Lovot and Neko Donut Room

What is it:

Lovot and Neko Donut Room are two free web games with interfaces simple enough for young kids to use, but with puzzle-solving sophisticated enough for older kids to enjoy.

Who is it for:

Lovot and Neko Donut Room are for just about anyone (adults included) who enjoy quick little online games. There are very few such games that appeal to young kids, but our five-year-old loved them and was able to beat them (with a little help), and then wanted to play them again from the beginning.

What Kids Like:

The interfaces are cute and the gameplay is simple, but at the same time are full of discovery. You don’t know exactly what you’re supposed to do, but have to figure it out as you go, and that kind of discovery is very satisfying.

What Parents Like:

They are both fun games (even for me) and have zero of the negative elements often found in games. Most web games seem to be made by young men obsessed with revenge fantasies, and so the games have themes of conflict, violence, and domination. It’s refreshing to have games like Neko Donut Room and Lovot, with themes of love, helping others, discovery, etc.

PBS Kids is a wonderful, free resource with hundreds of videos and games. But a (slight) problem with those games is that the educational value often comes before the entertainment value, and so some of their games aren’t fun enough to continue playing. Not so with this game.

What the Critics Think:

Bart Bonte’s site has some user reviews (and playing tips) for Neko Donut Room and Lovot

Who Made it:

Neko Donut is a Japanese game developer [twitter link] with (as far as I can tell) these two games, both made in 2021.

(There is also a third game, Cat in Two, which is not quite as polished as the others.

Where Can I Get it:

Both games are available at unityroom.com, a Japanese collection of web games coded in Unity, which has become the de facto replacement for Flash.

Neko Donut Room

Lovot

Townscaper

What is it:

Townscaper is a very fun and relaxing town-building toy. It’s not really a game since there is no objective. The interface is extremely simple and intuitive.

From the game page:

Build quaint island towns with curvy streets, small hamlets, soaring cathedrals, canal networks, or sky cities on stilts. Build the town your dreams, block by block. No goal. No real gameplay. Just plenty of building and plenty of beauty. That’s it. Townscaper is an experimental passion project. More of a toy than a game. Pick colors from the palette, plop down colored blocks of houses on the irregular grid, and watch Townscaper’s underlying algorithm automatically turn those blocks into cute little houses, arches, stairways, bridges, and lush backyards, depending on their configuration.

Who is it for:

This one of the few things that may be equally fun for adults as it is for kids. Among the reviews I’ve read are those from college students using Townscaper as a relaxing break between assignments.

What Kids Like:

It is just so simple, with no learning curve. There is no need for instruction. They can get started right away, and get the same satisfaction they might get from Minecraft or Lego.

What Parents Like:

I love how wholesome it is, and the aesthetic.

What the Critics Think:

Townscaper is rated 4.5 on Google Play, 4.7 on the Apple store and “overwhelmingly positive” on the Steam page

Concerns/Flaws:

There is always more to want, but this is about as flawless a project that I’ve seen. What it does is wonderful and the free version is loads of fun without ads or any intrusion.

Who Made it/History:

Oskar Stålberg https://twitter.com/OskSta has been making games for years, with early prototypes such as Planet and Brick Block

Where Can I Get it:

The free version is here https://oskarstalberg.com/Townscaper/

And you can find links to all sources on the official game page

https://www.townscapergame.com/

Shawn the Train

What is it:

Shawn the Train is a series of videos for young children about a childlike train who learns about colors, letters, shapes, etc.

Who is it for:

The subject matter means the videos are for kids still learning colors, letters, shapes, etc., so roughly 3 to 5 years old.

What Kids Like:

The 3d animation is clean and appealing. The train is voiced by a young child, making it a bit more relatable than, for example, Thomas the Tank Engine.

What Parents Like:

The tone is very gentle and the pacing is very slow – a nice alternative to the frenetic kids shows on Netflix, Amazon, etc.

