Bottom Line: Deftly presents a wide variety of early learning skills all in an appealing jungle themed setting. It’s a whole lotta app for the money deserving of a whole lotta stars.
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One of THUP Game's earlier apps, Monkey Preschool Lunchbox is a Top Pick here on SAFK, and is the benchmark by which other apps in this category tend to be measured. Well, their new app, Monkey School Word Adventure is destined for the same lofty status. It has everything THUP's other apps do - high energy, seamless interface, top quality production values, thoughtful content - but also provides the ability to customise the difficulty levels for three different users. All while kids are inadvertently learning through play.
First, you are greeted by upbeat music and the male monkey narrator announcing loudly 'Monkey! Word School! Adventure!' This sets the tone for the entire app; everything here is meant to generate excitement. There are verbal instructions on how to get started and the familiar somersaulting Monkey host from the other apps is there to help too.
Succinct verbal instructions are given throughout the app so there is absolutely no chance of confusion. The theme is the jungle and exploring, which will appeal to both boys and girls. The skills addressed are age appropriate 3-7 year olds.
The format is an endless loop of interactive games interrupted occasionally with a reward screen. This is becoming a standard format for these types of games, which is great because it works really well. There is a short animated loading screen between each game, which is *only just* not too long. There are six games that cover letters, sight words, phonics and spelling. The reward screen offers a choice of three items (a variety of plants, butterflies, dragonflies and vividly coloured amphibians) to add to your terrarium, which fits nicely with the jungle theme. There is no menu to get lost in, the only buttons permanently present during gameplay link to the home screen and the terrarium.
Throughout all the games the focus is on getting a positive result - there is no negative effect if the wrong answer is chosen, points aren't lost and the game doesn't end. The clear object is for the player to have success. There are verbal encouragements and visual hints if the player hesitates or seems to be having difficulty. The correct answer needs to be found before the app will progress to the next game. Every letter, word, phonetic and consonant blend is vocalised when tapped - there is no way your child isn't going to be learning extensively while they are playing, and the game interface is designed to encourage the child to be as engaged as possible.
The six individual games cover an enormous amount of content, yet still manage to be entertaining and easy to use. That's quite a feat. The games increase in difficulty (there are three levels) when a player shows mastery of the current level. Each game has verbal and written instructions which can be replayed if the player misses them the first time.
Spelling Stone is a spelling game with a stone block in which the player places letters to spell the challenge word. The word appears as an object in Monkey's thought bubble and is announced verbally. It starts with three letter words with visual hints and progresses up to five letter words with extra letter choices. Visual hints appear in the harder levels when the player is struggling to choose correctly.
Sight Birds works on letter recognition and sight words. Monkey thinks a word or a letter in his thought bubble (the easier levels have lower/uppercase letters, the harder ones have words of increasing difficulty), and a charm (flock) of hummingbirds flies around carrying gems with words/letters in varying fonts. The player touches the gems that match Monkey's and collects them.
Letter Writing is self-explanatory - a letter appears and an animated visual demonstrates how to draw it. The activity has the appearance of carving the letter onto the rock face. It starts with uppercase letters, then lowercase, and then a combination of both as it progresses in difficulty. Some of the steps seemed out of order from traditional handwriting instruction.
Phonics Bridge concentrates on reading and phonics. Two cute chinchillas stand on either end of a washed-out bridge. The player needs to complete the word on the bridge by selecting the correct letter from the choices in the river. I really noticed the retina display in the detail of water animation. The item appears as a picture in a thought bubble above the chinchilla's head - this adds extra dimension to the player's comprehension, combining the picture with the spelling of the word. When a letter is added to the bridge, the word is sounded out, and if incorrect, the letter returns to the river and the player gets to choose again. This game makes use of letter sounds and word elements such as consonant blends, digraphs and irregular vowels.
Word Wall is a grid of letters like 'find a word' puzzles. The player has to find the words that Monkey has in his thought bubble and draw a line through them. The words can be displayed horizontally and vertically which is a great extension for kids who are progressing well with sight words and reading. The difficulty ranges from a 3x3 letter grid with three letter words up to a 5x5 grid with five letter words. Once again, there is a visual hint prompt if the player appears to be having difficulty.
Rhyming Maze is a grid of words where the player needs to draw a line to connect the rhyming words to get the chinchilla to the treasure. Each word chosen is announced verbally so that the player can hear whether his choice rhymes with the previous word or not. The difficulty ranges from three letter words up to five letters. If the player struggles, the app provides the next answer.
There are three individual player accounts available with lockable to edit details such as the player's name and the difficulty levels of each game. There is also the option within these settings to turn on or off individual games, so if you find that your child is losing interest on a particular game you can turn it off.
I love these customisable options; they add such versatility to the vast potential of this app. It makes me hope that maybe in the future THUP Games will integrate the option to customise their apps even more - I'd love to have the ability to put in the CVC words and letters that my child is currently focusing on at preschool and be able to change it from week to week. I can see great value for this in classrooms too - imagine as a teacher being able to use such an engaging app to reinforce current content as an extension activity!
Any external links within the app are hidden away behind the Settings and Support icons on the home page, which need to held down to be activated. There's also an in-depth 'How to Play' guide found within the Support section.
This is a sophisticated app in its content detail and has been carefully conceived with early learners in mind. It hides learning of fundamental reading and writing concepts within its engaging animation and exciting adventure format.
Eleanor Holland had a terrarium when she was a kid but it was a sad neglected thing. It had no frogs, chameleons or butterflies in it, just plants and moss. These days, as an adult, she has a whole garden to neglect. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.