Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Easter/Lent Resource: EasterHunt (Review & Interview)

A few days ago, I posted a cartoon about an Easter Egg Hunting App - because well, you know, there seems to be an app for everything.

Well, fast forward to last week. I found out that there REALLY is an Easter Egg Hunting App - EasterHunt.

Created by Jennie and David Smith (SquareSmith Inc.), the app lets kids (and their parents) hunt for 12 different eggs.

Each egg has a secret, puzzle like way to "crack it open." When cracked it features a devotional that tells a piece of the hey Easter story.

Developing EasterHunt
The app came about after the Smiths formed SquareSmith, Inc., to create smartphone apps.

Knowing how much their kids - ranging in age from 21 months to 11 years - go "bonkers" playing games on the iPad and iPhone, the Smiths decided to create an Easter devotional app that could be used by their entire family..

"We've used FamilyLife's "Resurrection Eggs" before with our children, and this year we were looking for something new," David Smith said. "We like the fact that when we tell our kids that we're going to start Easter devotions, they all come running, because of the excitement of opening an egg.

"We wanted to recreate that type of excitement with EasterHunt, and that led to the idea of first finding the egg, and then figuring out how to open the egg. We've found that these simple games and puzzles help settle the children down and provides a good lead-in to the Easter stories."

The app uses devotionals written by Emilie K. Eggleston (a recent graduate with a children's education degree).

"The big issue we've faced with other family devotionals is that they tend to be too long," Smith said. "We'd rather have our devotionals short and to the point, and can be used as a springboard into further discussions as a family- this makes family devotions much more interactive and more rewarding for all.

"[Emile] did an awesome job writing the handbooks that our two oldest have used at Bible camp. So she was our first choice as the author of the devotionals, and she graciously agreed to write them for us.

"Emilie is also planning on creating her own line of children's curriculum, and the "Easter Devotionals" featured in EasterHunt are just the start of her curriculum."

Smith said they chose to use the New King James Version of the Bible as the text for the devotions for two reasons: easy to read and be understood by children and a easy to follow quotation policy by publisher Thomas Nelson.

"Our desire is that parents would take the time to connect with their children this Easter using this app." Smith said. "We tried very hard to make it easy even for busy families to start doing devotions.

"We feel strongly that when parents connect with their children in their pre-teen years, those parents will have much closer relationships with their children in their teen years. If a child is allowed to ask their parents questions about Christianity when the child is young, then that child is more likely to be willing to ask questions when a teenager.

"So when we discussed the devotionals with Emilie Eggleston, we all decided that the devotionals needed to be written as stories, in a narrative style; with thought-provoking questions that could be used as discussion starters; and each devotional should be just long enough to get the point across, and not one word longer."

Smith said each of the twelve days of EasterHunt should only take around 10-15 minutes per day.

"Because the devotionals have a story feel to them, kids stay connected to them for a longer period of time," Smith said. "We've been reading the EasterHunt devotionals with our own children this Easter season, and have been pleasantly surprised at the questions they bring up after we finish reading.

"That being said, we have let our oldest kids play EasterHunt on their own, and we've heard of other parents letting their children play on their own- nothing wrong with that."

More About The App
Each time the app is used, the hiding spot for the eggs and the critters (also hidden behind items) are picked at random by the app.

"One "hidden" feature of EasterHunt is the fact that it is multi-touch enabled, which means that more than one child can tap around to find the egg,," Smith said. "This helps eliminate the "It's my turn!" melt-down at devotion time- up to five fingers can tap around to find the egg."

Ultimately, Smith said he has high hopes for the app.

"Our hope is that parents will look at devotional time as something that can be fun, not a chore, and that their reward will be rich as they see their children 'grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.' (1 Peter 3:18, NKJV)"

How It Works
The app opens with this screen. Once you start finding eggs, they appear in the basket.

You start "clicking" on the screen to find the egg.

Each egg has a "puzzle" to crack.
In this case, you have to shoot the chocolate bunny at the egg to open it.

Once opened, a family devotion appears.

What I Thought
I LOVE the fact that the Smiths have found a way to develop a Christian-based app, that combines multi-media learning and Biblical truths.

I thought the idea behind the EasterHunt was unique and cute. I am always looking for unique ways to tell the Holy Week story to the students I work with.

The possibility of recommending this to parents, well, drove me to find out more about this app.

With that said, here's a few other things I found, when reviewing the app.
1) It may be because I have an "old" iPhone, but I struggled (along with a friend who tried) to open a few of the puzzles. Maybe that's a great thing - "solving" the puzzle will attract the kids. For me, it was a bit frustrating.

2) There's no way to "reset" the app. Once you find the eggs, you can only go back to search for them if you tap an egg in the basket. I wish there was a "reset" the app, so you could use it with multiple children. 

3) I was surprised that they picked New King James as the Bible used for the devotionals.
Smith said it was because it's "easy" to read. I respectfully disagree. I probably would have picked NIV (New International Version) or NLT (New Living Translation). Honestly, I haven't really read the NKJV since college. I've just found other translations to be more user friendly. (Disclaimer: I tend to use NLT because several of my professors from Asbury Seminary were part of the translation team.).

4) The length of the devos also surprised me.
Each devo is a full 8.5x11 page when you view it in a regular typed format. This means each devo is quite lengthy when read on the iPad or iPhone/iTouch.

Smith said he estimates it will take 10 to 15 minutes to really dive into the app. I'll be honest, the parents I work with don't have 10 to 15 minutes. I've pondered this. If I wanted to create a devo, to introduce the idea of a family devotion time, I'd keep it so it required longer than 10 minutes. In reality, five minutes is probably more realistic. 

I'd write the devotions to use an "economy of words," (a phrase coined by a friend), keeping it short, sweet and to the point.

I'd also break up the text. When you read it on an iPhone/iTouch, the text is in huge chunks. Maybe it's my newspaper background but short paragraphs are easier to read.

I'd probably write it to have a point, and then ask the questions - rather than embed the questions into the devotions. Again, I think I'd have a simple format that would be easy to use - regardless of if you are a newbie or veteran of the family devotion time. 

So ultimately, here's the bottom line. I give this app a solid three out of five.

It gets points for being creative and for providing a way to use "electronic" devices to teach Christian education.

I don't think it's an app to recommend to families wanting to "test drive" a family devo time because of the length of time needed to be successful.

However, if your family has tried (and succeeded) at having family devos, this will let you have something new to add to your learning arsenal.

EasterHunt is available in the iTunes store for $1.99.

Note: As a freelance journalist and children's pastor, I am often provided with free copies of things for review. In this case, I was given a copy of the app by the Smiths. This review was not influenced by the free app - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

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