Bottom line: a terrific introduction to current events with unlimited potential for repeated use for kids ages 7-10. Definitely worth the $6.99 per month subscription price, but you can view three issues in a free trial.
If you would like to indulge your news addiction with News-O-Matic (Free, iPad/iPhone with weekly, monthly or yearly subscription fees $1.99-49.99), please support Smart Apps for Kids by using this magic download button:
I’ve always been something of a news junkie. Long before the days of internet news and 24-hour news cycles, I grew up in a house where we got at least two newspapers a day, and talk radio was often on in the background. I started reading the paper for myself in third grade. I’ve been watching the Today Show since I was a fetus. I have a journalism degree, for crying out loud. I’m serious about this news business.
But in the years since my daughter came along, I’ve all but quit watching TV news. I’m still addicted to several news websites, but I don’t feel like I can watch TV news with a six-year-old around. So much of it is so disturbing for a kid. Heck, it’s disturbing for a mom. And I don’t often feel equipped to explain things like the Boston bombing or the Sandy Hook shooting to my kid.
So I’ve been feeling like my daughter is missing out on the joys of a news addiction, which, for me, probably began when I was about her age. What’s a nerd to do?
Enter News-O-Matic, the daily news app for kids. Published by Press4Kids, the app provides an understanding of current events in a safe, age-appropriate way, with every article vetted by a child psychologist. The app is completely ad-free, and, according to the parents section of the info page, fully aligned with school standards for third and fourth grades. New issues are published Monday through Friday, 52 weeks a year, for a monthly subscription fee of $6.99. There’s also a yearly rate of $49.99, or a weekly rate of $1.99, which offers parents a lot of options in deciding if this app is right for their kids. There’s also a free three-issue trial, for those who want to check it out for a few days before shelling out any money at all. Be advised that subscriptions automatically renew until cancelled and cancelling is a bit of a complicated process.
I am in love with this app. It’s the best of the old-fashioned newspaper that I loved so much as a kid, with all the best things about interactive media thrown in. Each issue contains five articles, which last week covered everything from the floods in the Midwest to the earthquake in China to the NFL draft. The app’s approach to kid-friendly news reminds me a bit of the old Scholastic News we used to get in elementary school – colorful, interesting, and designed to pique interest in a new topic and prompt questions.
I can’t begin to cover everything this app has covered in the few issues I’ve read, so let me take one article as an example and show you what comes with it. The Friday, April 19, issue has a lead story titled “Protecting Boston,” about the bombing and the ensuing lockdown the city endured. The article is brief – just a few paragraphs – and it’s not graphic. But it’s pretty direct – readers are told the FBI is working hard to find those responsible for the bombing, that photos of the suspects have been released, and that the governor of Massachusetts has told everyone to stay inside. The article mentions that all Boston-area schools are closed, so that kids will be safe. It closes with a reminder that police and other authorities are doing everything they can to protect the people of Boston. Not a bad summary from a kid's point of view.
From there, the user can tap to get one fact about the article: in this case, that the bombing suspects are from Chechnya. The user can also tap an “act” button that offers one thing kids can do in relation to the story. In this case, the “act” is to tell a grown-up if you see a bag left alone somewhere. The “go there” button pulls up an interactive map showing where the story is taking place, how far it is from the reader, how to say “hello” in that part of the world, and how long it would take the user to drive there, among other things. So when the app asks if it can use your location, tell it yes – you’ll need it for this feature to work. Other articles, although not this one, also include links to video or additional photos.
With a story like the Boston bombing, kids reading about it are likely to be upset, right? News-O-Matic to the rescue, with a section called “Upset by the News?” It’s a brief explanation of why the news is sometimes upsetting, and tips on what readers can do to cope with their feelings. Tips include talking to parents or teachers, drawing or writing about the news event, or doing something to help. Good advice for adults, too, I think.
Direct comments on the articles are not allowed, but kids can use the “write to the editor” function and send their questions, comments and even drawings to Russ, also known as Russell Kahn, the site’s editor. Then, by tapping the “newsroom” button on the front of each week’s issue, kids can see the comments of other readers, and maybe their own, as well as a picture of the week. This allows young users to get the full benefit of interactive media, but allows Russ and Company a chance to pick and choose appropriate comments.
The app also includes a games section, which offers jigsaw puzzles and word games related to that week’s stories, and an “on this day in history” section, highlighting four or five things of importance.
There is a free teacher edition delivered by email, but there are no site license options or school year subscriptions to make 1:1 classroom use affordable, which is my biggest disappointment with this otherwise stellar app. You need to check this one out for yourself. Here’s hoping it makes a news junkie out of your kid, too.
Emilie Davis was inspired to go to journalism school not by Woodward and Bernstein, but by Dave Barry. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.