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Recently my kids became re-obsessed with dinosaurs.  This is not unfamiliar territory; throughout their preschool years they have covered this obsession several times over until they move on to something much more interesting, like trains or barnyard animals.  Now, though, they’re both now old enough to start to learn about the actual science of dinosaurs instead of just laughing at jokes about how hard it must be to use the bathroom with little T-Rex arms and have asked some seriously mature questions (the word “species” was thrown around at some point, I was impressed).

While new Cowly Owl app Dinosaur Mix isn’t exactly Jurassic Park revisited, it is a spectacular jumping-off point to begin off-screen discussions about dinosaurs.  Featuring touch-and-play mechanics, no written instructions, and just plain fun (and funny!) artwork and sounds, Dinosaur Mix can be used as a versatile learning tool or just a fun game for the dinosaur-obsessed kiddo in your life.  There’s no reading required and there aren’t any distractions or frustrations like ads, time limits, or point scores.

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The game opens with a choice of eggs set in front of the outline of a dinosaur.  Each egg contains the body part of a different dino – a T-Rex arm, stegosaurus body, brontosaurus neck.  Then Frankensaurus can stomp his way through one of two landscapes, either a lush forest or a dry volcanic desert.  Along the way there are more eggs to mix up the dinosaur parts, as well as interactive bits like fluttering dragonflies or a fly-by from a pterodactyl.

Dinosaur Mix is certainly a fun and silly app that will engage even the youngest players, despite whatever knowledge they may (or may not) have of dinosaurs.  As a learning tool, it can span dozens of different spin-off discussions about all things dino-related: why does the brontosaurus have a long neck? what did the T-Rex eat? what’s the difference between an herbivore, carnivore, and omnivore?  The versatility of the app really speaks tot he power of open-ended play and how to translate that into off-screen learning.

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Of course my two little pterodactyls really enjoy this app.  My youngest (she’s 4) can play endlessly, and the funky dino-mixes keep her giggling and roaring.  My son is 6 and as he watches his sister play he comes up with some really fascinating questions, the answers to which I don’t always know.  But I love that he’s engaging both me and his sister in face-to-face learning and dialogue that moves beyond just being fed facts in a passive way (through the iPad).  It also prompts him to seek the answers himself, boosting autonomy and independence.

Even though Dinosaur Mix is almost like The Beginner’s Guide to Paleontology: it’s a wonderfully designed app that cuts a wide swath.  It’s all-ages friendly, quite intuitive, and just plain FUN.  At $2.99 it’s a dino deal, especially when you take into consideration the off-screen benefits.


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