Bottom Line: A role-playing app that offers some pretend play fun and can help preschoolers feel more comfortable before going to the doctor or hospital, but it's missing some interaction. There's a free Lite version to try.
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Play Hospital is a brand new app from developer BlueCloud. It is similar in style to My PlayHome, which is number six on the 2011 Reader's favorite list at Smart Apps for Kids. According to the developer, this app is designed to familiarize children with a hospital or medical setting, and help to remove fears.
From the home screen, the user can select either a boy or girl and a mom or dad to accompany him or her to the doctor. Character gender selection is the only customizable option of this app. All of the characters, including medical personnel, are Caucasian which is odd since the developer is Korean I believe.
The full version of the app has five different rooms, including admissions, waiting room, diagnosis room, treatment room, and pharmacy. The rooms look more like a standard American pediatrician's office instead of a hospital and I've never seen a treatment room separate from the actual doctor's office. As the scale measurements in the treatment room are metric, the layout of the rooms may be mimic medical facilities in countries other than the US.
The cartoon-like characters can be moved around each room, and there are many objects in each setting for them to use. Holding a tissue in front of the child's face, leads to a sneeze. The tissues can also be pulled out and dropped on the floor, but after about eight tissues, the box is emptied and the user is cued to move them to the trash can. Maybe this skill will transfer to real life situations!
My favorite room is the pharmacy. The child sits on a chair and presents various illnesses including a rash, an arm wound, and a cold. The parent gets a prescription for each malady, hands it to the pharmacist, and administers the medicine to the child. In no time at all, the illness is cured! This is oddly how my five year old daughter thinks medicine works—like magic and immediately. Unfortunately, the rest of the rooms offer no such interaction.
My daughter, a big fan of My PlayHome, really enjoyed playing with this app. She seemed to touch every object in each room and explore what would happen with it. There is no talking in this app, so I found it helpful to play with her in order to narrate what might happen at a doctor's office.
This app is a useful tool for introducing a doctor's office in a fun manner to reluctant children. When my eldest son was a toddler, we had to talk through every situation thoroughly so he would be able to handle the transitions. Apps like Play Hospital help parents and teachers familiarize children with situations that can be scary, and can be particularly helpful for children with an autism spectrum disorder, especially when an adult helps to narrate the experience.
The app also provides a good opportunity for building vocabulary of preschool children. I used it to have students follow directions—"Put the thermometer in the boy's hand. Put three tissues in the trash can." Vocabulary acquisition and the underlying goal of making a doctor's visit stress free could be enhanced by labeling the medical devices used.
There were a few small things I found annoying as an adult (but my daughter didn't even notice). When the user moves a book into a character's hand and opens it, the pictures face away from the character. The thermometer beeps when the user moves it near a character's ear, but doesn't beep when placed into another character's hand so that character (like the mother) can check the child's temperature.
There were also some places where characters couldn't be moved. In the doctor's office room, only the child can be placed on the examination table, and the adult (doctor and parent) cannot be moved to face the child on the table. This made it difficult to actually pretend the doctor was examining the child.
There are outside links, including Facebook, Twitter and email, in the settings area. It's only accessible from the home screen, but that is also the only place to change the characters. This makes it more likely that young children will quickly learn to navigate to that area. If your children are likely to tap everything possible to see what happens (as mine is), be aware that they may access social media if not supervised.
There is a lite version of the app with two rooms available, perfect to check it out first. However, even at $1.99 this app provides parents and teachers with a good tool to help familiarize young children with doctors' offices, and is an all-around fun app for expanding pretend play using the iPad.
Heather Hetler gets plenty of experience at the doctor's office with three children (11, 8, and 5). She works as a school based Speech-Language Pathologist.
smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.