What the Critics Think:

This series seems to be mostly under the radar, despite having been around since 2011. I haven’t found any reviews of it.

Concerns/Flaws:

Some of the videos are aimed at very young children, children who may be too young to be watching videos at all. Of course, that’s at the discretion of the parent. The ads on Youtube can get annoying. A few of the videos have some poor voice acting (but I don’t think kids care so much about that).

Who Made it/History:

Shawn the Train is made by Coilbook, which has expanded a lot in the past decade. I’ve not been able to find any info about them

Where Can I Get it:

All the Shawn the Train and related videos are on Youtube

Ad-free versions of some of the videos are at Battery Pop

Mark Rober YouTube Channel

What is it:

Mark Rober makes YouTube videos about science. These include making a snowball machine gun, making a self-directing bowling ball, or volcanoes made from mentos and coke.

He’s not quite Steve Irwin, but shares that same type of enthusiasm and knowledge, for chemistry and physics rather than for animals.

Who is it for:

Many kids like seeing guys blow up stuff in their backyard, but these videos have a bit more science explanation. So kids who like bold, kinetic, science.

What Kids Like:

They like the ‘wow’ factor. Many videos are like high school chemistry classes (although with a much higher budget), where there’s an initial cool explosion or something, followed by an explanation of how it worked.

There is an old Sesame Street adage (from the CTW era) that if you have to choose between educating a child and entertaining them, then entertain them. Because once you stop entertaining them, you lose their interest and lose the chance to educate them again.

And that seems to be part of the philosophy of Mark Rober, to keep the kids watching.

What Parents Like:

There is legitimate science in these videos, exposing kids to new, sometimes high-level concepts, such as the Square-cube law (The square–cube law (or cube–square law) is a mathematical principle, applied in a variety of scientific fields, which describes the relationship between the volume and the surface area as a shape’s size increases or decreases.)

And perhaps more important, the videos show science to be cool and fun and interesting, that science is about being curious and figuring stuff out.

Rober is clearly a very bright and capable engineer, not merely just another youtuber.

And he has the budget and knowledge to do the sort of thing I would like to do with my kids if I could.

Concerns/Flaws:

Mark sometimes uses language such as ‘frikken’ and ‘sucks’, which I’m not thrilled about.

There is a culture and attitude on the channel that explosions are cool and guns are cool, and this is an attitude that many families (including ours) like to de-emphasize. But in Mark’s defense, he does talk about safety and eye protection, etc.

And YouTube has ads. I still have mixed feelings about letting the kids watch YouTube at all, but there is so much good content mixed in with all the garbage there, so I let them do it with me in the room.

(And this is more of a pet peeve, but Mark sometimes speaks with bad grammar, things like, “Her and I colaborated…”. This probably shouldn’t bother me, but ideally someone devoted to education should be a better example.)

Who Made it:

From Wikipedia:

Mark B. Rober is an American YouTuber, engineer, and inventor. He is known for his YouTube videos on popular science and do-it-yourself gadgets. Before YouTube, Rober was an engineer with NASA for 9 years where he spent seven of those years working on the Curiosity rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He later worked for four years at Apple Inc. as a product designer in their Special Projects Group, where he authored patents involving virtual reality in self-driving cars.

From his YouTube page:

Former NASA and Apple engineer. Current YouTuber and friend of science.

Answers to some common questions:

1) I studied Mechanical Engineering in School. I did my undergrad at BYU and Masters at USC.
2) I worked for NASA JPL for 9 years, 7 of which were working on the Curiosity Rover (I made a video about it you should def totes watch cause it’s probably my favorite of all my videos). Then I created Digital Dudz (made some videos about this too) and eventually sold it after 2 years. Then I worked for Apple in their Special Projects Group doing Product Design as a Mechanical Engineer for 5 years. As of 2019, I just make my monthly YouTube videos.
3) Link to free and therefore substandard build plans for my custom workbench can be found below.
4) I made a 30 Day Creative Engineering Class that teaches my end to end engineering process so you can make stuff too! Check it out here- https://monthly.com/MarkRober

History:

From Wikipedia:

In October 2011, Rober recorded his first YouTube video. It shows a Halloween costume that used two iPads to create the illusion of seeing through his body. His video of the “gaping hole in torso” costume went viral, receiving 1.5 million views in just one day. The following year, Rober launched Digital Dudz, an online Halloween costume company that specializes in Halloween costumes based on the same concept as the video (to which Rober holds the patent).

