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Spot the Dot for iPad is a fun, simple children's game

Don't look now, but it's 2011 out there. Contemporary kids are playing with contemporary toys, and Ruckus Media Group's iPad-only app Spot the Dot (US$3.99) is an example of just that. Spot the Dot was created by author David A. Carter, whose One Red Dot book (among others) inspired the app.

Spot the Dot is a fun mix of memory, visual discrimination and puzzles that will keep toddlers engaged. Most importantly, the game encourages adults to sit with the young player(s) and offer another level of engagement. When used as intended, Spot the Dot is more than an electronic baby sitter. Here's my review.

Look and Feel

Carter's books feature brightly-colored pop-ups and a challenge. In One Red Dot, readers must find the red dot hidden among the ornate pop-ups. In 600 Black Dots, readers have -- you guessed it -- 600 black dots to find.

Spot the Dot keeps with both the aesthetic and the theme. The game features 10 "play spaces," each with its own mission and gameplay. A simple welcome screen and voice-over provide the instructions. Everything is brightly-colored and friendly.

Gameplay

Spot the Dot is simple, yet still compelling to young minds. For example, the initial welcome screen invites players to find a red dot. Simple black text ("Spot the red dot.") appears on a field of green, and the "o" in "dot" is red. Users tap the "o" to begin the first challenge.

The welcome screen "slides" aside to reveal the first puzzle, which resembles an ornate quilt comprised of triangles, squares and yes, dots. Again, the voice-over provides an instruction ("find the red dot") and it's time to begin the hunt. Tap the wrong dot and a tone is heard. Get it right and the dot slides into a series of circles at the top of the screen, one for each challenge.

The second level has jr. hunting for a yellow dot from under 12 orange "cards." Tapping each card reveals the shape (or series of shapes) beneath. If s/he gets it wrong, the game continues. Once s/he's correct, the yellow dot joins its red counterpart at the top of the screen and the 3rd level begins.

Thus the game continues. As I said, the gameplay changes. One features shapes that grow and then "pop," Perfection-style (my 6-year-old found this level the most challenging), and another displays "floating" shapes that must be tapped to assemble the target circle.

Once all challenges have been met, players can jump to any level they wish durning subsequent games. Plus, the target dot always appears in a different spot, preventing kids from simply memorizing its location.

Encouraging Engagement

I'm on the fence about handing the iPad over to my kids. On one hand, it's something they enjoy and can be a powerful reinforcer. Also, they exist in a world that's significantly different than the one I inhabited as a toddler. Electronic games are nearly ubiquitous and kids are proficient.

The temptation is to leave them be once they're "plugged in." An Angry Birds marathon during a multi-hour car ride is one thing. The same as an alternative to time spent outdoors or embedding Play-Doh beneath some fingernails is another. We've all done it -- including me -- and felt guilty afterwords.

The nice thing about Spot the Dot is that it's a game you can play along side jr., and you needn't have a degree in education to figure out how. Talk about the other colors and shapes on the screen. Try to predict where the dot might be, listen to the music, do some counting and so on.

My 6-year-old (he's my official kids' app tester) fully enjoyed Spot the Dot, and had fun using each level as a game once he met all of the challenges. He was a bit old, admittedly, but I imagine the tasks will be perfect for a kid of 3, 4 or 5 years.

Conclusion

Spot the Dot features electronic versions of many games that would be at home in a preschool classroom. The re-play options are nice and there's ample opportunity for "floor time" with a parent or guardian. For just under four bucks, most kids (and parents) should enjoy Spot the Dot.

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