When I'm asked about the best children's software these days I often point people toward the Osmo platform for iOS. It uses a mirror attachment to let the iPad and in some cases the iPhone, responds to what a child draws or does in front of it. This has led to creative approaches in the way children interact with, and learn from, their smart device. There have been hits (most recently last year's SuperStudio), some interesting approaches (like the Hot Wheels racing game that integrated the toy cars with virtual race tracks), and a few games that left us scratching our heads.
In 2019, Osmo has delivered some great software, some that leaves room for improvement, and others that make us ask "what were they thinking?".
Let's start with the best first: Osmo's Detective Agency ($39.99) is geographic fun in the tradition of Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego with a bit of I-Spy thrown in for good measure. Kids study illustrations of six world cities, plus one fantasy village and a map of the world in their quest to solve the mysteries or locate people or things that have gone missing. It is challenging and full of fun facts about the world that kids love to learn and then use to demonstrate their mastery. In fact, it is even better than the most recent Carmen titles at conveying the diversity of the world and the excitement of discovery.
Osmo's Super Studio Frozen 2 ($19.99) uses some of the same technology that made the original such a hit, but using Frozen II as the subject matter instead of Mickey and his friends. Kids are guided through the app to "complete" drawings they see on the screen by using markers on a special pad. The drawings are then scanned by the osmo, brought onto the screen and animated by the software. Though more interesting (and open ended) than a coloring book, the experience it is not a substitute for the challenges and rewards of a blank paper and a set of art supplies. Still, for fans of Elsa and the movies, there is magic here.
I would recommend passing on the Little Genius ABCs and Squiggle Magic set. ($39.95). Kids are asked to "assemble" letters from various plastic shapes supplied in the set and "read" by the Osmo. I consulted with an educator who taught first and second grade for many years. She was concerned that the shapes created letters that really were only approximations of the way they should appear, and that they really didn't give much help to a child who was learning to draw them.