In December 2018, Rober posted a video showing how he tricked parcel thieves with an engineered contraption that sprayed glitter on the thieves, emitted a foul odor, and captured video of the thieves. Rober posted a follow-up in December 2019, teaming up with Macaulay Culkin and featuring an improved design. During the process of building the third bomb, Rober collaborated with Jim Browning, ScammerPayback, and various state and federal authorities to use the glitter bomb bait package as a tactic to track and arrest money mules and their supervisors, who were working with scamming call centers in India to rob elderly people of thousands of dollars. Some of the investigations are still ongoing.
Where Can I Get it:

Inside Outside

What is it:

Inside Outside is a charming illustrated book by Lizi Boyd, published in 2013. There are no words in the book and the richly illustrated pages pages alternate between inside a child’s home and outside in the yard. Cutouts in the pages act as windows, giving peeks into what is happening on adjacent pages.

Who is it for:

Inside Outside is a great story to read at bedtime. There are no words, so it’s not about teaching to read. Rather it’s a chance to talk with a young child, asking what’s going on in the pictures.

What Kids Like:

They like the simple, yet rich illustrations, and the implicit storyline that runs through the book as the seasons progress. They like looking for the little mice on each page. And they like anticipating what is going to happen on the next page.

What Parents Like:

Kids like reading the same book every night, which can get boring for us parents, but Inside Outside has enough detail on each page that I’m able to stay interested every time. I like the sweet, whimsical world created by the author. And I like the chance to discover and create the story suggested in the book.

What the Critics Think:

Goodreads gives it a score of 3.93/5
Amazon gives it 4.6/5

Books 4 Your Kids has a nice review, as does Kirkus

Concerns/Flaws:

None. This is just a wonderful book.

Who Made it/History:

Lizi Boyd is a Vermont-based illustrator, perhaps best-known for her line of greeting cards.

Inside Outside was published in 2013 by Chronicle Books

Boyd has another, also charming book called Flashlight

Where Can I Get it:

Amazon has it. It’s available at some bookstores, but may have to be special-ordered.

My Singing Monsters

What is it:

My Singing Monsters is a game where the player collects and breeds monsters, each of which sings different sounds. Monsters’ voices combine to create unique songs. Players can edit the songs of more advanced monsters.

Who is it for:

My Singing Monsters is simple enough that kids as young as 4 can play and enjoy it, but the musical composition aspect makes the game interesting for much older kids as well. Kids with musical ability and/or curiosity would enjoy the game, but the game is fun even for those who don’t care about the musical aspect.

What Kids Like:

They like the ‘breeding’ aspect of combining monsters to create new ones. They like the feature that lets them hear other players’ compositions, which are often popular songs (Imagine Dragons, AC/DC) as played by the singing monsters.

What Parents Like:

The seamless counterpoint of the monsters singing together is a great way for kids to develop a musical sense. I’ve never seen this kind of thing in another game.

The game is free. The makers of the game (Big Blue Bubble) earn most revenue through optional in-app purchases, but kids can have plenty of fun without spending any money. There are ads, but they are not as intrusive as they often are on free apps.

