Designed to help teach your children shapes, colors and counting, PLAY123 is truly a fun and interactive learning actity app. I have the good fortune to be able to test-drive a number of apps designed for children, but few are anywhere near as fantastic as this one. When you can hand your iPad over to your 3 year old and they can immediately navigate through it and try all of the activities without any guidance from you, it is a testament to a well-designed and engaging interface.
This app takes the task of learning about shapes, colors and numbers a step further than any other recognition and reptition style app out there.
Working with the app is easy, with helpful narration spoken aloud with each activity. Simple and clear instructions are given to you and your child as the activity begins while you rehearse the behavior expected within. The interface is elegant and reactive, the graphics are colorful and vibrant and the musical score that plays quietly in the background is actually quite motivational and catchy.
In one activity, your child taps on the screen to drop various shapes from the virtual sky and must then stack them as high as possible. Your child can try as many times as they like to properly stack the shapes, learning as they go that it is very difficult to balance a square on top of a circle or on the top point of a triangle. These kinds of real-world behaviors make for valuable lessons even beyond learning the shapes themselves.
Another activity teaches your children to draw lines on the screen (however they like, with curves and bends) in each of three colors (which are spoken aloud when the child selects one). As they draw, shapes fall in from the edges of the screen and actually interact with their drawings, sliding along the curves and collecting in the crevices and stacking up.
I could continue describing activities for quite some time, with each just as remarkable and enjoyable. Watch colors blend to become other colors, select colors and objects based on the dirction given by the narrator, make objects spin, learn what up and down mean as well as left and right, identify written numbers and much, much more!
For those with children new to using an iPad, this app has value even beyond the content itself. Because each activity teaches your child to draw or tap on the screen, they also learn how to work with a tablet in ways that will help them as they use other apps as well.
What I liked: This app has activities with brief introductions and instructions that can be played at the pace set by your child; I find that when your child has the hang of an activity they want to power through it more quickly than when they are just learning it.
What I didn’t like: I had to really search for something about this app that I didn’t like. One thing I noticed was that in some of the free-form drawing activities you really had to connect your lines which means little fingers that lift slightly before the shape is completed won’t see a result on-screen. While it may be difficult to remedy this, even just an audible ‘warning noise’ or narrative ‘try again’ may be helpful so they aren’t discouraged or confused by the vanishing, incomplete shape.
To buy or not to buy: My mind is blown that this app is free, as it would be a bargain at a much higher price.