LaunchPay Toys new app "Toontastic Jr. Pirates" has a unique option of letting distant relatives or friends join your child from within the app to create a story in real time.(Photo: LaunchPay Toys
(USA TODAY by Jenny Gudmundsen)--Families who are physically apart this holiday season can share some closeness by using two innovative apps.
With "Scoot & Doodle on Hangouts," a free app to use on your computer, families can enter a shared virtual hangout to talk, video-chat, and create digital art and games. "Toontastic Jr. Pirates," (for iPhone, iPod Touch, or a separate version for the iPad) lets young children create a cartoon story collaboratively with a far-away relative. Here's a closer look at each.
Scoot & Doodle on Hangouts
"Scoot & Doodle on Hangouts" is a virtual play space where friends and families can meet over the Internet to hang out together and create art projects, play games and collaborate. The app creates a whiteboard-like experience by providing a drawing space where others can all participate simultaneously. It's an ingenious idea that works well.
To activate the Scoot & Doodle's cooperative play space, you go to www.Scootdoodle.com and click on the "G+ Hangout" button. Google+ will ask you to install a free plugin that works on Windows, Mac and Linux. Once the Google+ app is installed on your computer, you enter a Google+ hangout - a place to video chat with others you know. From there, you click "Start" on the Scoot & Doodle welcome screen, and once in the collaborative play space, you can invite up to nine others to hang with you.
When you enter the hangout, if you and your invited attendees have video cameras, you can see each other hanging with you across the bottom of the screen. But, you don't have to have a video camera to participate. If your computer has a microphone, the hangout can also use your computer's microphone to let you talk to each other. If you have neither, you can still draw.
While seeing and talking to each other is fun; the heart of this experience is the large doodle-space that fills the screen. Alongside of the doodling space is a palette of colors and choices of up to five brush sizes. There are also talk bubbles and three sets of free fun stamps to use (and another three sets that cost $.99/each). Hangout participants can use the space for doodling, creating something together, or playing a visual game. Other uses include solving visual problems or designing things. All work can be saved to your Scoot & Doodle scrapbook and then shared over various social networks.
I invited friends to join me to help me decorate my virtual Christmas tree, and lo and behold, presents arrived under the tree. Families might try creating things together, by either simultaneously drawing or taking turns. Also fun is Tic-Tac-Toe, Pictionary, and other drawing games. Families can even create stories or cartoons by using the talk bubbles.
Scoot & Doodle is a revolutionary digital tool to help remote family members share drawing experiences with loved ones. Once you set it up, it is intuitive to use, and creates a fun place for families to exercise their imaginations together.
Score: 4 stars (out of 4)
Best for: Ages 3-up
Publisher: Scoot & Doodle, www.scootdoodle.com
Platform: Online using free Google+ platform
Toontastic Jr. Pirates
This iOS app teaches young kids (ages 3-6) how to create a cartoon. Kids pick a beginning, middle and an end from 12 story-starter videos. The beginning video plays, showing funny pirates doing silly things, such as fishing for a mermaid. After the video stops, kids can move the characters around on the screen and tell how the story continues. The app records both the movement of the characters and your child's speech. Next, kids select emotive music to play in the background. The app repeats this sequence with the middle and the end of the story and then magically puts it all together to create a video cartoon story. This part of the app is a great way to teach kids the fundamentals of storytelling.
For families that are separated by distance, this app provides a StoryShare option. With StoryShare, your child can interact cooperatively with an approved friend or relative (the parent needs to type in their email) to move the characters around to act out the story. For example, Grandpa can join in the story creation process and actually control and speak for one of the characters on the screen. Your child can talk to Grandpa through the app (it sounds like talking to someone on the phone) so that they can plot the story together. For this to work, Grandpa also needs to have downloaded this app.
The concept of providing a way for someone far away to share in the experience of creating digital media with your child is brilliant. In practice, this app is a little buggy. With two people controlling the characters simultaneously, the movement comes across as being somewhat jerky. And it is hard to hear both people's speech during playback. While you can talk to each other during the video story-starters, you don't have much time to plan your story before you have to perform. Luckily, there is a "Redo" button. However, when you want to talk to your collaborator during the playback of your joint creation, you have to hold down an onscreen button - kind of like using a walkie-talkie. This process might be too difficult for the intended audience; so parents should be around to help. This is a fascinating app that I hope improves with frequent updates.
Score: 3 stars
Best for: Ages 3-6
Platform: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad