Parents of young children, this one’s for you. Jacob’s Shapes is a charmingly illustrated app designed to help kids learn shapes and vocabulary. The “shapes” of the title aren’t limited to just circles and squares, and instead introduce kids to a whole range of basic and fun words through as gentle and wholesome an early learning experience as you’re likely to find in the App Store.
From what I can tell, the app was created by developer dad Nathan Murray for his son, Jacob, after he noticed a lack of good kid’s apps in the App Store, and it’s a sweet backstory for a sweet app.
Jacob’s Shapes comes with 20 unique and easy to play levels. Each level has a particular theme, say an African safari scene, with various items or animals cut out. The scene starts out mostly grayed out, but with the holes for the missing pieces very clear. Drag the item to its proper location in the scene, and it snaps into place as a voice narrates the name of the item out loud. Fill in all the shapes and you’ll be greeted with applause as the scene springs into full color.
One of the very best features of the app is the narration. You have a choice between an adult or child’s voice, and while the adult narration is perfectly adequate (and probably better for teaching children proper pronunciation), I have to admit that the child’s narration is one of the most devastatingly adorable things I’ve ever heard. Along with the charming and original illustrations, it completely melted my cold and crusty heart.
In many ways, Jacob’s Shapes is very similar to old-fashioned wooden peg puzzles, but the digital interface makes it easier in a lot of ways. You have access to dozens of words instead of 5 or 6 at a time, so kids can’t get bored, and it makes clean up and storage a snap, since you won’t lose any pieces or have to fuss with bulky boards. Admittedly, you have to keep a closer eye on your kids if you’re going to hand over your iPhone, but the simple touch interface makes it easy for them to play.
Something I especially loved about this app was its lack of corporate branding. You won’t find Mickey Mouse, Spongebob Squarepants, or Dora the Explorer here, just plain, straightforward depictions of zebras, beluga whales, and mashed potatoes. All the illustrations are beautiful, straightforward, and free of heavy marketing. If you’re concerned about companies pushing merchandising down your kids throats, then you’ll especially appreciate Jacob’s Shapes.
Bottom line: Attractive and engaging kids apps are rare and precious things, and Jacob’s Shapes is a sparkling gem of an app. Parents of toddlers should definitely give this one a try.
Here is a video demo of the Jacob’s Shapes app on the iPhone
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