Bottom Line: Preschool learning app features six games and is worth a look for younger kids, but I can’t strongly recommend.
According to the iTunes description, Play Zone by Icon “immerses your young learner in the zone of four inspiring role models: Princess, Doctor, Athlete, and Fire Fighter.” The princess and doctor are female and the athlete and firefighter are male.
A doctor, athlete, or firefighter as an inspiring role model? Yes. A princess? The only thing that this “role model” aspires to is vanity. Instead of the princess character, Icon could have gone with a teacher, a businesswoman, a scientist, or any number of other careers for which young girls can really aspire.
Now that I've got that out of the way, in Play Zone the child chooses a character and selects from six different games:
1) Dress Up: The character starts off in under-garments. (An under-shirt, full coverage underwear and, strangely, shoes.) The child can then click on buttons for tops, bottoms, and accessories to outfit their character in a number of different ways. There is quite a variety of clothing to choose from, and each character can also be outfitted with various tools of their trade. The fireman can have a hose, the doctor a stethoscope, the athlete a towel, and the princess a mirrored compact. I have that song, “One of These Things is Not Like the Other” in my head right now.
I do like the creative aspect of this game, and I think that kids would enjoy coming up with different outfits for their characters. What I don’t like is the lack of animation in this game. It would be nice if after the character is fully dressed, the child could push a button and the character could DO something. On the main screen, each child does a little dance. It would be great if that dance could be carried over into this game. Note: There is a camera icon on the screen in this game that takes pictures, but it does not include a Facebook connection.
2) Discover: In this game, the child is taken to a particular room, depending on the character he or she has chosen. For example, a workout room goes with the athlete. Once in the room, the child can explore by tapping on items and watching what they do. There is a “?” icon the child can use if she needs some help finding what to tap on.
The animation in this game is not high-quality. When the child taps on the ball, for example, it gives a quick bounce with a “boing” sound effect. The movement of most items is a blur, and not very engaging. Also, a child will be much more interested in this particular game if their character is actually in the room. As it is now, the room is simply filled with objects.
3) Spot the Difference: I had fun with this game. The child looks at two seemingly identical pictures and has to find five things that are different. At the top of the screen there are five blank stars. As the child taps on each difference she finds, the stars fill in until all five are colored. (If the child gets stuck, just tap on the “?” icon. Some of the differences are VERY subtle, and even I had to use the “?” several times).
For example, I’m pretty sure there is a mistake in the fourth picture for the princess: I had found 4 of the differences and was stumped by the fifth. So I clicked on the “?” and a pillow on a chair was highlighted. I have to tell you, I looked and looked at that pillow and I could NOT find any difference. I’m not sure that these super-subtle differences are age-appropriate.
4) Addictive Patterns : This is a great game, although addictive may not be the best adjective to use in a kid’s app. Depending on the character, the patterns will be made from different clothing and tools specific to that character. The child is shown a pattern and has to fill in the blank with the next correct item. There are a variety of patterns and they get progressively more difficult. For this game, I would recommend that you sit with the child so you can talk about patterns and use this game as a teachable moment.
An issue I found with this game is that if the child misses one, she cannot move on. The child has to click the arrow on the page and go back to reselect the game and start over. The arrow only shows up if a question is missed, and there is no home button on the screen, so if the child decides that they don’t want to play the pattern game anymore, they either have to exit out of the app and go back into it, or they have to purposely miss the question.
It should also be noted that this game records the amount of time it takes the child to complete all the patterns correctly. The app records their best times, but for this target age, still trying to grasp these ideas, the timer isn't a great idea.
5-6) Add Fun and Take Away: I am combining the final two games because they are set up in the same way, only one is for addition and one is for subtraction. I like the way these games are set up. Each problem has a really nice visual to go along with it (visual representations are KEY for young learners to understand mathematic functions) and the pictures are set up in a way that makes sense.
Let’s use the athlete and 1 + 2 as an example: In the center of the screen the child will see the problem. On the left side the child will see a picture of one ball to go along with the number 1, and on the right side of the screen the child will see two weights to go along with the number 2. At the bottom of the screen there are three answer choices. The child can touch each picture and it will make a sound. I like this, but better would be to have an actual count-function that would allow the child to hear the number they touch on the object.
There are 10 problems in each round, and there is a score card at the top of the screen that keeps track of how many questions have been answered correctly and incorrectly. Unfortunately, once the child has completed a round of questions, their scores are not saved. It would be a really good idea for some sort of a report card or a score history to be added to these games so that parents can keep track of their child’s progress.
Finally, I have to mention one of my big pet peeves: The problems in these games include numbers higher than ten which isn't appropriate for an app that is designed for preschool kids.
So there you have it. Play Zone is an app with some potential, but it might take a few updates to get there.
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This review was completed by Allison Kelly, who has been a teacher for 14 years. Icon, the developer of Play Zone, is an advertiser at smartappsforkids.com.