The iPad can be tons of fun for kids, but the trick is to balance hands-off activities like watching a movie with hands-on projects like making your own. Osmo is hands on — it's a set of iPad games played with real-world pieces, and unique stand with a red plastic piece that redirects the iPad's front-facing camera to the game pieces as your child interacts with them on a table or floor.
The three companion apps — Tangram, Words, and Newton — offer a range of experiences, from peacefully assembling tangram puzzles with wooden pieces, to flinging letter tiles onto the table to spell a word faster than your friend, to dreaming up solutions to a physics-based puzzler by drawing on paper or building contraptions with everyday items.
The beauty is, while kids in the target 6 — 12 age range can get hours of hands-on play with Osmo, the apps are simple enough to understand that they shouldn't need much help from you. Yes, of course you can play together — the apps encourage team efforts. But if you need to hand off the iPad to buy yourself some quiet time to work on something else, you can feel good that if kids are using Osmo, they're using their brains.
Let's get going
Calling the setup easy is an understatement — it's so beyond easy my toddler could do it. You just put the iPad in the stand, then place the red piece with the mirror over the iPad's camera. That's it. There's no charging, no Bluetooth, no Internet connection needed. A thin red line even appears at the top of the screen in each app to help you verify that you lined the red piece up correctly.
You do need a little space on the table or the floor in front of the iPad — this isn't a game for the car, in other words. But Tangram and Newton would both be fine at a restaurant table while you're waiting for your meal.
When you fire up the Osmo apps, they provide brief animated screens that show you what to do, without lengthy instructions or a tutorial. The game is rated for kids age 6 to about 12, and kids in that age group should be off to the races without much (if any) help from you.
But I can't get within a couple feet of my iPad without my almost — 3-year-old son wanting to "help." So I let him, thinking it'd be a good test of the Osmo's user-friendliness — and hopefully validation for me that he's a genius, right? We had to play as a team, of course, and I had to explain to him what was happening. But he loved the games, and I mostly did too.
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