What the Critics Think:

If Pokémon characters ran off to populate an island and decided to form a choir, it might look (and sound) a little like MY SINGING MONSTERS, a fun and free game for players of all ages. Players breed more than 50 monsters — including two exclusives with the Vita version, named Yawstrich and the G’joob — placing them somewhere on the island and listening as they sing in unison. Collectively they form a catchy song, be it from a two-headed Venus Flytrap-like creature, a three-eyed frog thing, a skinny tree trunk (who does “beatbox” with his voice), or a booming baritone in the form of a tall, white, furry monster. To vary the song, you can mute certain monsters or position the camera with your fingertip over the ones you like best for their parts to sound louder. Game goals include building structures to increase the happiness of your creatures, breeding and hatching certain monsters, building bakeries, and removing unwanted items on the island such as rocks and trees.

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/game-reviews/my-singing-monsters

There is also an active fandom page https://mysingingmonsters.fandom.com/wiki/My_Singing_Monsters_Wiki

Concerns/Flaws:

The game is loads of fun. A problem is that the game is dependent on sound, and it can be annoying for parents to hear the same song bits and other sounds, especially when multiple kids are playing the game in the same room.

Who Made it/History:

My Singing Monsters is a 2012 video game franchise developed by Big Blue Bubble and published by Canada Media Fund. The first game of the series was released on September 4, 2012 for Apple iOS. Ports of the game for other touchscreen smartphone operating systems were later released, including versions for Android, Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Steam. The game was also released in the portable console PlayStation Vita. Since its release, My Singing Monsters has grown into a multimedia franchise, with a prequel, several spin-off games, books, live events and series, and a board game. On May 12, 2021, Big Blue Bubble announced that the series will be releasing its first console title called “My Singing Monsters: Playground” that is set to release on November 2021.

Big Blue Bubble, Inc. is a Canadian developer, and publisher of mobile video games headquartered in London, Ontario, Canada, with an office in San Francisco, California. The company is best known for the My Singing Monsters mobile game franchise. It was acquired by Swedish company Enad Global 7 on August 27, 2020.

[wikipedia]

bigbluebubble.com

Official My Singing Monsters page

Where Can I Get it:

Android Google Play Story

Steam

iOS Apple Store

Aground

What is it:

From the creator’s page:

One of the last human survivors, you find yourself stranded on an uninhabited island. With a few other victims of the crash, can you craft, mine, and build your way to survival?

Survival is only the beginning. The only way for humanity to have a future is to return to the stars and confront them. But, it will require a lot of ingenuity and help to recover everything that was lost, and even that might not be enough…

Aground is a Mining/Crafting RPG, where there is an overarching goal, story and reason to craft and build. As you progress, you will meet new NPCs, unlock new technology, and maybe magic too. Will you be able to raise dragons? Launch into space? The sky is literally not the limit. Beneath its simple exterior, Aground hides a lot of depth and surprises that will keep you wondering “what’s next?”

Who is it for:

Anyone who likes Minecraft would probably enjoy Aground as well. The interface is 2D in Aground, so is not as immersive as Minecraft’s 3D environment, but the story and continual questing makes Aground less of a sandbox game and more of an interactive narrative.

You need to be able to read to understand what’s happening, so that is a lower limit. But older kids and even adults would enjoy the game.

What Kids Like:

Aground has continual chance to level up, gather items, combine them, and continue the story. If some parts of the ‘grinding’ of resources (e.g., gathering wheat) get tedious, there are other characters (e.g., the farmer) who will do that for you.

The game is not boring, but it’s not overly complex. That’s a difficult balance that the creators have achieved, meaning the kids aren’t bored but aren’t frustrated either.

They like the 8-bit graphics as well.

What Parents Like:

The game is not an educational game, per se, but it rewards curiosity and cleverness.

In many games, the momentum and motivation ultimately comes from the threat of violence, of preparing to attack something. But in Aground, the story and the information the player gets from other characters are what motivates action.

There is some fighting (little 8-bit wild boars or dragon larva), but it’s very simplified and not very violent.

I like that the game is free, with no ads. The free version is a demo for the paid version, but kids can have many hours of fun with the demo.

