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Two iOS apps meant to teach toddlers valuable lessons

There is a new trend starting in interactive children's media: books that don't really tell a fully formed story, but are meant to teach a lesson. As with many new ideas, the first ones are pretty rough and may not be worth bothering with, but the potential is vast.

Loris and the Runaway Ball
(US$1.99), the first app from Pointed Stories, is meant to teach toddlers what to do if their ball gets thrown into the street accidentally. This is an important lesson, which drew me to the app, but in testing it out, it left quite a bit to be desired and is hardly worth the price. This universal app relays a very short story told by Lincoln (Loris' older brother) about what happened when the ball wound up in the street. The app is just a handful of pages, it has no sound, and the animation is extremely limited. The graphics may be sweet to some toddlers, but the water-colored pictures looked rough and quickly tossed together to me. With no sound, there is no narration. The app seems to be little more than a strip of pictures that you swipe to get to the next one. The only interaction is a decision point where you can choose who Loris should ask to help get the ball back. You can ask Lincoln, Loris' dad or a neighbor named Mrs. Seal. Each choice branches to three specific pages, then goes right back to the story for the ending. That's about all there is to it, and it's not a lot.

The lessons Loris and the reader are meant to learn? Mrs. Seal is glad to help and tosses the ball back. Lincoln, who has crossed the street before, knows to listen, wait and make sure it's clear before he crosses the street. Dad always knows what to do. He holds Loris' hand and tells her to look left, look right, look left again, then they cross together. That's the whole app. You can get through it in less than three minutes, and I would question its worth at even $0.99, much less the $1.99 Pointed Stories is asking for.

Kids Fireman ($1.99 from Ducky Lucky Studio) is a bit more involved. This is not a universal app, and it doesn't scale up well on the iPad. It tells the story of what happens in case of a fire, and there is quite a bit more interaction built in compared to Loris and the Runaway Ball. First, you dial 911 and are asked for your name and address. The scene changes to the firehouse, where you open garage doors to reveal the truck and ever-present Dalmatian fire dog. Swipe to have the fireman slide down a pole, then dress him in his hat, coat and boots by moving objects. Next, the fire truck takes off to the strains of a very poorly sung repetitive song.

In the fire truck you can turn on the siren, steer the wheel and use the microphone. But all of this just kicks off planned actions and is hardly involving. At the fire, the truck's doors need to be opened to reveal fire gear. Next, you squirt water at a burning building, then climb the ladder to save a cat. As a reward, you can play with Sparky the fire dog, but he doesn't do much. Amazingly, his water bowl empties without the dog even being near it to drink. Then you're onto the first screen again, where you need to call 911. The music is a bit annoying, but tiny kids might like it. Although there are activities, the quality, amount and implementation pale by comparison to current interactive children's story books. I would consider it a decent first try, but once again, it's overpriced and oversimplified.

It's true both of these apps are meant for toddlers, but even so, the entertainment value is very low, especially in Loris and the Runaway Ball. Apps designed to teach very young children about different situations are something that will grow into maturity, and it won't take too long to get there at the breakneck speed of all the App Store submissions. If your child has an interest in firemen, Kids Fireman might be worth a look. On the other hand, Loris and the Runaway Ball simply isn't worth the price of admission.



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