Review by Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2014

Gracie and Friends Birthday Cafe

Numbers-and-quantity game has precise focus and superb scaffolding

Common Sense Says:
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Grades
Pre-K-K This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: A great learning support system adapts to each kids' learning needs.

Cons: Gameplay may get repetitive and there's no option for creating multiple user accounts.

Bottom Line: Super approach to teaching a very specific topic: Help kids develop an easy familiarity with quantities under five.

Combine screen time with meaningful offline activities, even outside designated "math" lessons. Point out groups of anything -- toys, shoes, pencils, etc. -- and ask how many there are. Then re-arrange the objects and ask again. Have kids practice making quick number judgments to match quantities, such as choosing the right number of napkins to pass out to their table at snack.

Teachers should be aware that progression through Gracie and Friends Birthday Café is personalized, but there's no way to create personalized accounts. Each kid will need to finish all 20 levels before passing the device on to a classmate. Watch kids as they're playing to gauge who's breezing through and who might need extra help beyond the screen.

In 2015, a full curriculum of activities will be available for download, but for now, you can access 14 printable activities on the developer's website.

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Gracie and Friends Birthday Café is part of a package of free apps and off-screen learning activities for the preschool classroom. Kids match number of party guests with seats at a table, and number of food plates to hungry guests as they seat and serve food to Gracie and her diverse group of friends. To do this, kids must subitize for numbers up to five, or quickly determine how many objects are in a group without counting. For example, drag the group of three guests to the table with three chairs and the group of four guests to the table with four chairs; once everyone is seated, drag the tray that has three plates of food off a moving conveyer belt and deliver it to the table with three guests. Repeat for the table of four. If kids make a mistake, they get extra help; if they keep making mistakes, the game pauses for an in-depth tutorial on counting and recognizing quantity regardless of how the objects are arranged. When kids continue to answer correctly, the conveyer belt gets faster and they must subitize more quickly. There are 20 levels in all. 

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The learning goal is narrow but crystal clear. Kids get lots of practice making on-the-fly judgments about how many objects there are in groups (up to five), and can up their comfort level with quantities, number names, and number symbols. Simple design and nice progression in difficulty make the game easily accessible. The pedagogical theory and approach is rock solid, and is strongly supported by in-the-classroom research. The best feature here is the stepped scaffolding that clearly and patiently provides kids who are struggling with the extra help they need.

Gameplay is always the same: Seat guests, feed them, repeat. Increasing difficulty should add a little spice and keep kids engaged, but they may find it a bit repetitive. And, while the learning path adapts to individual kids, there's no option for creating multiple user accounts, which may make classroom use a tad tricky.

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Overall Rating
5

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
4

Cute graphics and easy gameplay are appealing. Levels progress in difficulty, but the game remains the same, so play may start to feel a bit repetitive. 

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
5

Kids identify quantity, up to five, without counting. They also experiment with recognizing numbers both by numeral and quantity of objects -- regardless of how objects are arranged -- and with comparing numbers quickly, by sight.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
5

Twenty levels increase in difficulty or pause for tutorials based on each kid's needs. Kids can see which level they've reached to check their progress. An accompanying website provides off screen activity ideas to enhance learning.