I’ll be frank. I’m a little confused by FunBoard.
Created by CoolKidSoftware and available for free on iTunes, this kids app is purported to be educational and catered toward younglings from the age of 18 months to roughly 4 years of age, but after some thorough tinkering on my part, and on the part of the curious, chubby, and slightly mischievous fingers of a dear 4 year old niece, FunBoard is anything but fun, and technically, anything but a board.
The app opens to a blue screen with lines radiating outward like sunbeams, or a playful circus tent, with round blue circles dotted here and there. Five images pulsate slowly in a revolving circle, each image zooming in and out, the images clockwise being what looks to be a spaceship with green amoebas, a frog, a bell, a caterpillar, and a robot. No sounds are heard on the main page, and it’s up to the child to start tapping away on the images. Tap on one of them – let’s say the bell – and a zippy, synthesized sound effect is heard, then all the images kaleidoscope down into a tiny bit of bird feed at the bottom of a screen, where a small bluebird squawks in a croaking bullfrog tone, gulps down the shrunken images, and then a new screen pops up with a blown up image of the one you tapped on.
Should you tap on the bell, the bell image is enlarged in the center of the screen, with a completely random and irrelevant backdrop of a road in a grassy plain, heading toward cloudy skies. Every now and then a rattling sound is heard and two googly eyes will appear on the bell. Tap on the bell and the bell will ring. I know, what fun, right? The little bluebird remains slumbering peacefully in the bottom left of the screen, his tummy pulsing in and out, and manages to look cute doing so. To return to the main screen, your child has to figure out that he must tap the bird, waking him with a squawk and a blink of the eyes. The robin will bounce to the middle of the screen, a heavy laden thud to his bouncy steps, and he will lay an egg, out of which comes the main screen with all five images blown up to regular size again in some cheesy, simplistic animation not unfamiliar to beginning web designs of the mid 1990s.
To make matters more confusing, try “playing” around – I say playing slightly tongue-in-cheek as I’m not entirely sure what word would better describe the actions involved in this game – with the frog. At least the frog’s backdrop makes sense, sitting him on a lily pad with reeds flush in the marshy setting. The rattle is heard still, any time a few seconds go by without any discernable tapping on the screen. However, the frog interaction elevates from the mere confusion involved with the bell, to an eerie, and slightly perturbing one. Tap the frog and he croaks, and then, whether you continue tapping him or not, he will smile, then become straight-faced, pout with sad, downcast eyes, and then snarl at you, eyes a menacing, red hued glare, his body shaking, and a creepy, buzzy “grrrrr” directed at you. I don’t see anything fun about having a frog creepily glare and snarl at you.
The same goes for the caterpillar, only instead of him glaring at you, any time you touch him, the poor caterpillar develops an expression of utmost pain or annoyance or both, eyes squinted shut, teeth braced, his body writhing beneath your finger. A bleating bird chirp is heard, as well – apparently mean to be the winching sound of his body moving in that undulating caterpillar movement -, when you drag him around screen in some bizarre, torture display. It’s quite the turn-off.
The robot one is fairly boring, just allowing you to stretch his robotic legs up or down (what, no stretching of the arms? No left and right movement? No robotic “beep boop bops” or lasers or anything more interesting and interactive? Come on now.), but I’ll give a little kudos for the strange, alien one. A family of green amoeba blobs, with eyelashes for the female, a flower and blue baseball cap for the little girl and little boy amoeba, respectively, are set before a spaceship, with space and a planet in the background. While the creatures and the spaceship are among the most unimaginative conceptions I’ve seen (it’s hard for me to describe the spaceship, it’s so lacking in defining details), I liked how tapping on each of the aliens results in a different musical note, almost like a condensed symphony or organ piano, with the spaceship giving a vibrating diaphone tone. Too bad the musical tones have absolutely no relation to the alien images at hand… this isn’t Close Encounters of the Third Kind caliber.
Despite FunBoard being free, I’m not sure what use your child, or even you, could get out of it. There’s really nothing to do. There is a slightly eerie feel to the game – if you could even call it a game – and its educational components are seriously lacking, providing little interaction, little fun, and little instinctual guidance that caters to the young mind. CoolKidSoftware claims they were inspired to create FunBoard from the UK Government’s Early Years Foundation Stage program, but I feel like this is just a cheap way to give credence or merit to the app, attaching it to some government source of psychological and behavioral research. FunBoard does nothing to incite investigation and exploration, does not develop spatial awareness skills, differentiate between numbers and counting, and most of all, does nothing to improve language skills, which is what EYFS is all about.
I say avoid this one, readers.