Yesterday the geekdaughter and I took a little trip to Media City in Manchester to visit the CBeebies offices. We’d had an intriguing invitation to see a “new product”, which we were told was under embargo. I had assumed it would be a new show of some kind, but no, when we got there we learned that the team were preparing to launch their first app, and we were part of a small group invited to be the first to play it. Exciting!
As the app is now available in the iTunes, Google Play and Amazon app stores, I can tell you what we think of it. CBeebies Playtime is an app which is squarely aimed at a young audience. I would say it is most suitable for toddlers and pre-schoolers, but the about-to-start-year-1 geekdaughter still found plenty to enjoy in it. The app contains 4 themed areas each with their own minigames, plus an area for parents which tells you about the app and gives hints on how to use it with your kids. The areas are as follows:
Something Special Paint Pop
This is the most simple of the minigames, and most suited for the youngest children or those with special needs. Your child can select one of three Something Special characters, each of which is holding an accessory that needs to be coloured. Colouring is done by tapping the screen to pop paint bubbles as they pass over the items. This is the only one of the 4 minigames which has extra parent-controlled settings allowing it to be tailored for your child’s needs.
Alphablocks Word Magic
Alphablocks Word Magic is a simple spelling minigame. Children simply tap on a picture of an everyday object and spell out its name by choosing the right Alphablocks, in the right order. There are a good number of three letter (CVC) words, with a couple of 4- or 5- letter words at the end. The geekdaughter worked her way through all the words very quickly, so I think this minigame would be best for pre-schoolers who are still familiarising themselves with phonics and spelling.
Octonauts Cadet Training
We enjoyed the Octonauts minigame, and I think it might well be the most long-lived of the selection, as it has the most variety. You need to help the Octonauts in a variety of missions to rescue sea creatures. Each mission starts with you having to guide the Octopod through some water by listening to instructions and then pressing the correct control on the screen. There then follows a different activity for each of the sea creatures – for example you need to shake the device to remove rubble, or shout at it to call out to lost Orcas.
Tree Fu Tom Chuckleberry Chase
Both the geek-kids are enjoying watching Tree Fu Tom on the television at the moment, and this minigame is the one they were both drawn to first. You have to guide Tom to collect chuckleberries and avoid obstacles, which you can either do by dragging him with your finger, or older kids can do it by tilting the device. We all enjoy this minigame, and I suspect you might find me playing it when the kids are in bed!.
You can set up up to 4 user accounts within the app, each of which has a little balloon to represent them, and each child can select their own balloon shape and pattern. As the child completes the minigames they get to choose little Cbeebies bugs (the little yellow dudes) to add to their home screen, and I just know the geekson is going to love the little train that takes a drive around the home screen every now and again! Parental information is kept out of the way and accessed by pressing and holding on a button to prevent little fingers accidentally accessing it. As you’d expect from the CBeebies team there are no advertisements or in-app purchases within the app, and only one link out to the CBeebies website which is tucked away in the parent section and requires the entry of a four digit numerical code before taking you there, so you can be pretty sure your little one isn’t going to be able to access anything outside of the app.
I should say that once you have downloaded it, the app does not require an Internet connection to run, so you won’t break anything if, like me, you keep your device in “airplane mode” when your child is playing on it. And best of all the app is free.
One little niggle with the app – it is locked to one particular orientation, which means if you have your device in a case that props it up for your kids to play, you might find the app is upside down. Obviously you can just turn the device the other way up, but some cases aren’t built to do that, like for example my current nook HD+ case:
Another niggle I have is that the app ignores any settings you have selected on your device for automatically turning the screen off after a certain period of inactivity. So if your child plays for a bit and then wanders off, abandoning the iPad, you may well come back to a flat battery later on – watch out for that!
I do wonder if this app has enough variety of content to keep kids engaged long-term. I’m not sure how often the geekson will want to go back and paint the same three accessories for the Tumble characters, or how often the geekdaughter will choose to rescue each of the 4 Octonauts sea creatures. That said, I got the feeling from talking to the production team that this is very much a first release, and they hope to add more content in future releases. I’d love to see some new sections added for some of the other CBeebies programmes, as well as expansion of the existing 4 areas.
For an initial release, with only a couple of niggles, I really like the CBeebies Playtime app. It feels like a quality app, it’s free, and it has a good blend of fun and educational content. The team have done really well to come up with a selection of minigames that appeal to a wide range of ages and abilities. So if you have a little one who loves watching CBeebies, I would recommend you download the app and give it a go. You can find it in the iTunes app store, the Google Play store and the Amazon app store.
A note for my international readers: I suspect the CBeebies Playtime app is only available in the UK app stores. Sorry about that :
Disclosure: I was invited by CBeebies to attend a pre-launch test session for the CBeebies Playtime app, which included lunch and a chance to chat with CBeebies producers.