Apps that help teach safety are in huge demand amongst parents of both young children and kids with special needs. Tot 2b Safe, by Milk Gut Studios, is aimed directly at that market, endeavoring to help children learn some basic safety principles to use in real-world situations - at home and in the community.
Upon opening the app the child sees Shep, the game's safety mascot, together with a simple graphic. The narrator then asks a question relating to that picture. For example, a chair is shown and the child is asked if they should stand on chairs. There are two large buttons on the right of the screen representing Yes and No - a green button with a tick mark and a red button with an 'X'. The child taps on a button and once they have answered the question correctly, another picture is shown. The child can choose from a selection of toys to put in their toy chest once they have correctly answered a few questions and after winning four toys the narrator congratulates the child and shows them everything they have won.
The app, which has only an iPhone version, is perfect for toddlers and young kids to use because it's very simple and intuitive. There's no music or interactivity and in the context of this app, I believe that works. I envisage this to be a game that kids would play with their parents - the engagement would be social, with the parent rather than focused on the app itself; a busy, noisy interface would detract from that. I like that the narrator repeats himself a lot as repetition is an important component for learning in this age group. For example, when he asks "Should you wear a seat belt in the car?" if the child answers yes he responds "Yes, you should always wear a seat belt in the car." The narration is clear, the graphics are age appropriate, the toys are a good reinforcer and at 99 cents the app is a good price.
However, there are two main areas where the app falls short, along with some other improvements that I would also recommend.Firstly, The visuals need to be more detailed. For example, when asked if it's safe to stand on a chair the child only sees a picture of a chair. The question about putting small items into orifices is accompanied by a picture of just a nose and an ear. The receptive vocabulary of toddlers would not always be sufficient for them to understand the question. If there was someone standing on the chair, or if little pieces were added to the nose/ear picture it would be much easier for the child to comprehend. In terms of the special needs population - those with audio processing issues or deaf children would have the same challenges.
I liked the calm, quiet interface when questions are being asked but the app needs more energy in the rewards section if it's going to be really reinforcing. Seeing graphics of toys on screen really isn't enough - they could make noises when touched, move if the device is tilted - after all, what use are toys that you can't play with? Shep is underutilized here as well - he wags his tail when a correct answer is given but it would be great if in the reward section the child could interact with him - maybe he could bark and wag his tail when tapped, the child could feed him a treat, etc.
The less crucial issues I had were with respect to:
- Lack of customization - it would be great if the adult could skip a picture. Even better would be the ability to add pictures and record the relevant question/answer.
- Adding simple animation to model safe behavior would reinforce the message further. For example, when asked about running down the stairs, all the child sees is a graphic of a set of stairs. (As mentioned above, this visual needs more detail if the child is going to correctly comprehend the question.) After answering the question, seeing a child walking down the stairs together with the audio "This is how you walk down the stairs" would ensure that the child understood what the safe behavior looked like.
- A repeat button would be useful so the child could listen to the question more than once if necessary.
- After playing with the app for a while, the sound went. I deleted and reinstalled the app but still couldn't get the narration to work.
In summary, this app is worth considering if you are looking for a 'hook' that would enable you to chat to your child about safety issues. In order to be effective, however, and for me to recommend it, I would need to see more energy in the reward section and more detail in the visuals. For the app to attain 'must have' status, the other suggestions listed above would need to be incorporated into the app.
If you would like to purchase Tot 2B Safe ($0.99 iPhone/iPad x2) please support Smart Apps for Kids by using this link button:
This review was written by Deanne Shoyer who often wonders how she survived childhood in an era with no seat belts in the backs of cars and no child-proof lids on bottles. Milk Gut Studios is an advertiser at smartappsforkids.com.