Bottom line: Build a Scene app for little ones which contains fantastic artwork. I would love to see either more direction or greater flexibility (ideally both) in letting children create scenes within which the eponymous characters can play. There is a lite version to try before you buy.
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Beck and Bo are the girl and boy who star in this app for toddlers and preschoolers by developer, react-in. Your child is given 12 different play scenes to put together for the titular duo to play in. Each piece falls from the top of the screen and the child has to then drag and drop it into place. This is why I've categorized the app as a puzzle, because each piece has to be placed into in its correct spot before another bit of the scene falls from the sky. Once complete, a large star appears on the screen and music starts playing. The scene is both interactive and animated and the child can either play with it for a while or review it via a notebook. By swiping through the notebook's pages your child can review each component of the scene and see, as well as hear, it labelled.
There are numerous features of this app that I thought were done very well:
• First and foremost, I love the artwork. Every child's favorite toy, a cardboard box, is used as the staging area for each scene. In addition, each of the puzzle pieces looks as though it has been cut out from paper and the entire tableau is textured like card. The overall effect is far from crude however - color in particular is used in a way that is really quite lovely.
• Most objects are named when tapped and in addition, animals will make an appropriate sound.
• A visual cue is used to indicate that something needs to be done with an object until it is dragged and dropped into place.
• The interactivity is very nicely done in some scenes - for example, tapping on a red traffic light turns it green, enabling Beck and Bo to ride a train along a track. In the snow scene, placing Beck or Bo on a sled causes them to slide down a hill.
• In having a 'correct' spot for each object in the scene, children learn contextual information such as: hats go on heads, the sun goes in the sky, boats go in water, and so on. Your child is therefore prevented from creating a dangerous situation for Beck and Bo - if they try and put the characters on the train tracks or in the river they are unable to do so. I always appreciate it when an app models safe play behavior.
• The music is a bit too perky for my taste but there are settings where you can mute the music, the naming of objects, or both if you choose.
There were a few little points that niggled at me and in one big way I found the app disappointing. Let's deal with the little items first:
• I know that in the notebook section children can review each piece of the scene and see, as well as hear, it labeled. I think this is a useful feature, almost like a scrapbook or a virtual toy box for their puzzle pieces. However, I would love to see the labeling occur in the scene itself as well. When the child taps on a train I want them to see the word train (which could then fade) as well as hear it. Kids learn most when they are engaged in play so that's the time to maximize their opportunities for skills acquisition.
• Not all the items were named when tapped. For example, 'sun' was, but 'sky' wasn't; 'flowers' were, but 'hills' weren't.
• Given that each puzzle piece has a 'correct' placement, I was surprised that there wasn't always a visual cue indicating where something needs to go. In building the snow scene I waited to see what would happen if I left the snowman's arm and did nothing. The twig representing his arm pulsed but each time I dragged it to the wrong place, it just fell to the bottom of the screen. If a child genuinely doesn't know where something goes, or can't guess, I can imagine them quickly becoming frustrated in this situation.
The big disappointment was because I initially expected the app would have enormous potential as a way for young children with immature or developing fine motor skills to express themselves creatively. Toddlers, preschoolers and many special needs children may not be able to draw or paint but in most cases they can tap, as well as drag and drop. Unlike apps like Felt Board by Software Smoothie or the Buildo Sticker books by Jajdo, this app does not enable a child to take pieces they are given and create their own scene. Each piece has an exact spot it needs to go in and so the child can't put Beck and Bo's hats on a reindeer's antlers or slide their snowman down a sled. They can't roll the sun along the ground or see if clouds float on water. Perhaps the developer would consider having an option in settings so that parents could choose whether their child has to fit the puzzle pieces together "correctly" or use the scenes for free, creative play. I think this would improve the app immeasurably.
As it is, the app is still worth a look if you have a child in that age range. There is a lite version of the app that you can try for free and the full version is reasonably priced at $1.99.
This review was written by Deanne Shoyer, whose son Oliver currently enjoys putting cardboard boxes together in the following order: train engine, tender, carriage and caboose. Disaster strikes if you try and re-order them in any way.