The newest addition to Tinybop's Explorer Library, a series of apps designed to introduce kids to big ideas, Coral Reef lets six- to eight-year-olds learn about the ecosystems of the ocean. The app includes interactive text labels in 20+ languages and a free handbook with tips for teachers and parents. It costs $2.99.

Pros:

One of the greatest feats of Coral Reef is that it provides a very comprehensive look into an ocean ecosystem without being overwhelming. Kids can explore and play while growing seagrass, feeding peacock mantis shrimp, watching reef sharks hunt, and helping octopi camouflage. Though each activity has a specific focus, all are tied together by common themes of coexistence, interdependence, and survival in and around the coral reef.

As with other Tinybop apps, Coral Reef is also impressive for its clarity despite its lack of words. There is no narration, and the only text is in the form of optional labels identifying animals and important phenomena. This means that while slightly older, more confident readers can engage with more material, the app is accessible to users at any reading level. The exploratory nature of the activities drives users to discover different things about the coral reef ecosystem without being forcefully directed.

Cons:

While Coral Reef is as beautifully designed as the other Tinybop apps I’ve reviewed, I was a bit disappointed by the amount of passive time spent during activities. Many activities involved watching processes like decomposition and growth unfold with little more than a few initial taps by the user. These are valuable processes to learn about, but without any action required from me, I quickly disengaged.

Like other Explorer Library apps, Coral Reef comes with an excellent handbook outlining the scientific processes and ecological phenomena at work in each activity. However, without it, the concepts so thoughtfully illustrated in the app go largely unexplained. For this app to be the best learning tool it can be, parents or teachers will need to consult the handbook and engage in discussions with their child to connect theory to practice. While encouraging conversation is good, parents who don’t have the time to take this extra step might be disappointed in the app.

Our Takeaway:

Coral Reef is a beautiful, comprehensive, and reasonably priced app, but I’d highly encourage using the handbook alongside it for best results.

Image: Coral Reef via Tinybop