Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer-an Educational Playset

Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer is the best Augmentative (AR) Reality app and toy we have used thus far with young children. What a privilege it is to review this masterly crafted playset. It has all the features of a true educational package that is respectful of a child’s developmental level and facilitates the skills needed to challenge a child’s skill base by using familiar play schemes. Gameplay centers on designing and mixing features of a home – floors, walls, furniture, and even the clothing for all the characters that we have grown to love in the Dr. Panda series. It is simple to use and even the youngest of kids can manage all controls independently. It really shines in the hands of older preschoolers and early elementary kids, but we have used this with children younger than 3 with some assistance. On opening the package, there are 51 cards of routine household items. The surface of the cards is easy to clean and made from very sturdy cardboard at its core – making them long lasting tools for play (Our review copy made it through weeks of heavy preschool use and still looks like new). Twelve washable markers come with the set, and I am hoping Dr. Panda will be selling extra marker sets to replenish the kits as needed, although any washable marker set will do the job. On the inside sleeve of the box is a QR code to scan to download the app. AND with that, we are ready to go!

Inside Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer

Once set-up is complete, open the app and choose either the Design or Quest Mode of play. The Design Mode is a creative sandbox for learning to color – which includes holding a writing utensil, making discernable markings, and having a sense of color. When children first learn to color, they tend to use their arms and hands as a unit, making big strokes. It is more of a gross motor action, and kids tend to use one color to define a whole picture. In addition, many children need to

Photo by John Orvis

stand when coloring, so it is perfectly normal if your child chooses to do so. Coloring is an excellent activity to experiment with how to stabilize core musculature and begin to use the arms and hands for refined control. And because the task is low demand – it’s one of the best to use if your child is struggling with prewriting or writing skills. The cards are simple pictures of everyday household objects. The clean design is genius as it directs a child’s eye to the area needing color. I love the fact that the boundaries of the objects are outlined in black, giving prompt feedback to

Photo by John Orvis

reign in the placement of color. Each card has one item to color and can double as a flashcard once a child has finished coloring it.

The cards are now ready to scan into the app. And it’s a snap! Many of the AR apps that use cards or pictures need to have the device held just so, and the 4D picture goes on and off the screen. Usually, it is near impossible for kids to scan them independently, and by the time it is scanned, kids have moved on to something else. What sets Home Designer away from the pack is once a card is scanned into Home Designer, the object appears on the screen without having to manipulate the iPhone® or iPad® further. The object is then portrayed on the screen in isolation so that kids can match the letters to spell the object’s name. This immediacy of reinforcement and the open play invitation created in Dr. Panda’s Home Designer just further promotes continued investment and engagement. The process is ripe for building both language and motor skills. Just to note – all pictures are reflected as face-forward and interacted with in that way. However, that is the way young kids view and relate to items in play. They are just beginning to define and experiment with spatial concepts.

The fun begins when you have characters and furniture in the room. Everything is alive and ready for interaction – the coffee on the coffee table is drinkable – and it’s so cool to have a “live” house to play with. When playing with 2 or more kids, their storylines are a wealth of information of where they are cognitively and are often quite hilarious.

Quest mode is a challenging “Search and Find game” using both object identification and sequencing to scan in the requested objects to help Dr. Panda and crew outfit a house. Challenges increase in difficulty and include the direct application of numeracy and spelling skills in addition to the ability to visually scan and discriminate what is pertinent and needed. Sometimes the characters ask for objects or to find something beginning with a “t”. My only wish for Quest Mode would be to be able to set the controls as to the level of difficulty. The cards in Quest Mode are super simple to scan and work seamlessly with play. The technology is part of the process of play rather than the star. AND that is what makes this playset so fantastic – as the focus is on the child and not the tech behind it. At our school, placing the cards all around the child uses both core musculature and the ability to physically and visually cross midline. These are all essential skills needed in learning to read and write. Hint: When playing – not everything needs to be done at a table!

In Summary

Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer is packed full of opportunities for experimentation, teaching, and down-right FUN. Through play, kids will be learning about daily routines and the objects for interaction within their homes and familiar community activities. It is an outstanding school readiness playset as it combines both ideational thinking and the ability to experiment creatively. Lessons in learning about letters, words, and a child’s relating of original storylines are at a parent’s, teacher’s or clinician’s fingertips. In addition, aesthetic senses are inspired and reinforced through the app’s ease of use for almost any child. This is a playset that masterfully combines tech with tried and true play schemes, uplifting and redefining play for the 21st century. Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer is available in all US Apple retail locations, Apple.com and on Amazon.


3 replies added

  1. Eiry Rees Thomas September 22, 2017 Reply

    Thank you for these must-read blogs and the valuable insight, Jo.

  2. Brenden September 25, 2017 Reply

    Hi Jo!

    As the designer behind the core of Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer, I’m so pleased to know that my hard work on ensuring that both younger and older children can have their own types of fun with the playset was noticed!

    A lot of other reviews focused on its use as a creative tool for older children, but a lot of design decisions have been taken with the three year old in mind. The spelling, the colouring and design of the cards, even the fact that as you rightly noticed, the kid doesn’t need to HOLD the card or the device for any longer than is necessary for the magic to happen is to ensure better usability for children who are still learning fine motor skills.

    I’m really glad to hear that the Quest mode is working great. Unfortunately, I’m not with Dr. Panda anymore but I’m sure the team will look at your idea of allowing different controls for difficulty. Just to give an insight into why we made this decision, we design our games with the express idea that after the app has been given to the child, they should be able to play with it unsupervised. With that in mind, we decided that difficulty was something that we would not have the child or the parent think about to make the experience as smooth as possible.

    I hope that the playset keeps being fun! Ideational thinking is definitely the right phrase, kids playing with the playset should be encouraged to explore the idea of homes and houses and rooms. What does it mean to have a bedroom or bathroom or kitchen and why? They should also be encouraged to explore of what domestic life means not only to them but also to others.

    Thank you so much for your write up and your praises!

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