Today marks the launch of what might well be one of the most fun math apps for kids – “Mickey’s Magical Math World” from the Disney’s Imagicademy suite. But before I get on with my review, let me set the scene for you…
Before having children, I imagined I would spend all my “family time” ice skating and hula hooping, and imparting my vast knowledge to the next generation. Coffee with friends would involve sitting in a trendy Muswell Hill cafe chattering about how delightful our kids were, and sighing while looking at photographs of our little cherubs.
Come and peek in the window of that trendy cafe and you’ll see us leaning over the table, peering not at lovely photographs but at Number Lines, scribbling little arrows and criss-crosses as we try to teach each other what we think the kids might be learning, and commiserating about not being allowed to do what is now apparently called Column Addition until the teacher says so. I’m bemoaning the fact that a science degree and 20 years of experience doesn’t stand a chance against my 6 year olds’ The Teacher Told Me To Do It Like This stubbornness, and that I really do need to figure out what on earth a “number bond” is.
You’d better believe I put up quite a fight about the new-and-improved way to “carry the one“.
She was 7.
We’re also talking about how we use rewards, stickers, educational toys, workbooks, and (dare I say it) precious screen time to sneak some maths facts into our kids.
As a mum of kids in Year 2 and 3, I’ve done it all. I’ve gone through the absolute torture that is Kumon and weighed the huge benefits against the boredom and tears. I’ve set my “But That’s My Work Computer” anxieties aside to let the kids earn their weekly certificate in Mathletics. I secretly love choosing which Squeeble is going to help with Times Tables.
I have a house covered in LEGO and Numicon and love to tell terrified new mums just how perfect they are for “consolidating maths facts” (Note: they are especially good for such on a Saturday morning after a night out). Bond Papers, Schofield and Sims, Mythical Maths books… I’ve tried the lot.
So along comes Disney with a new Math app for kids. But is it worth adding to the mix?
Well, the short answer is… yes. Designed for children aged 3 to 8 (preschool through to Year 3 or 4), Mickey’s Magical Math World has a little something the others don’t have. Quite a few little somethings, in fact…. but I will just give you my top 5.
1. Characters the kids already know and love
In true Disney form, there is a story linking all of the games and learning activities together, with characters we all know and love, like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Donald Duck. One of the bits I liked the best was this cute approach to a Number Line, with Donald Duck snoozing in a sun lounger at the end of the line. Every successful journey along the number line finishes with poor Donald getting rudely awoken – pretty much guaranteeing your kids will want to wind him up again and again.
2. A brand mums and dads trust
It only takes a quick glimpse at preschool shows like Henry Hugglemonster, live performances like Disney On Ice or a visit to Disneyland California to know that Disney’s got it sussed. No matter whether it’s a film, TV show, live performance or a theme park, they think of every tiny detail, and deliver a solid, high quality experience time and time again. With this new suite of Disney Imagicademy apps for kids, parents know their child is enjoying high quality content pitched at the right level, that the children aren’t going to be tricked into costly upgrades or in-app purchases, and that the app will hold their child’s attention for longer than the first day.
3. Fun, child-led learning
It’s fun. Really fun.
What I love best is for the kids it doesn’t feel like they are choosing between Learning Numbers 10 to 20 and Learning 3D Shapes like they would with something like Mathletics – which even to the most academic little one feels like homework. In Mickey’s Magical Math World, they choose which world they want to enter or which character they want to join – for example, they could enter the space playground, customise the sandbox and the slide, and build sandcastles, or create a robot or googley-eyed spaceship… and happen to learn number bonds, 3D shapes, patterns and sequencing, problem solving, deduction, sorting, counting in 2s, 5s and 10s and much more along the way.
4. Smart product development
I had the remarkable opportunity to interview Jeff Sellinger, the Head of Disney Publishing Worldwide, about how Disney’s Imagicademy apps for kids were created – from concept to testing and launch. He’s not from a Disney or even an educational background, but having proven his approach to product development with the hugely successful Shopkick, Jeff is exactly the guy you want on the job for a solid, well crafted suite of mobile apps.
The trick, Jeff says, was to create a suite of apps that would genuinely inspire a love of learning, and to meet the learning objectives for young children, not by rote or drills but by making and doing.
Along with their US education experts, they worked with Professor Jackie Marsh from the University of Sheffield, a specialist in early childhood play and digital literacy. They researched, planned and tested with people who know how those little minds work, and what inspires children to seek out new learning experiences. Much like the approach favoured by lean start-ups, they use “rapid prototyping” to test out their ideas before committing too much time and budget to a particular solution… which meant that if something wasn’t quite right about a particular game or part of the app, they could bin it and re-think.
The result is a well thought out and genuinely high quality product they’re proud of, with lots of little details that make the experience really quite lovely for both parent and child.
5. Killer “Companion App” for Parents
Alongside the Disney Imagicademy apps for the kids is a mobile app for parents to help them keep track of what their child is learning, and even reward them for their efforts.
The idea is really simple – as a parent you can see which games the child has been playing and at which level, and send them a little digital “High 5” as a reward now and then – sounds a little cheesy but the kids love the praise, and love knowing that we’re interested in what they’ve been up to.
What I like best though, is that rather than being like a record of achievements or a report card, it’s more of a portfolio with actual digital copies of what the kids have created that day. Say for example they created a really cool robot with Minnie – you can see it, share it on Facebook, or use it as a prompt in the Parent’s forum. The effect is very much like when your child brings home their end of term portfolio of all their crazy artwork – it’s about a zillion times better than having the teacher write about their creativity.
The Parent Portal also helps mums and dads understand how each game your child is playing meets the learning objectives, and has craft activities and printables for you to try at home too.
As you know, I have tried pretty much everything out there, and am pretty impressed. Mickey’s Magical Math World is lots of fun, well designed, and the clever use of much-loved characters and storytelling will hold the children’s attention and engage them. The quirky little details and the “easter eggs” in the game are a really nice touch. All in all, worth downloading!