Bottom Line: Free...and a great way to get toddlers, preschoolers and those with fine motor difficulties to enjoy creating interactive art.
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The purpose of Squiggles, by Lazoo, is to interest children in drawing by providing them with pre-set screens on which to see their drawings become animated. The app has some extras to encourage them to get there, if they need some luring.
At the bottom left of the home page there are options to view a video and read an ebook. Both star two little characters called Bobu and Miku, a monkey and a pink bunny. The ebook has both 'read to me' and 'read to myself' options and the words are highlighted when read if the child selects 'read to me'. The book demonstrates how the art aspect of the app works - Miku and Bobu chase and capture jumping beans that have escaped from Miku's bag and the monkey and bunny propel themselves by drawing squiggles.
The doodles then animate to power cars, become springs to bounce on, clouds to jump into and so on. The book has interactivity that is both cute and age-appropriate. My favorite part was where the device needs to be tilted in order for a huge tree to fit on the screen. When the birds' nests in the tree are touched, the eggs within them hatch to reveal little cheeping chicks.
Also accessed from the home screen are an information area, parents section and the Squiggles game itself. The information section outlines the developer's philosophy regarding how to engage children in artistic activities, as well as some hints for parents on how to get the most out of the app when playing it with their children. Selecting the parents button provides access to the following:
- Squiggles gallery - where the child's creations are kept when saved. From here they can be sent to the developer, emailed, printed, deleted or shared on Facebook and Twitter. The social media access is fairly buried but I know many adults don't like this feature. If the developer doesn't want to modify the parents area in this regard, it might make sense to password protect it.
- Options - the language options are English and Japanese. The music and sound effects can either be turned off completely or turned down, as there is a volume control for both.
- Ebook recordings - parents or children can record their own narration.
- Keep in touch - parents can provide an email address if they want to subscribe to the developer's newsletter
- About Lazoo - I'm not sure why this section is needed in addition to the information section accessed directly from the home page. It would make more sense to me if these sections were merged.
Once the child presses the go button from the home screen they are in the Squiggles drawing game. There are 12 scenes that the child can choose from, together with a blank page for unprompted artwork and a camera button. Pressing the camera button results in two options - either take a picture or choose one from the device's camera roll - which the child can then squiggle on.
In all the scenes, including the blank and camera ones, once the child has finished drawing they tap go and their doodles are animated, but on the 12 prompt screens the scenes themselves also come alive. For example, on the cars page, the child is encouraged to draw squiggles at the back of each car. When the child hits the go button the cars drive across the screen, propelled by the child's doodles. If all the squiggles are drawn in all the right places the child gets an extra surprise. For instance, if nests are drawn for all the birds shown, then not only will the child see eggs hatching but one of the eggs will hatch a large avian relative (now extinct). If all the fish in the ocean scene have their own waves drawn for them then a whale swims across the screen.
The dashboard is basic but more than sufficient for children in this age range - the child can choose from one of 10 colors or decide to go with the mystery wheel which will give them a different color each time; a trash can deletes the picture; a piggy bank saves it to the parents section and stickers can be added to the scenes which can be resized and will either remain stationary or, if selected, spin along with the child's doodles.
The drawing implements are very age-appropriate - a marker, paintbrush, chalk and... a ketchup bottle. Very cool. I loved the splotchy ketchup option and think adding further fun drawing options would be great - shaving foam and bubble solution spring to mind.
I like this app very much. The colors are sunny, cheerful and primary. The characters within the app look hand-cut with hand-drawn features. There are visual and audio prompts throughout the app so it's very easy for young children to work out what to do next. I like how accessible the app is for young kids and other scribblers. The prompts and interactivity enable them to create something fun, rewarding, interactive and creative without requiring a lot of fine motor skill. Oliver enjoyed it and I've included examples of both his spaceship and lion drawings.
There is one part of the drawing area that I would love to see redesigned a little and that's the menus. The current ones are pretty small and so when playing this app with Oliver, I had to select the options for scenes as well as colors, drawing implements and so on. He and I had fun with the app together so this wasn't a big deal but I think it's unlikely that he would come back to the app on his own. Part of the philosophy of the app is to encourage free and open play but the small menus make that tough to facilitate for young kids or those with fine motor difficulties (which is an audience that this app is perfect for).
In addition, I think it's unlikely that toddlers and younger kids would remember to save their artwork so I would prefer it if the app had a setting to save drawings automatically, so adults could then delete or keep them from the parent's section.
There's a lot of content here; it's well executed and the app is free. I highly recommend downloading it if you have kids in the age and/or ability range.
This review was written by Deanne Shoyer who loves that apps like this enable her to seem artistically god-like to her easily impressed children.