Bottom Line: A novel approach to the old whodunit mystery. Kids read a story and use their wits to follow interactive clues and discover who took Mother Squirrel's acorns.
If you would like to purchase The Tale of the Missing Acorns HD – Mystery Theme Studybook or The Tale of the Missing Acorns for iPhone ($4.99 iPad or $3.99 iPhone), please support Smart Apps for Kids and use one of the following links. Note before buying that the iPhone version of the book is audio only.
WiseKids' latest feature in the iTunes Store is described as a mystery theme storybook. It's actually two apps in one. There is a 29 page book with classic illustrations and the expected "Read to Me" and "Read Myself" narration options. Also included is a study section with games and exercises utilizing 10 different preschool skills. By themselves these wouldn't be much cause for excitement in Appland, but the developer has craftily merged the learning portion with the story and in doing so has created a fresh new approach in the very crowded pool of apps marketed to ages 3-7.
The basic premise is that someone stole all the acorns from Mother Squirrel's home in the forest. Under Mother Squirrel's guidance, budding detectives must follow the clues in the story to help their bushy tailed friend track down the acorn thief. Readers encounter a number of different animals as they journey with the kind squirrel on her quest. What's notable is that the mama squirrel always seems to be helpings others and is more concerned about her fellow forest friends than with finding her stash of acorns.
Working through the clues is what really brings the story to life, but for younger children the book can be read without the need to go through the learning portions. There is a nicely designed pull down menu which has all the settings and navigation options accessible in one place. Here, Sherlock Holmes wannabes and their parents can select from one of four languages (Korean, Japanese, Chinese and English); view a tutorial on all the features of the app (helpful but not needed for most users); jump to a particular page in the story based on thumbnails; explore the tasks found in the clues on their own; or record a parent narrated version of the story. All the best and most requested technical features including word-by-word highlighting are included and work well.
Mother Squirrel ultimately finds the culprits who took her acorns and is quite literally surprised at their motivation. While the story is pleasant enough, it's the novelty of building it around core educational skills that truly impressed me. The story includes 10 different educational elements—spot the difference, colors, spatial concepts, simple addition, shapes, sorting, letters, numbers, music, and fractions. These are seamlessly woven into the story so that children are motivated to complete the tasks in order to solve the mystery. They all are very hands-on and have plenty of manipulatives, demonstrations and hints to insure youngsters are successful.
Viewing the study section of the app on its own gives the best indication of just how much content WiseKids has packed into this mash-up. Each of the 10 skills is identified on a map. As kids complete a skill they receive stars and finally a medal. The map tracks progress as kids move from one skill to the next. Some of the activities are routine and will be familiar to any app savvy toddler, but others kick things up a notch. The guided piano playing is nicely done and following directions to move left, right, upward, downward or north, south, east, west is also a deftly crafted activity.
The presentation of the skills is really quite creative in some instances. Learning the alphabet does double duty as a connect the dots game while shapes are used to draw pictures of the animals seen in the story. I especially liked the division problems in which a child must divide an object into equal portions by connecting dots. This lesson is a great introduction to learning fractions by creating halves and quarters.
WiseKids have come up with an interesting concept that encourages children to become invested in the outcome of the story. It would seem to aid comprehension as well. The developers have taken all the most common preschool milestones and given them a unifying purpose. The combination of the lengthy book and the very well done study section make the $4.99 price tag reasonable and the app worth checking out.
Jill Goodman was once bitten by a squirrel she was feeding on her window sill. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.