Bottom line: An inexpensive app that has some good features but could use a few upgrades to provide enough support for its intended age group.
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SimpleSort: Counting is designed to use sorting to help toddlers and preschoolers develop early math skills. I had a hard time writing this review because there are things I really like about this app and some things that drove me a bit batty. After a few re-writes I decided to take you through the app step-by-step.
When you open the app, either I hadn’t had enough coffee or it’s not immediately apparent what to do. There is a menu button which I thought was either for settings or to start playing the app but it actually takes you to iTunes or email. I tried tapping on Ms. Cloud as well as “SimpleSort: Counting” but nothing happened. Then I noticed the little page flap on the bottom right of the screen and realized I had to swipe. Recommendation #1: Add more visual cues for direction. (We’ll be seeing this recommendation pop up a few times.)
Once on the home screen, an introductory message is read by Ms. Cloud. (Nice Feature #1: the instructions are shown on the screen and the words are highlighted as they are read.) There are three games that can be played, the first is “Count, Sort, and Place in Order” – so let’s play!
Ten numbered buckets appear on the screen and Ms. Cloud tells us to choose any 3, 4, 5 or 6 bucket combo to play with. Recommendation #2: My preference would be to incorporate a settings feature in this app that would enable the parent or teacher to choose up-front the level of difficulty for the games (e.g. the number of buckets). In the absence of that being pre-determined, if the app is expecting the child to do something, there should be some kind of visual cue to help them. Toddlers and preschoolers (not to mention children with special needs) often have difficulty processing audio instructions, let alone multi-step ones.
I chose the buckets numbered 1, 2 and 3 (because I lack imagination). Once you’ve chosen a minimum of three buckets then you can start the game. Nice Feature #2: The red glow around the buckets as they are selected and the big green button the child presses to start game play – these are great visuals – in the one case reinforcing and in the other a cue for how to proceed. I pressed the big green button and was then presented with one tree, two sets of lego blocks and three large golf balls.
Tapping the help button at this point provides a screen full of instructions for the parent or teacher to read, breaking down the process into five steps. Recommendation #3: I would prefer that the child’s audio instructions also be broken down into steps, supported by visual cues when needed. At this point the child is being asked to execute a series of instructions and not only are all of them being given at once but the child is only told what to do once - which leads to - Recommendation #4: The developer should add a repeat button so that the child can listen to instructions more than once if needed.
I went ahead and tapped on the one tree. Nice Feature #3: Ms. Cloud said “One” (the counting is significantly louder than the other narration for some reason) and the number 1 showed on the screen. I like this feature not just for reinforcing number recognition but because it gives a concrete representation of what “1” actually means. Nice feature #4: As soon as I selected the tree, the lego blocks and golf balls were immediately greyed out. This is excellent visual direction – it should be clear to the child that action was required at this point but, going back to my first recommendation, it’s not entirely clear WHAT action is required. Ideally, an arrow would point to the bucket marked 1, or something similar. Nice feature #5: I tried to drag and drop the tree in bucket number two but the app wouldn’t let me – I love it when apps incorporate errorless learning!
After also counting out the golfs balls and lego blocks and putting them in the correct buckets, there was a cheering sound and the buckets started wiggling. Cute. The app then proceeded to the next screen – place the buckets in order. Here, I again had to put the tree, lego and golf balls in the correct buckets, this time as a group rather than individually. At the bottom of the screen, 10 buckets were shown but the first three buckets were missing – I placed the buckets in the correct order and the game was complete. Recommendation #5: The other two games have a ‘Play again’ option and I would like to see that added here rather than requiring the child to proceed to the next game or return to the home screen.
Recommendation #6: At this point, if it hasn’t already, the music may start to get on your nerves. There is a mute button but it turns off ALL sound. It would be better to have a settings feature where you could turn off the music if desired but keep the other audio.
The other two games in the app are:
* Count and add. Here are the audio instructions given for this game: “Tap the two buckets at the top of the screen, then count each group of objects and add the groups together. Drag all of the objects to the bucket numbered with the total.” That’s a lot of information for a toddler or preschooler to process. Again, it would be preferable for the directions to be broken down into steps with visual cues provided.
* Count and compare. This game starts the same as Count and Add but the objects in the buckets are different, for example , six cows and three roses. The app then shows a flashing question – either “Which is Lesser?” or “Which is Greater?” Strangely, the question is not read by Ms. Cloud. The child can either tap the objects to count them out and see which set is greater or lesser or, if they know the answer, then they can just drag the correct group to the corresponding bucket.
In summary, I like the errorless learning and the visuals when used are great. I do think the app would benefit greatly from more visual cues, the ability to use settings to adjust the difficulty level and turn off the music, breaking down the instructions into steps, and a repeat button for audio instructions.
Despite its faults, SimpleSort: Counting only costs 99 cents so if you’re looking for an inexpensive play-together app for basic math skills, give this one a look.