Thursday, March 24, 2016

Tablet Tales (+ Amateur App Reviews)

This program was inspired by Nicole, my friend and fellow librarian. We ran into each other at the doctor's office one afternoon and, obviously, like everyone does, started discussing library program ideas. In our conversation, she mentioned doing a program called Tablet Tales at her library and for me, that got the wheels turning. I wanted to a program called Tablet Tales. (I've been on an alliteration kick.)

Nicole told me that for her Tablet Tales, she was planning to go through a few apps with the kids, and then, for the second half of the program, to pass out her library's iPads and Nexus 7 tablets for the families to mess around with. Her library has a whole slue of tablets for patron use... but ours doesn't. So I needed an alternative plan.

My program description read:

Did you know that there are tons of fun picture book apps? Let's enjoy "reading a few apps" together and then make a simple craft related to one of them.

So first I picked two apps. I decided on Dear Zoo and Lars and Friends. Then, instead of passing out iPads and Nexus 7s, I had the kids make a Dear Zoo craft, which I took (and modified) from Kiz Club. Maybe not as cool as tablets, but they had fun anyway!

I set up the proxima and had the iPad projected on the wall. The apps went over well!  I did Dear Zoo first, assuming (correctly) that many of the kids already knew the story. I selected the option to read the story myself, then had the kids stand up and take turns prodding the iPad, opening the different packages and making the animals move around and make noises. For this app, I probably could have done without the proxima altogether, since most of the group was focused on the actual iPad in my hand. But it was nice to have it up on the wall anyway. And I did wind up using it a lot for Lars and Friends.

Cute Dear Zoo anecdote: A bunch of the kids knew the story so well that they were able to fill in things like "but he was too grumpy!" and "but he was too scary!" before I even read the words. This was a group of true Dear Zoo fans (including the librarian)!

The app itself has 3 choices when you first open it up: "Read the Book" (that's what I did), "Read to Me," and "Picture Pairs." In "Read the Book" and "Read to Me" (both following the the story, Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell), the animals all make noise and move around a little when touched--which is a cute interactive feature that the kids really seemed to like. In the last scene (the one with the puppy), you get to throw a little red ball and play fetch with the dog. Super cute. The "Picture Pairs" selection brings you to a simple matching game with the animals from the book, which can also be adjusted to "Words and Pictures," where you make matching phrases like "Too Jumpy!" to the monkey picture or "Too Grumpy" to the camel.

Overall, it's a cute app and a great companion to the actual book BUT it's kinda glitchy! Sometimes you get trapped! Two examples: At the end of the story, when you're brought to the game of fetch, sometimes you can't get out. It's just an endless fetch game. You can't even read on to get to the last passage of the book ("He was perfect! I kept him."), because it happens after fetch. Also glitchy--after winning the "Picture Pairs" game, a cute "Congratulations!" screen pops up, but that one's another trap. Neither glitch makes the app unusable, since both occur at (at least somewhat) natural endings, but they're annoying none the less.

Also, is this app no longer available? Does anyone know? I can't find it in the app store anymore.

Anyway, then we moved on to Lars and Friends. I told the group to sit down and I did all the "iPadding" myself this time. They could just relax and enjoy the story. The app ($2.99 on iTunes) has 4 sections: "Storybook," "Puzzles," "Learn," and "Info" (which has to be unlocked by an adult and is basically just the credits).

I used "Storybook" which defaults to letting you read the story yourself but also has a little icon you can press to have it read for you. Each page is interactive, but only slightly. For the purposes of storytime, it was the perfect amount of interaction. There was movement on each page, but not so much that detracted from the story or was so much that the kids wanted to press the iPad themselves.

In the story, Lars, a horse, loves to run around. One day, the other horses are too tired to run with him and Lars has to find other things to do. So he winds up hanging out with a bunch of other different animals. The cool and different thing about Lars and Friends, is that the story focuses on what these different groups of animals are called. Some examples: a school of fish, a mob of kangaroos, a memory of elephants, a tower of giraffes, and a knot of frogs. It's cool and, yay, educational! I'm considering using this app again for future programs, maybe Books n Play for Pre-K?

The other usable sections of the app, "Puzzles," and "Learn" provide simple and educational activities. I didn't use "Puzzles" in my program (but it's exactly what it sounds like: animal puzzles, varying in their degree of difficulty) but I did use "Learn" a little after I finished the story. This section goes through 48 different kids of animals and what their "group" is called. You click the picture of the animal and it says something like, "A drove of goats," or "A mess of iguanas." This is what the screen looks like. There are 2 additional similar screens you can arrow through:

The kids liked touching the pictures and hearing the words, but I'm not sure they cared (or were even old enough to care) about what the app was actually saying. It was pretty clear by the speed at which they were pressing things that they just liked the whole action/reaction thing and not the actual, name-learning element. Eh. As long as their smiling and enjoying, I guess? Maybe a little education subtly crept in there.

Last, we moved on to the craft: Make-Your-Own Dear Zoo Books (modified from these Kiz Club printables). I pre-made each child an 8-page book as well as a pile of boxes/doors/packages printed on cardstock. Then the kids were able to color all the parts and then assemble their books with tape.

You can download the 8-page Make-Your-Own Dear Zoo book here!

You can download the pictures of boxes/doors/packages here!

What worked least: I wasn't sure how I was going to do this until I saw the group I had. Whether or not I would let the kids interact directly with the iPad would have a lot to do with the number of kids I had and also their personalities. I also wasn't sure where I was going to have them sit. Or stand. I wanted them to be able to see the apps projected on the wall, but I also wanted them within arms length of the iPad so they could be part of the interaction. Luckily, when the kids arrived, they were all kids that I knew. I positioned them next to me, sitting as I stood, facing the wall with the projected image. They were a really well-behaved group who, for the most part, understood the concept of taking turns and this helped me a lot. I probably could have looked a little more prepared upon their arrival, but really, I just didn't know how it was all going to go down until I saw who I had! It's ok. It all worked out.

What else was a little awkward: The craft was really time consuming. This program was 30-minutes long and I did the apps for 15-minutes and the craft for 15-minutes (which is what I'd planned). But nobody finished their craft in 15-minutes. Everyone wound up staying late. I think if I'd made the program 45-minutes long instead, I would have eliminated some rushy, guilty type feelings at the very end.

What was the biggest challenge: Picking two apps was nothing. I could have picked 10! But having to come up with an app-related THAT was a challenge. I'd love to do a Tablet Tales program again, especially since the apps were the highlight of the program, but there's just no way kids can sit for 30-minutes of only stories, even if they are interactive, and coming up with a craft was a major challenge for me. Instead though, I want to really make it a point to use more apps in other programs like Books n Play for Pre-K, because sometimes they're just so good!

What worked best: The apps! The kids liked interacting with the iPad a lot and I think it's always fun to see something projected big on the wall. Even when I did Lars and Friends, where the kids didn't directly interact until we did the "Learn" section at the end, they still enjoyed hearing the story and seeing the animals come to life as I read. Like a magic, animated picture book. It was really cool! Plus, I had some moms ask me about the apps, which is always a good sign. Yay!

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