Bottom Line: Preschoolers with even the shortest attention spans will find something to like among the fun educational games and activities included in Ella Bella’s Sunshine Garden world.
Apparently Ella Bella Bingo is the Dora the Explorer of Norway with her own television show, DVDs and books. Now Rock Pocket Games and KOOL Produktion AS have added iOS apps to Bella's growing empire. Ella Bella Bingo is an English adaptation of a Norwegian app known as Elleville Elfrid.
Rather than having a menu or toy box full of activities from which to choose on the home screen, the app refreshingly encourages children to explore. Kids seek out fun by moving their fingers across the 3D landscape of Sunshine Gardens to find the nine different games and activities included. Users are invited up to Ella Bella’s room to play; they may choose to help Mrs. Berg with her garden; or they might join Ella Bella’s friend in a game of football/soccer.
The options run the gamut and include art, motor skills, matching, following directions and memory. In the developers’ own words, “it engages the kids in a multitude of different ways, such as creativity, reaction, comprehension, exploration, mathematical skills and problem solving.”
Although the games have universal appeal to preschoolers, this app is full of flower power. According to the description, preschoolers in Oslo extensively test drove the app pre-release. The results are somewhat uneven with some selections being much more engaging than others.
Ella’s room has three games from which to choose. The memory game is a bit dull and, unless you just bought your iPad today, you've got plenty of matching games. It and the puzzle station have three levels of difficulty, which is a nice option for an app aimed at a range of ages. Building a high tower was my favorite activity here especially when using weird unstable bases of balls and triangles.
Other fun pastimes include helping Mrs. Berg pick flowers, which works on following directions, colors, matching and counting. Keeping bugs from eating her garden uses motor skills.
Find the tools in the shed and match their shape was next to impossible if you don’t know that the drawers in which some of them are hidden can open. Toddlers may have the natural curiosity to open and climb on everything, but I would have appreciated a verbal hint or shimmer effect as used elsewhere in the app, particularly if the child has sat for a long time without finding anything.
The painting feature may be the best of the nine. Kids have a choice of brush sizes, or may use a bucket of paint for color-within-the lines-perfection. They also may try chalk which has a nice realistic shading effect. The color palette is surprisingly muted for such a bright flower happy app. There are pre-printed pages from the garden as well as a blank canvas from which to choose. Creations can be saved to the device photo album and are displayed on the walls of Ella’s room. I really enjoyed seeing my masterpiece hanging in her room and find this small touch a great self-esteem builder.
A few suggestions for future updates:
* The audio instructions are well-done and clear, but an option for basic visual instructions would be a nice addition.
* The app could use a bit more assistance when a wrong answer is selected. For example, when the app asks the player to "pick four flowers that are the same" and the child picks three green and one yellow, the app doesn't proceed, but it doesn't give the child any indication of what is wrong either.
* The audio instructions for the dancing game seem to be cut off at the end.
* The shoo-away-the-bugs game is much harder and more frustrating than the rest of the games.
* The auto-fill function in the coloring area stopped working while testing on an iPad third generation even after a reboot.
Overall, the app is well constructed and offers multiple opportunities for unstructured creative play. The interface is intuitive and it includes no bothersome ads or links. Recommended.
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This review was written by Jill Goodman and contributed to by Ron Engel. Ron clipped her description of Ella as a "semi-bald androgynous girl in a onesie."