Everything being equal, I’d rather see my kids read printed books and play board or cards games over electronic, but I can’t deny that we live in the 21st Century and just as I find gadgets and gizmos compelling — and never have my smartphone too far from me — so do my children also enjoy their devices and access to technology.
Even — sigh — the little one. At ten she’s already lobbying aggressively for her own cellphone. As K- puts it, “I already have a cellphone, it just doesn’t have service”. It’s true that she does have her Mom’s old iPhone 3, which she uses as an old-school iPod Touch, but given that she does have friends, that she borrows my phone or her Mom’s phone to text the other parent, and given that she’s the only kid in the group that doesn’t have her own smart device, well, I can understand her desire. My two cents is that a cellphone is a good adolescence present, perfect for those 13th birthdays, but we’ll see if we can hold out that long for even her getting a feature phone without all the fancy (read “expensive”) bells and whistles.
The challenge with all these gadgets is really to find decent games and apps they can explore. My 17yo wastes lots of time looking at photos on Instagram, but my 10yo? She doesn’t need to waste time on any sort of gadget in my opinion. So when I do let her use a tablet or iPhone to play, my desire is that she play something age appropriate and at least slightly educational.
Which is why when the Sylvan Learning team asked me to have a look at some of their new educational iPad games, it seemed like a good match.
Then the dialog with K- went like this:
me: “I’d like you to check out a new iPad game I got. It’s about driving across the United States and answering puzzle questions.”
she: “Are you driving critters in your car?”
me: “Yeah, I think so.”
she: “I already have it on your phone! It’s called Critter Cruise!”
Apparently she’d downloaded a copy and had already started learning how to play it and answering the puzzle questions on her own. Ah, I was proud: she’d downloaded an educational game by choice!
We fired up Critter Cruise on the iPad Mini and she then showed me how it worked.
First up, you get to choose a grade level for the questions. She’s in 4th so we picked Grade 4, which rather surprised me again: I kinda figured that without prompting she’d go for the easiest possible questions so she could zoom along super fast, but she enjoys challenging herself and reaffirming how much she’s learning in school. Ah, good, good!
With Grade level selected, the next option is which route. Critter Cruise offers lots of routes with lots of landmarks and travel info. Some of the basic routes are free but since we visit California so often and since I’m so familiar with the entire California coastline, having driven up and down from San Francisco to San Diego many times, we sprung for the $0.99 in-app upgrade for that route:
Obviously, this game would be great for your child to play if you were on a road trip at the time. Then I can just imagine “OOh, Hearst Castle! I just drove past there! Can we go check it out pllleeeaaasssseeeeEEEEE!” or similar wails of enthusiasm. 🙂
Here’s a map of the different routes if you have a hard time visualizing from the previous pic:
My guess is that your child might not get their “kicks” on Route 66, but each of these paths is jammed with great things to see and different landscapes.
Finally, ready to go. And this is what much of the game itself looks like:
You’re in the car, and you zip along the highway by tapping and holding down your finger on the screen. Lift up and the car slows down. If you see obstacles or want to leap up to grab coins or other powerups in the air, tap on the screen for the car to spring into action a la-the Mach 5 in Speed Racer. (not that my 10yo would have that as a reference!)
You can tap on the “Fun Fact” banner above the location to both learn more about it and earn some coins, and your car keeps running out of gas — not a solar-powered all-electric or even a hybrid! — and you refuel by answering quiz questions.
Here’s a typical one:
Kind of like a mini-SAT question, really. You know the answer, right? I mean, you did pass fourth grade, didn’t you, dear reader? 🙂
Anyway, K- really likes this game and happily spent 20 minutes or so zooming along and trying her best to get through the entire route while avoid hazards (like a pesky seagull who poops on your car, a cause of great giggling) and collecting gold coins. Did she learn lots about geography and notable destinations? Ah, to some extent. There’s really no replacement for actually going to these places, of course, but if it’s Critter Cruise or 20 minutes of looking at hairstyles on Pinterest, this is a clear winner in my book.