What the Critics Think:

From Crazy Games, which gives the game 9.4/10:

Aground is a superb game of survival. You are stranded in an uninhabited land and you must try to survive against the elements and the heavy storm that approaches. You must collect resources such as wood and stone and then use this material to construct a shelter. You can also mine underground and forage for berries and food. Be careful as the land is full of wild animals that may attack you – create weapons to defend yourself with!

Watch your stamina bar and do not let it deplete otherwise you will not be able to complete any actions. As you play you will meet other survivors who you can interact with and form alliances with to help you prosper. The game is a lot of fun but it is also challenging – you must take care of many aspects of your survival and juggle your resources to stay alive. Can you survive in nowhere land and build a thriving community?

Google gives it 98%

Concerns/Flaws:

There is a slight bit of violence, when fighting the boars or the dragon things.

The game is a free demo. The demo is huge, and much more expansive than other game demos, but at some point the kid would have to pay the $10 or $15 for the full version.

Who Made it / History:

David Maletz released the first version in August 2018, with art by Aaron Norell and music by Chase Bethea

After a couple of years of developing the demo, with lots of player feedback, the full version was released for consoles in early 2021

More about the development history at the developer page

Where Can I Get it:

The full version is on consoles (PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One)

And you can download for desktop from

Steam and itch.io

And the free demo is available on many web game aggregator sites such as Crazy Games

Stinky and Dirty

What is it

Stinky and Dirty is a show based on characters from a couple of books, about a garbage truck and an excavator who solve problems together.

Who is it for

The show is good for kids of most ages, maybe 3-8.

What Kids Like

My kids like the celebration of filth, which is unusual among kids’ shows. Sometimes toys and games rely on the yuck factor, with slime boogers and fart noises, but ‘Stinky and Dirty’ manage to involve mess and rot and dirt without being gross.

The show is also good about how it presents problems and engages the viewer to think of possible solutions along with the characters.

What Parents Like

Years ago we got the original book called “I Stink!” that the kids liked enough to ask for it multiple nights in a row, although I initially didn’t care for it. It seemed a celebration of noise and filth that I just didn’t find amusing when trying to put little ones down for the night.

A few years later I saw that Amazon was premiering a new kids’ show called Stinky and Dirty that had animation that looked an awful lot like the book, and sure enough, the show is a spinoff of the book and its sequel. I suppose that’s a dream for many children’s book authors and illustrators, to have their work turned into a show.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I and the kids really like it.

The books are quite simple, running through the alphabet and showing vehicles making vehicle sounds. But the show is about teamwork and problem-solving, in a way that isn’t done on other shows.

The animation style is unique. It’s 3D but texture-mapped to look like paper illustrations.

The characters drive around together solving problems. Several times each episode, one of the characters asks, “What if…?” And this makes it a great example for problem-solving. Their efforts don’t always work out, but they keep trying.

I also like that the show is following in the somewhat recent tradition of using veteran actors for the voices (Martin Short on ‘The Cat in the Hat’, Christopher Lloyd and Gilbert Gottfried on ‘Cyberchase’, Elvis Costello on ‘Pete the Cat’). In this case, Wallace Shawn (Vizzini from ‘The Princess Bride’ and Rex the dinosaur from the Toy Story movies) plays Tall the crane.

What the Critics Think

7.1/10 on IMDB, 5/5 on Common Sense Media

Who Made it/History

The original book was written by author Kate Mcmullan and illustrated by her husband, actor Jim McMullan.

The show is made for Amazon, by Guy Toubes, who has written for lots of kids’ shows including ‘Odd Squad’, ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie’, and ‘Chuck and Friends’.

Where Can I Get it

You can watch the first episode on YouTube

The show is streaming on Amazon Prime.

Operation Ouch!

What is it:

Operation Ouch! is a British comedy children’s television series about the human body. The show is hosted by twin brothers and doctors Chris and Xand van Tulleken and Dr Ronx Ikharia in later episodes.

