The Covid-19 pandemic has confined most people—young and old—to their homes. It has been more than three months since people started taking precautions against the virus and most have adjusted to staying at home—working from home and studying from home.

But for kids, the pandemic could not have come at a worse time. While some were happy initially as they didn’t have to go to school, when realisation dawned that their summer holidays meant staying put at home—no playing in the park, pool, or courts; no visiting malls or friends; or no trips—many were left restless.

Thankfully, television and being glued to the mobile phone or PC are not the only things kids can indulge in during these trying times. They can learn new things or pick up a new skill.

The modern world has shown the importance of STEM education. Globally, there have been attempts to introduce children to—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or STEM—from a young age. However, most traditional teaching tools are non-interactive, and mostly is not fun for the child. What if the child could be taught through fun and games?

Indian startup PlayShifu has some solutions, both for STEM education, and for STEAM, that is STEM plus the arts, which attempt just that. And they have used AR to make them interactive and fun. I gave them a spin for the kids, and here is what I found:

Plugo STEM Wiz Pack

Under PlayShifu’s Plugo platform, this consists of three games—Count, Letters, and Link. But to use these, and any other Plugo product, you also need to buy the Gamepad for ₹1,000; and, of course, you need a tablet—I used the iPad.

Back to the Wiz pack. First, I downloaded the Shifu Plugo app from the App Store on the iPad. After you download it, the app gives you the option of adding all the Plugo games you will use. I started with Count, and the good thing is you can set the levels from Pre-K to Grade 5 and what all you would like the child to learn (this is available across all the games in the pack). And to change settings, you need to answer a math question to make sure it is the parent and not the child. Next, an animation told me where to place the iPad and the Count base (for want of a better word) on the Gamepad. And I was set. There are five story-based games to choose from, with more than 250 puzzles and challenges. I loved the logical reasoning bits and wished I had this product when I was a kid.

Next, I tried out Letters. I have been playing Scrabble from quite a young age, so I thought this will not interest me. How wrong I was. This was so much more than forming words; it also helps with basic grammar concepts, again through story-based games. I also loved the comprehension bits. It would have been so cool to have been introduced to these while still a toddler. Would it have made a better writer? I do not know.

Finally, I was on Link, which promised engineering puzzles (think side-scrolling platformers on mobile phones). It might seem easy but balancing those magnetic blocks do help you refresh your grey cells; I loved the fact that the games got my creative juices on overdrive to solve puzzles. If not anything, this helped me get back to the basics of analytical thinking.

Taken together, this pack promises hours of learning fun when stuck at home. Just ensure that your kid sticks to this app on the tablet.

Price: ₹4,499 for STEM Wiz Pack; Gamepad for ₹1,000

Plugo Tunes

While I love listening to music, I have no clue about musical notation or playing any instrument. And at my age, learning something new is a challenge. So, I was sure that this game was sure to challenge me more than any kid. And I was not wrong; what I did not realise was it would be so much fun learning the basics of music and how to play a keyboard, ably helped by my trusted friend Itty, the octopus. (If you do not like this creature, you can always pick Kitty the cat or Bitty the bird.) Truth be told, I have spent the maximum amount of time with this game, learning how to play popular songs, the musical notes, and the like. Who knew that a toddler’s keyboard meant so much fun?

Price: ₹1,999

Image : PlayShifu

Orboot Earth

As a kid, I was fascinated with globes and always wanted one on my study table. Sadly, my well-travelled parents were not that enthusiastic, and insisted that I learnt to read maps well. I did not know how to react when asked to review a globe, but an AR globe? That had me intrigued, especially when I got to know that this product started life as a Kickstarter project. But first, I had to download the Orboot Earth AR by PlayShifu app on the App Store, set up a profile and then let the app download some 770 MB of data. Besides the core, it was downloading data on monuments, inventions, cultures, and cuisines, among other things. My appetite was whetted. And even while downloading all this stuff, the screen supplied one with a lot of trivia.

The interesting bit is that the app is a lot of fun even without the Orboot globe, but without it you will not have the AR experience. The OKO Park is a nice lesson in environmental balance, with the OKO Circle of Balance. Tour is another nice section; you can zoom in on various continents and find their natural inhabitants. Clicking on an animal reveals more information about it. But to keep playing, and to get the full AR experience, you need the physical globe. Once you point the tablet at the globe, the app seems to come alive. There is so much to do and explore on the Orboot Earth; and the box with the globe comes with some cool stuff. The gamified app is something kids can get hooked on to quickly. The construction of the physical globe though seemed a bit flimsy; but I guess its light and easy to handle by a child. Another thing I noticed is that sometimes, some objects would disappear from the globe, especially when the light was not good. But it worked well in well-lit places.

The Orboot Earth promises to make kids interested in geography and travel; and while television documentaries are grander to watch, this is much more interactive. However, what happens when the kid is done playing all the games on the app? Maybe you should get the one on dinosaurs or wait for the upcoming Mars globe. I wish these were around when I was a kid.

Price: ₹1,999

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