Review: For the kids – 2 misses and a BIG HIT from School Zone - Macenstein

Review: For the kids – 2 misses and a BIG HIT from School Zone

school zone iPad game

Any parent who has bought their kid an iPod or iPad, or even just let them borrow their iPhone to shut them up in a restaurant or car ride knows how addictive Apple’s devices can be for small children (or 30+ year olds, for that matter). But along with the blessed silence comes the unavoidable pangs of guilt in knowing your child has just spent three hours playing video games instead of talking to Grandma at dinner. Well, early on I found a way to avoid those guilty feelings and evil looks from Grandma by forcing my children to spend at least 5-10 minutes a day playing an educational game of some sort before they can play what they REALLY want. For the most part I’ve found this to work wonderfully, as the allure of the various games and videos I’ve loaded up on the iPad is stronger than my kids aversion to math.

But, what if the learning didn’t have to be so boring? What if there was a way to trick a child into actually WANTING to learn? Well, School Zone, makers of all those home study flash cards and workbooks you see in Super Markets and such has entered the iPod/iPad game arena in a big way as of late, and today we’ll review three of their iPad-only math apps, Addition and Subtraction Flash Actionicon($4.99), Multiplication and Division Flash Actionicon ($4.99), and Time, Money and Fractions On-Trackicon ($9.99).

school zone iPad game

I’ll begin by lumping the first two, Addition and Subtraction Flash Actionicon($4.99), Multiplication and Division Flash Actionicon ($4.99) together as they are more or less the same app, with the exception that one focuses on addition and subtraction, and the other tests multiplication and division. The design of these two apps is styled after those big clunky plastic “calculators” for kids, with the LED screen, big buttons, and annoying muffled sound effects (this is not to say the sound is muffled here – it’s actually one of the better parts of the games – I’m just giving you an idea of the “feel” of the app). There’s something a little odd about reproducing the look of those things on the iPad, in that the actual plastic devices are designed to take the abuse of a 4 year old, such as being dropped, thrown, and spilled on, while the iPad is certainly not.

school zone iPad game
Wow. that’s some celebration.

Both the addition/subtraction and the multiplication/division versions of the apps are set to test “flash card” style knowledge – basically just a series of seemingly endless math problems. For the add/sub apps, you can choose an age group difficulty of problems, and constrain the questions to addition, subtraction, or a mixture of both. There is a one and a two player mode, as well as a “test” mode where the computer will ask you 55 questions and rate your accuracy. When completed, a fairly lame old school LED-looking animation of some sort will play for about 3 seconds, hardly enough to reward a kid for answering 55 questions. Unfortunately I did not see any way to set a lower number of questions, say 10 or 20, as with young kids 55 is a bit beyond their attention span.

The multiplication/division version of Flash Action is basically identical in features and setup, except that instead of choosing difficulty by age, you can select a specific number to test. For example, if your kid is studying their 6 times table, you can constrain the test to only ask 6x problems. The apps are so similar in fact that School Zone really should have combined them into one app, as neither on their own is really worth the $4.99 price.

school zone iPad game

That’s not to say either app is bad, per se. Both apps work well enough for their intended purpose of testing and reinforcing basic math skills, but both fail miserably at bringing any fun or creativity to the table that would encourage a kid to launch either app without being forced to by their parents. Neither of my children (ages six and eight) liked playing either of these games, which both come across feeling like homework. Invariably they would each whine and ask to play one of the more “fun” learning titles I have.

school zone iPad game
school zone iPad game
Above: Aside from begin purple, not much is new in the mult/div version of Flash Action.

Which brings us to School Zones third iPad app, the much more creative and engaging Time, Money and Fractions On-Trackicon ($9.99).

school zone iPad game
Above: Ollie Gator knows how to party..

This game costs twice as much as the first two, but some real effort went into this title, and it really does make learning fun. Unlike the straight math fact games listed above, this one focuses on basic money, time, and fraction questions for your child. As such, it likely won’t be of too much use above grade 1 or 2, but it is so well done that even my 8 year old enjoyed playing it, if for no other reason than to show off.

school zone iPad game

The real charm in Time, Money and Fractions On-Track comes from the cute visuals, encouraging voice work, and bizarre yet cute “cut scenes” between levels. These mini animations do little more than make kids giggle, but it’s enough of an impetus to get them to want to finish a level just to see what happens next. My kids actually asked to keep going after I told them they could stop if they wanted, which is almost unheard of in the edutainment market.

school zone iPad game
Above: One of the odd cut scene animations that kids like features a cat in a runaway car.

In addition to the animations, there are occasionally some mini games thrown in that have little to no educational value, just to keep the kids interested. For example, every couple of levels they may be asked to play a “pong” like game, or a cute driving game or such. The games are all quite easy and slow compared to a “real” iPod/iPad game, but my kids enjoyed playing them anyway, similar to the way they will still sit and watch an episode of Blue’s Clues if you turn it on even though they’ve outgrown it.

school zone iPad game
Above: One of the included mini games.

The interface is fairly well laid out for the most part, although selecting different text fields CAN be a little tricky for younger kids. But once you sit with them through a few problems, odds are they’ll get the hang of it.

My only real issue with the game is that the way you enter text is a bit odd, as the whole giant keyboard slides up, obscuring most of the screen, when really all you need are the numbers 0-9 for the most part. This isn’t a big issue, but it just feels a little clunky as you sometimes need to scroll around to see where you’re typing.

school zone iPad game
Above: That’s a big keyboard.


It’s fairly easy to make a flash card app for the iPad, and there are dozens of them out there that will give you more bang for your buck than Addition and Subtraction Flash Actionicon($4.99), Multiplication and Division Flash Actionicon ($4.99). The hard part in creating a math application for kids is making it engaging enough that a kid will come back to it with minimal coercion, and, if you’re really luck, perhaps even of their own free will. School Zone’s Time, Money and Fractions On-Trackicon ($9.99) nails this aspect, and assuming your kids are of an age where they are learning about time, money, and fractions, this is a great app and well worth the price.

Addition and Subtraction Flash Actionicon($4.99),

Multiplication and Division Flash Actionicon ($4.99).

Pros: Delivers an acceptable way to learn math facts, user interface might be easy for small kids to work, although by the time they’re able to to the multiplication and division it might be too babyish for them
Cons: Boring, expensive, limited functionality, not fun

Time, Money and Fractions On-Trackicon ($9.99)

Pros: Creates a fun environment for learning, lots of content, fun cut scenes and games keep kids coming back.
Cons: The basics of data entry might take a little bit of coaching at first, but kids will pick it up soon enough.

One Response to “Review: For the kids – 2 misses and a BIG HIT from School Zone”
  1. Ryan says:

    Bit cheap looking, but I guess kids don’t really pick up on stuff like that.

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