This has been noted before - and by minds more advanced than my own - but the problem with children is that you can’t switch them off.
Now I don’t want to wish my time with the kids away - I know very well that, this time next decade, the Curly Girlie will only acknowledge my existence when she wants money or a lift and Alpha Blondie will have developed his “mental man cave” where males go when they want to block out the world around them in order to concentrate more fully on watching rugby, reading the Economist or playing poker on their Blackberry. But still, sometimes I wish they would just stop. Only for a short time, but... stop.
Long enough to, say, do something administrative in the Post Office without Blondie savaging the Kinder Eggs. Or long enough to get the one who is bleeding fixed without the one who is not bleeding running out of the waiting room and straight into the main road. Or long enough for me to clear up after the explosively-bowelled dog. That kind of thing.
Happily, in lieu of an off switch, the modern Mother has at her disposal the iPhone and its child-friendly apps. All hail the iPhone.
Long ago, before Alpha Blondie was even invented, I downloaded a great little app called Peekaboo Barn. The Curly Girlie liked it so much that I also downloaded its two sister apps, Peekaboo Wild and Peekaboo Forest. Curly liked the absorbing little games and Mummy loved getting five minutes respite to do whatever: everyone was happy.
Fast forward two years and imagine my surprise and unrestrained delight when Night & Day Studios, who make Peekaboo, offered me the chance to review an updated version of Peekaboo Barn and some other new games for this here blog. I tell you, a free copy of a game I’ve already got and two new ones... as The Husband so rightly pointed out “That’s nearly four quid you’ve made from blogging, right there”. Never one to hoard my riches, I also have a couple of apps to give away to lucky winners, so ‘stay tuned for that’.
So... it’s fairly clear from the above that we already like Peekaboo Barn. It’s a simple little game, whereby a very appealing red barn jumps about to get your attention, while making an animal noise: tap the screen once, and the doors open to reveal the animal; its name comes up on the screen and a cute little kid voice says “CHI-cken!” (or whatever) with a great deal of enthusiasm; tap the screen again and it moves on to the next animal. And that’s it.
But, sometimes, simple things are the best. Two things make PB a hit in our house: first, it’s easy enough for the kids to do by themselves and, second, it’s educational enough for me to feel ok about parking them in front of it for a short while.
So what about the update that Night & Day is so keen to promote?
One major difference is a much-extended list of available languages. Previously only offered in English and Spanish, it now has another five European and three Asian languages to download (albeit for an extra $0.99 on top of the app price of $1.99). The latest version is also iPad-friendly, whereas previously it was iPhone and iPod only.
The update also has a new feature that should extend the game’s longevity in our household. Whereas the just-turned two-year-old Alpha Blondie is bang on target age for the game, the Curly one was getting a bit old for it. And one downside to the iPhone, is its inability to split down the middle... But a function that allows you to record your own voices saying the animal names has given it a new lease of life for us. For people who speak a different language to those offered in the packs, this feature will enable them to customise it to their linguistic heart’s content.
It does take a while to record all the words, which demanded a bit too much concentration from Blondie, but both kids are now deeply thrilled to hear their own voices in the game. Apparently, there really is nothing more hilarious that hearing yourself say “rabbit” at a volume only previously reached by aircraft and thrash metal bands.
All in all: Peekaboo Barn is engaging for kids and reassuringly didactic for parents. It looks nice. They can use it alone without downloading a load of other stuff you don’t want. When they like it, they’re quiet. What more do you want for £1.49?
The next Night & Day app up for review is Go Away, Big Green Monster. This little animation is based on a book of the same name by Ed Emberley. Basically, there’s a big green monster, whose big green face, big yellow eyes and sharp white teeth certainly made Curly and Blondie cling a bit tightly to Mummy on the sofa... but then we pick him apart: “go away big red mouth” we cry, and “go away squiggly hair” and “you don’t scare me blueish, greenish nose” until the monster really doesn’t look very scary any more.
The different modes of play are rather pleasing: you can read the book yourself, listen to it being read by a precocious child or Mr Emberley himself, or hear a song version. The song makes me smile as it’s performed by a feisty girl singer in a bluesy / folksy style, which is rather cool and not at all patronising. The kids clearly find it rather funky.
Three-year-old Curly has a bit of a monster-phobia at the moment: it seems ‘shadow monsters’ are especially persistent at this time of year. The other night, one even snuck past the “no monsters” sign that we painted and put on her door, which only goes to show that they’re getting wily too. So I was interested to see if she would get a confidence boost from taking control of this Big Green Monster.
Certainly, the tension that was built up along with the description of the monster, was released again as we brought him back down to size. At the end, we all did a rousing “don’t come back!” and she seemed to enjoy it. Anything that backs up my line on monsters – a) they’re just silly things that come from our imagination, b) they can’t really hurt you, and c) any further monster-related concerns should be reported at once to Mummy – is good with me.
Go Away, Big Green Monster is rather short but very sweet: $2.99 for your iPhone or iPad from an iTunes Store near you.
And finally, it’s another cover version – an app based on the classic board book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. To misquote the popular saying, this one is a matter of “last but least”. It’s all a bit weak: a basic counting game that seems to rely on the charm of the Eric Carle illustrations, without any innovative ideas on how to turn a static text into an interactive game.
At the most basic level, you tap on a plum and a voice says “one plum”, tap on two pears and a voice says “two pears”, repeat until you reach five apples and then it just starts again. No climax, no fanfare, no feedback for the child. Target-audience Blondie wandered off and non-plussed Curly said “why is it just starting again?” Well, quite.
The higher level, which is designed to engage older children with more counting ability, is a bit better as they have to listen to instructions and race against the clock to select the desired items from a choice of caterpillar-based foodstuffs. But still: the clock ticks down, they get excited, they tap three pickles, four pears, five cherry pies and then... nothing. Not even a “yay, you did it!” Nothing at all – it just starts again. It’s no way to treat a child...
In return for the relatively small outlay of a couple of quid ($2.99) it’s fine, I suppose. But it’s not up to the usual standard of Night & Day Studios. Unlike their other games, Hungry Caterpillar isn’t at all well thought out from the child’s point of view. Simple is good; simplistic isn’t.
So there you go, my first blog review. For those who stayed with me through all that, I did tempt you with an offer of freebies: Night & Day Studios kindly offered a giveaway so, in a double-whammy, this is also my first blog competition. If you’d like a copy of the all-new Peekaboo Barn, Go Away Big Green Monster or The Very Hungry Caterpillar for your iPhone, then please leave a comment on this page. If there’s, er, more than one comment, then I’ll draw a winning name from a hat – that seems fair, plus it takes me back to my salad days in BBC Local Radio, which will be delightfully nostalgic.
Cheers and bon app-etit.