[more at wikipedia]

Who is it for:

The show is aimed at pre-teens, maybe 6 to 10 years old – kids who think boogers are funny and are old enough to be curious about where things like that come from.

What Kids Like:

The show is funny and fast-paced. It’s very informative, but never turns into a lecture. It manages to consistently strike a balance between informative and entertaining.

What Parents Like:

I like that the show is genuinely educational. There is a gross-out element, but it never feels gratuitous.

What the Critics Think:

[from Common Sense Media:]

OPERATION OUCH! is a long-running British kids’ health show that made its way stateside to Netflix in 2020. It’s hosted by twin doctor brothers Dr. Xand and Dr. Chris van Tulleken in earlier seasons, and a third host Dr. Ronx Ikharia joins the team in later seasons. Operation Ouch! is a variety-style show with a mix of segments that teach kids about health, the human body, and medical professions. Some segments involve Dr. X and or Dr. Chris tagging along in a real hospital ER or on the road with paramedics. They explain what the patient’s medical issue is, then show the doctors treating the patient. Other segments feature the twin doctors performing funny medical experiments on each other (like sending electrical pulses into the other’s brain that makes it impossible for him to pick his nose). The twins also go on field trips, like a visit to a leech-breeding company to learn how leeches are still used in modern medicine. Some parts of the show focus on amazing facts about the human body, or “incredible body tricks” that kids can replicate at home. Each episode is a tour of the human body, what can go wrong in our bodies, and what doctors can do to help us feel better.

Concerns/Flaws:

I have no criticisms of the show, but it’s a bit of a nuisance that the show recently left Netflix and is now available on Amazon, but only for sale at $3 per episode.

Who Made it/History:

[from wikipedia]

The first series has 13 episodes, the first of which aired in October 2012 on CBBC. A second series began in September 2013 and consisted of 10 episodes. A fourth and fifth series was broadcast in 2016 on the CBBC channel in the UK.[6] The seventh and eighth series were both broadcast on CBBC in 2019. A ninth series began airing on CBBC in 2020 with the first episode focussing on COVID-19, and episodes continued from January 2021. The hosts, Chris and Xand van Tulleken, were trained in medicine at the University of Oxford, and both graduated in 2002:[7] Chris is a practicing medical doctor while Xand focuses on research and teaching.[8]

Where Can I Get it:

Operation Ouch! recently left Netflix and is now on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Operation-Ouch/dp/B08N2SK59D) but not as part of Prime, meaning you would have to pay for each episode (or $30 for a full season).

You can get many full episodes and lots of clips on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/c/OperationOuch/videos) although you have to sit through ads.

Geckos Slide and Peek: A Look-and-Find Adventure in Hawai‘i

Geckos Slide and Peek

What is it:

Geckos Slide and Peek is a hidden picture book for young children. The basic idea is similar to that found in “Where’s Waldo” books, but this book is a little easier and the theme is that of cartoon geckos having adventures in Hawaii.

Who is it for:

I don’t know what the optimal age is for hidden picture books, but in our family it’s those between 3 and 5 that are most into it.

What Kids Like:

Every page of Geckos Slide and Peek has lots of details, so even if you’re not finding the items on the list, there is still a lot to discover. Even after going through the book many times, there is always more to see.

What Parents Like:

These kinds of books are a fun alternative to simply reading with a child, particularly when the child wants the same book(s) every evening.

And it’s fun to find the hidden items along with the kids.

Who Made it:

Geckos Slide and Peek is another in a long series of books by illustrator Jon J., Murakami, who is largely unknown on the mainland, but well-known in Hawaii for his syndicated comic strip, “Generation Gap”.

The gecko characters introduced in books like “Geckos Surf” and “Geckos Go to Bed” continue their adventures in this book.

Where Can I Get it:

You can buy the book directly from the author’s website or from a variety of publishers and distributors including Beach House Publishing and Mutual Publishing