Bottom Line: Intricately illustrated interactive posters that are fun to explore. However, they may be too intricate for toddlers to get much benefit from if used alone or without some accompanying narrative. One scene is free, though, so definitely give it a try with your toddler.
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I like any kind of app that can help develop good vocabulary in toddlers, and at first glance this app from German developer wonderkind interaktionsmedien GmbH seemed promising. The circus scene is free to download, and a $2.99 in-app purchase gives access to two additional scenes—Wild Animals and Daredevil Artists, which take place under the big top.
As a work together app, At the Circus definitely has a lot of vocabulary to introduce and many eye-catching interactions. The illustrations are classic and high quality, and there are countless interesting things to discuss. On the Circus grounds scene, one clown rolls a hoop while another rides a unicycle across the screen. There is an airplane flying across the sky, a baby elephant sits on the head of a larger elephant then slides down its trunk, and a snake comes out of a pot when the snake charmer plays music. Virtually everything moves, flies, or play music when tapped.
The two additional in-app purchase scenes are equally rich, with interesting vocabulary depicted and novel interactions. A band plays music, one monkey climbs while another juggles with its feet, and one seal bounces a ball on its nose while the other claps its flippers and walks on its nose.
Some of the interactions are broken out in a visual menu accessible when the small circle at the bottom of the screen is tapped. When one of the 25 thumbnails is selected, the screen returns to the full scene, and that interactive element activates. There are even more interactions than those listed on the menu as I counted at least 31 in the free scene.
Without adult interaction, this app seems unlikely to interest the toddlers I know for long. There is so much going on in each screen—even on the iPad, it just seems small. The interactions are not highlighted in any way, even when chosen from the visual menu. When I chose from the menu, the interaction was normally done before I found it on the screen. Also, if your wiggle worm taps with all 10 fingers at once then 10 or more things will animate complete with accompanying sound and music. This may be fun for some kids but overwhelming for others.
The app bills itself as a picture book, which seems a stretch to me. I love wordless picture books, but this is really more like a poster. It would be much better if it was a book—each section of the scene could be explored as a separate page. This format would remove the visual distraction and allow toddlers to really see what is happening. After exploring each segment, the whole scene could be pictured.
I still like the app because the scenes are great for following directions and can be used in my speech-language therapy with elementary students. They present loads of opportunities for seek-and-find activities when directed by an adult: "find a ball that rolls on the floor"; "find an animal that growls." The level of detail also lends itself well to practice with Wh questions. There are dozens of possibilities to identify who, what and where. Discussing the scenes also provides practice for speech sound production, prepositions, and action words.
The app includes some necessary settings which are accessed from the home page. Thankfully sound and music can each be turned off if desired. The sound effects are a good part of the interactions, but the music constantly playing in the background would make me ready to run away and join a circus. There is also a volume limit and a navigation lock to prevent accidental movement between scenes by over eager little hands.
This app is one of a series, and I think they have great appeal. There is a lot of unrealized potential though that would make it a smarter app for toddlers if implemented. Unstructured play has its advantages, but this app would benefit from some minimal guidance. Labeling of at least some of the many objects would also be helpful to assist with vocabulary acquisition.
Parents, teachers, and therapists who want to use the app with toddlers and older students will find a lot to like about the hand-drawn illustrations and the potential to learn new vocabulary. Since the first scene is free, it's certainkly worth a download.
Heather Hetler sometimes feels like she's at a circus, as the mom to three kids (10, 8, and 5) and a busy Speech-Language Pathologist in an elementary school. She's never dressed up as a clown, though. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.