link
Here's a low tech twist on a high tech game, with no batteries required. Players take
turns rolling the die and dropping Tetris parts (Tetriminos) into a special plastic tower. The
object is to link Tetriminos of the same color to earn points, while blocking opponents from
scoring, bringing an element of strategy into the game. Players track their points in real-time
with the built-in scoring markers and when the tower is full the player with the highest score
wins the game. Designed for up to 4 players. The kit includes a game tower, 100 playing
pieces in four colors, playing die and instructions.
Details: Techno Source, Price: $20. Ages: 6-up. Platform:
Smart Toy. Teaches/Purpose: strategy. Entry date: 2/28/2011.
MARCH 1, 2011
TNT Reading
This reading software combines reading games with attention and memory building
exercises. TNT (Test 'n' Train) Reading focuses on the following four areas: graphemephoneme matching; sustained attention; mental processing speed; and working memory. The
exercises can be set to progress automatically, with each skill tested at each level. If a child has
not mastered a skill, he/she receives training until mastery occurs. If a child does master the
skill, they are rewarded with a game break.
There are three levels, each consisting of three Mastery Steps. Each Mastery Step is based
on grade level and progresses from such topics as upper & lower case letter recognition,
matching and sequencing (Level 1 - Mastery Step 1 for PreK-K) through discriminating
between similar vowel digraphs and distinguishing differences between diphthong sounds
(Level 3 - Mastery Step 9 for Grades 1-3). Each Level is priced at $495 for one station with
unlimited users, or you can purchase all three Levels for $795.
Details: BrainTrain, Price: $495. Ages: 4-up. Platform: Windows.
Teaches/Purpose: reading. Entry date: 1/24/2011.
Vtech Peek at Me Bunnies
This plush bunny doubles as a night light. It has sensors on his body and learning keys
on its hands and feet. A parent can switch the bunny to Day or Night mode. When in night
mode, a yellow star on the bunny’s tummy plays songs and glows. Includes peek-a-boo play
(6 months), learning body parts (12 months) and emotional play (24 months).
Details: VTech Electronics North America, Price: $15. Ages: 6
months - 2. Platform: Smart Toy. Teaches/Purpose: causal learning, body parts, emotional
play. Entry date: 2/27/2011.
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