Best entertainment news apps for kids

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I recently visited a book publisher to speak at an away-day for its children’s publishing team. The brief was to talk about the children’s apps market, including innovative startups and developers.There was certainly lots of whizzy tech to talk about. Augmented reality; multi-touch counting aids; powerful music sequencers disguised as digital toys; use of the camera; physical accessories… A wave of innovation in the kid-apps space as developers explore the learning and play possibilities of touchscreen devices.But here’s the thing: the more I thought about all this technology, and how my own three and five year-old sons use apps, the more I realised that the best children’s apps are successful because of a pair of more traditional qualities.

Great storytelling. Strong characters.
It seems apps aren’t so revolutionary after all, but that’s a good thing. Treat any claims that apps are set to kill off books with the derision they deserve. Apps are just another form of storytelling, and one that sit alongside printed books rather than trying to replace them.

(This, hopefully, will head off the crotchety commenters who appear whenever I write about children’s apps for The Guardian, saying things like “You idiot! Children should be reading BOOKS, not staring at a screen!” Ridiculous, since children in even the geekiest households are doing both, not replacing the former with the latter.)

Children love great stories and strong characters, whether they’re on a screen or a printed page. But that seemingly-obvious thought led me to three conclusions about the children’s apps market, and how it may evolve.

Conclusion one: it’s hardly surprising that famous children’s brands are popular on the app stores, while new characters and stories struggle for attention.

Two of the only prove success stories (as in actual figures) for children’s book-apps are Oceanhouse Media’s 1m paid sales of Dr. Seuss book-apps, and P2 Games’ 600k paid sales of games based on brands like Peppa Pig, Postman Pat and Bob the Builder.

Meanwhile, various Disney films and brands like Dora the Explorer and Thomas and Friends are regular fixtures in the upper reaches of Apple’s App Store chart.

With no dedicated Kids category on either Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play store, children’s apps are scattered between categories like Books, Education, Games and Entertainment, so it’s no surprise that parents resort to trusted brands when parting with their cash for paid apps.Yet there’s something else going on here: they’re buying apps with familiar stories and/or strong characters.

The problem is that there is some great storytelling happening in apps from less familiar sources: independent developers around the world, often working in twos, threes or fours on inventive, well-crafted storybook-apps.

In the last two or three months alone in another job running a children’s apps blog, I’ve discovered apps by studios like Square Igloo, Happy Ink Publishing, La Souris Qui Raconte, Ink Robin, Gabuduck, GameDigits, Urbn;Pockets, Protein One, Lullaby, Spinlight Studio, Bookva Press, Hocusbookus, Ickypen, Secret Attic and FeeFiFoFun.

Very few of them are giving Peppa, Thomas and The Cat In The Hat a run for their money at the top of the app store charts. In fact, many of my favourite children’s apps in 2012 have sunk without trace after their release. But it shows there are new stories and characters out there to be found.

Which brings us on to conclusion two: if these companies are some of the great storytellers on smartphones and tablets, should they be hooking up with larger publishers to find an audience, just as talented authors and illustrators do in the traditional books world?

I’m seeing some movement towards exactly this, with publishers actively scouting for interesting app developers, as well as animators (not just illustrators) and authors who are comfortable with and excited about interactive media.

It’s happened already for a number of projects, like Penguin’s Peppa Me Books and Ladybird Classic Me Books, which were collaborations with British startup Made In Me; or Barefoot Books’ partnership with Touch Press on Barefoot World Atlas; or HarperCollins’ ongoing relationship with US developer Bean Creative on its Fancy Nancy series and other books.

Publishers may also have a matchmaking role to play, introducing established or new children’s authors to interesting app developers, not just to make digital versions of existing books, but also to work on brand new stories that may appear as apps first, then make the leap to print.

And now conclusion three: that some of these partnerships will popularise the idea that great storytelling can come from children, not just authors. Children actively participating in a story, or telling their own completely new tales using characters and tools provided to them.The first wave of children’s book-apps for the most part fell into two camps: those with too little interaction – basically digitised print pages with a voiceover – and those with too much interaction for the sake of it.

(The latter being book-apps with a physics engine and so many flying objects, that children forgot entirely about the actual story, in favour of pinging things around the screen. The kind of apps that put author Julia Donaldson off the idea of sanctioning a Gruffalo app, which remains a shame.)

There have been some very good examples of interactivity done right to serve the story rather than sideline it – British firm Nosy Crow’s apps spring to mind – but we’re now ready for a new wave of storytelling apps born of more thought about how children can participate or tell their own stories.

Early pointers include Made In Me’s technology enabling children to record dialogue or sounds and attach it to specific items, characters or spots on digital book pages, and the Collins Book Cat series of book-apps, which tell a story then encourage children to make up their own tales using its characters, scenes and key vocabulary.

Meanwhile, one of the other proven success stories in the children’s apps space – Swedish firm Toca Boca with its 10m app downloads – has built fervent loyalty from parents through strong character design, and its decision to leave storytelling entirely in the hands of its young users.

Children love to be read stories, whether on printed pages or a touchscreen, and they love to tell stories and roleplay, whether that’s making sock-puppets or running a Toca Store on an iPad. Great stories, strong characters.

There are tons of educational apps for kids available for the iPhone, iTouch, and iPad, but what are the best? Kids Activities Blog takes on the task of finding the absolute best apps for kids.What are the best apps for kids? That is the question answered by the bloggers at Kids Activities Blog. They researched many of the educational apps for kids now available for the iPhone through iTunes.
They kid-tested many of the reading apps – for preschoolers and Kindergartners learning to read. Some of the apps mentioned are Bob Books Reading Magic, Dinosaur Train, PBS’ Super Why!, Dr. Suess Bookshelf, Spelling City, Alphatots, iWrite Words, Bugs and Buttons, Jumpstart, and Smarty Pants app. Each of these apps made the list of apps that kids like to use.
Kids Activities Blog also kid-tested math apps – for Kindergartners and above. Some of the apps that topped their list were Rocket Math, Tic-Tac-Math, Playful Minds, Play 123, Fish School, and Math Bingo. All these apps were engaging enough to call them “tear-free”.
Parents are finding that educational apps for kids are an easy entertainment solution. By handing a child an iPhone at a restaurant, in the car, or while waiting it is not only entertainment, but a way to sneak in some learning. A fact drill worksheet might not appeal to a 7 year old, but racking up Bingo Bugs on Math Bingo covering the same information will keep them practicing math for hours.
Teachers are encouraging students to use these tools as homework helpers. It is a win-win situation for all. Educational apps range in price from free {most free apps have limited function} to $4.99. Two of the apps mentioned in the article are subscription-based making them more of an investment.Kids Activities Blog loves to uncover easy ways to sneak learning into play. These apps are not only kid-tested, but parent-approved! Next time your child is seeking entertainment, you might consider handing him your phone. Kids Activities Blog is a great resource for parents, teachers and caregivers. They publish fun things to do with kids twice a day.

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