While we all like to say to ourselves — normally in a condescending tone — that we won't let our toddlers have screen time, the modern age means iPads and phones are a great learning tool. There are plenty of apps out there that say they are good for all ages, but that hasn't been my experience at all. Most of them are too complicated or require too much dexterity from the smallest of children. Enter Pok Pok, an open-ended app aimed at the youngest of kids up through the years.
My daughter Emma, aged two and 11 months, and I, aged 41 and 1 month, have been playing with the beta version and this latest full build for several months now, and it has become one of our favorite things to do. We decided to write this article together, and though she isn't on the byline, she deserves most of the credit. Emma and I used the iPad (2020) for our review, and because it is our "child-friendly" iPad, it's wrapped up in the fantastic OtterBox Kids iPad case so we can play without fear of breaking it.
Bottom line: Pok Pok allows children to experience learning through play in an environment that is colorful and full of variety. It is well worth the small subscription fee.
- Perfect for two years and up
- Open-ended play
- Multiple playsets
- Almost nothing
- Maybe the subscription?
Pok Pok: What's good
- Me: Do you like Pok Pok?
- Emma: I luff Pok Pok! We play it together and draw hands!
- Me: What's your favorite thing about Pok Pok?
- Emma: (puts a finger to her cheek and ponders) umm... The buttons! They make noises and move and beep.
Pok Pok is made up of a series of 'Toys' that children can choose from. These Toys each have a different style of play, ranging from a simple drawing tool to an interactive cityscape filled with moving parts and real-life objectives. Maybe objective is too strong a word as the entire game is designed around the concept of open ended-play. Emma can choose any of the six current Toys and jump right in. There is no goal that she has to struggle to accomplish; she simply learns through play.
I luff Pok Pok! We play it together and draw hands! - Emma Bricknell (aged 3)
Each of the Toys has a different focus, but each is compelling in its own way. There is a drawing Toy with just a few colors to keep it simple, but it has a bonus for the adults that when the child swipes the drawing away, it saves into the app to keep them if you choose to. There's a Toy that's a huge array of buttons, toggles, switches, and dials that all make different sounds and move in fun ways when you interact. This is one of Emma's favorite Toys as the buttons are on an endless loop, so it seems like there are millions of buttons to choose from.
The endless loop theme carries over to another Toy that I like to think of as an interactive poster. It has hundreds of different people, objects, and animals from all walks of life that you can tap on to see them do different things. I enjoy playing with Emma on this Toy as I can tell her what each thing is and get her curious about the world. All of the Toys in Pok Pok are diverse in the way it depicts the people it shows in-app. The limited color palette makes it easy to show Emma that people are different from each other. The artists have included headscarves, face masks, wheelchairs, and other recognizable clothing choices that show the diverse world we live in.
- Me: Daddy likes the city game. Do you like it?
- Emma: There is an ambulance and a mailman and boats and fish and swings and...
- Me: But do you like it?
- Emma: When you play it with me
Because Pok Pok is aimed at more than just the tiniest of children, some Toys involve a little more dexterous play. The town Toy is a beautiful, drawn town full of busy people that seems to have no end to random fun things to do. When I was a kid — it was 38 years ago, so I'm a bit old — I used to have a felt city that you could stick cars and people too and move them around. The Town Toy is just like that; a 2D adventure. One thing Emma loves to do together is to drive around in the carbage truck — we have to put two people in the truck first — and drive around and pick up the garbage sacks outside people's houses. You can load them into the truck and take them back to home base. I can see how slightly older kids would have a lot of fun with this on their own.
Pok Pok: What needs work
- Me: What don't you like about Pok Pok?
- Emma: huh?
- Me: Does anything in Pok Pok make you sad?
- Emma: Pok Pok is fun. Silly Daddy
Pok Pok itself is a brand new company, with a brand new product trying to make a fun and engaging play app for kids. They succeed on just about every front, and I have a hard time thinking of any downside of the app. The adult control system is unobtrusive but does exist to set boundaries for your child, and it uses the built-in Guided Access system, so I could limit Emma to just Pok Pok, saving me from embarrassing phone calls.
The app is a subscription service, rather than a one-time purchase or free. I know plenty of people dislike a subscription, but it makes a lot of sense for this kind of app. Pok Pok isn't a static app; it will evolve over time as the company sees which Toys work and which don't, and I know they already have new Toy ideas loaded, ready to flesh out.
The subscription is $3.99 a month, or you can save yourself 37 percent and get a year for $30. I have it listed here in the "don't like" section, but $30 for an app that your toddlers can play for an entire year and that will grow as they do, is a pretty good deal.
Pok Pok: Should you play it?
- Me: Would you like to keep playing Pok Pok?
- Emma: Now? I'm talking to you right now, Daddy
- Me: That's true. What about later? Should people play Pok Pok?
- Emma: My friends can play Pok Pok with me? Sure!
I have tried really hard to be one of those parents who didn't let their toddler use the iPad, but I realized that all I was doing was hamstringing myself somewhere down the line. The iPad is a fantastic tool to help children learn, and as long as you regulate the usage, it can be used to help educate your littlest ones. Pok Pok is the first app of all the ones I've tried that offers my three-year-old an open-ended play that lets her learn. She can play with each of the Toys in short bursts or over the course of an hour, and she gets just as much from it each time.
You should buy Pok Pok if you have children from as young as 2, all the way up to eight or nine. The subscription service might turn you off at first, but it is well worth dropping $30 on for an entire year of new Toys and fun games for your child to play. Technology like the iPhone and iPad is here to stay, and we as parents would be fools not to take advantage of it.
Pok Pok is available on the App Store on both iPhone and iPad for $3.99 a month or $29.99 for the year. I'm officially a fan of the app and can't wait to see what the Pok Pok team brings in the future.
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