Bottom Line: Young children will undoubtedly find this virtual cleanliness app fun to play with. However, before downloading it parents should understand that there may be significant differences between what is presented in the app and what is done at home.
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iPad/iPhone ($1.99) iPad/iPhone lite (FREE)
Upon opening Pepi Bath, there are four options on the home screen to choose from: mute the background music, check out some grown up stuff and choose either a boy or girl character to play the app with. The grown up stuff includes guidelines on how parents can play the app with their kids but there are also direct links to Facebook and the Pepi website - the ease with which a child can access social media and the internet from the app is therefore a concern.
With respect to playing the app itself, once a character is chosen the child is given four scenarios in which they can play - one is doing laundry and the other three are all bathroom activities - bathing, going to the toilet and grooming. I really like the premise of this app - by playing with the characters children can learn the various steps involved in all of these cleanliness-related activities. The app reminded me of My Playhome but with a much narrower focus.
In the bath there are things to do such as making and popping bubbles of different shapes and colors, clipping nails, and rinsing soapy hair with a hand-held frog shower-head. Given my son Oliver is averse to having his nails clipped, I appreciated that the character was very calm when this was done and even seemed to enjoy it. The music is light and airy and the artwork is colorful but realistic. The feature I like most about Pepi is that it doesn't include much spoken language which is great for three reasons:
- The app is accessible to all children, regardless of the language spoken at home and including children with auditory comprehension issues and those who are deaf.
- By not giving specific instructions with respect to next steps, the app encourages free play.
- Children, especially those with special needs, can often become prompt dependent when they are given verbal instructions so their absence is a big plus but Pepi employs lots of visual prompting so the child is not left high and dry when they aren't sure what to do next.
- The bathroom play activities are age-appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers because at this age they are learning life skills like toileting, brushing their teeth and so on. Having laundry be the fourth activity seemed incongruous given that most people are not going to want four year-olds trying to use a washing machine - it wouldn't be safe for the child, the machine or the laundry. Having an adult character present in this scene would resolve the safety concern.
- Kids tend to like their comedy gross, especially toilet humor. However, the noises these characters make while on the toilet had me thinking they urgently needed to see a gastrointestinal specialist. Some parents may find this off-putting.
- The visual prompts are typically very well done but there were a couple of times when I couldn't work out what to do next. For example, I undressed my character and put their clothes in the washing machine but it took me some time to realize that in order to actually start the washer I had to first take off his shoes and put them in a cupboard then put his socks in the machine.
- In addition to the prospect of a child attempting to use a washing machine on their own, the other safety concern I had was during the bath scene. Playing with the cold tap got the character chattering their teeth and turning on the hot tap caused them to turn bright red. Given the potential danger, there needs to be more care taken to discourage playing with the bath taps than a face turning red.
- In the toileting section I was alarmed to see that there was no way to get the character to wash their hands after using the toilet. Before being allowed to exit to the home screen however, use of an air freshener was required.
The above points are things that I think could easily be modified or that may not concern some parents. Most parents however would likely take issue with the app's lack of flexibility with respect to cultural differences. As mentioned previously, the spoken language in the app is minimal and so language settings aren't required but in my view the developer needs to consider incorporating settings so that parents can ensure the app more accurately reflects their children's life experience. For example:
- Both the boy and girl characters are white. In my opinion children need to see characters that reflect themselves in apps that are designed to teach and reinforce real-life skills.
- After being washed, the character's wet clothes are pegged on a line inside the house. Many people dry clothes outside, put them on a clothes-horse or use a tumble dryer.
- In the toileting section, used toilet paper is put in a garbage can next to the toilet. I've visited places where this is done but most North Americans flush their toilet paper. With respect to the toilet itself, I haven't seen a chain-flushed one since I was a child.
In a way, this app falls between two stools (no pun intended). I have no doubt that young kids would have a lot of fun playing this app but in this case, that's a problem. The most effective way for children to learn is through play but because there is no way of modifying the app to reflect the reality of many people's home lives the app's primary appeal is therefore undermined. If the activities involved were baking, gardening, washing the dog or cleaning the car, this wouldn't be a problem but for routines like toileting parents need to send a consistent message in order to ensure their children succeed at it. For most there's no way to do that with this app as it currently stands.
This review was written by Deanne Shoyer who loves baths and showers but, when it comes to flossing, wishes there was an app for that. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.