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App Review: Sparky the Fire Dog

Caution: this post contains nothing deep for you to dwell on. No challenges or over dramatic situations. But if you read it all the way through, it might buy you that shower time you’ve been hoping for…

About a month ago, I heard about this new game coming out to teach kids some fire safety rules. I’m all about games that are educational, and since it was also supposed to include puppies, I figured we’d jump on the bandwagon to try it out.

First, the logistics. Sparky the Fire Dog is an interactive book game for ages 2-6. It has three fire safety rules that it teaches, and it also contains three extra games. There is an e-book that goes along with it (as a separate download), but it’s for ages 7-10, and I thought that might be too advanced for me my kids.

From a parent’s perspective, this game is awesome. First, it’s free. Second, it’s free with no advertisements. This in itself is enough to make me happy. It’s like a dream to let my kids open the game and not be worried about what they see (yes. I am that mom who doesn’t buy games for her kids. Hence, my underlying worry and hovering tendencies). Aside from that, I really appreciate how the game took age into account with varying degrees of interaction and difficulty. The home screen contains three reading options: read to me, read and play, and read to myself. All three versions are interactive. The read to me version obviously reads to you at each page turning. The read and play, however, stays quiet until you touch the words. You can read along and touch each word to have it pronounced. It’s great for kids learning to read, and actually Micah prefers this version because he really likes to feel in charge of the story.

The story itself is cute, and it teaches three fire safety rules without making it scary. I clearly remember being a small person the night after fire safety was taught at kindergarten. As I laid in bed, I strategically plotted my escape route so as to pick up the maximum number of treasures I owned without slowing me down. I would lay there night after night trying to figure out how to get my sister out the window when I couldn’t even reach it. Needless to say, my fire safety experiences were not nearly so pleasant as Sparky the Fire Dog would have them. In this story, Sparky is headed to teach the rules to a local school. He briefs us on the rules before he goes. Meanwhile, his dog friends are planning his surprise birthday party. They want to bake a cake and repeat the rules two times so that they can all know how to be safe. After Sparky returns, they surprise him with cake, presents, and a piñata! Each page is interactive, and a couple if the pages have cause-effect interactions: you drop the eggs, and Spanky the dog licks them up, you can decorate the birthday cake, etc. These have been Micah’s favorite pages, and he spends most of his time on them.

In terms of use-ability, they did a really good job including visual cues. It’s non intrusive, so the child can play without being pestered to touch specific things, but it’s obvious enough that the child knows what to do next. It also remembers where you were in the story when you come back into the app. I can’t decide if I like or dislike this feature: it’s nice for them to pick up where they left off, but upon entering the app, you are faced with a confirmation box that you want to start from the last place you were. Since my kids can’t read, they get confused about it and often close the app (ok, probably because they’re usually faced with advertisement pop ups trying to get them to buy stuff. I know, I should really buy them more games).

Finally, there are three additional games, one song, and coloring pages. The games are also varying difficulty teaching numbers, shapes, and basic addition. Micah and Norah both mastered the numbers and shapes one pretty quickly. But they don’t get the math one yet and haven’t tried it again since the first couple of times. The coloring pages are pretty basic, and my kids have both enjoyed them. However, it does do a whole fill-in vs a coloring-motion feature, which Micah (being my child and having perfectionistic tendencies) loves because it looks nice, and Norah (ever my artistic one) dislikes because it cramps her coloring style. The song has not been played with much. Micah watched it for about 30 seconds and said it was boring.

Both of my kids really enjoyed the book as a whole, although it was too advanced for Norah (only 20 months), so I played it with her. I definitely feel like my kids know the sound of the smoke alarm! Micah said that the game was, “pretty hard, but I’m playing it and it’s actually pretty easy,” which I took to mean he liked it because it had some challenging aspects but was simple enough to enjoy. At least, that’s how his playing appears to me.

The biggest downfall, in my opinion, is that it isn’t a game that keeps my kids coming back again and again. The newness wore off pretty quickly. That may just be my kids, and I’m not sure what could be done to change that.

Overall, I give this game five stars. Check it out here and let me know what you think!

Ps. If you’re a homeschool parent or a teacher, they have additional resources for you here.

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