My 5-year-old learned about fractions in less than a week playing this educational iPad game — here’s how it works

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Steven John/Business Insider

Osmo Kits

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Steven John/Business Insider

  • Finding ways to integrate tech into a child’s learning and play without relying 100% on screens presents parents with a serious challenge.
  • Osmo play kits help parents overcome this issue by integrating an iPad, iPhone, or Amazon Fire Tablet with hands-on art, building, counting, and manipulation activities that encourage critical thinking and physical coordination.
  • Prices start at $60.99 and include a base station and a mirror, with additional games starting at $15.99.
  • There is an Osmo kit for just about every interest, from a geography-themed detective agency kit to multiple drawing programs to math and science projects.

Three weeks ago, my son Benjamin had a tenuous grasp – at best – when it came to understanding fractions or how to count money once cents became involved. He’d also never heard of the Taj Mahal and had only a vague sense of the layout of Paris.

Now, he’s only five and a half years old, so my wife and I hardly expected him to know how to make change for a $20 when the bill was $14.85, or to point out the Notre-Dame on a cartoon map of the French capital.

But then we got him the Osmo Pizza Co. Game and Osmo Detective Agency: A Search & Find Mystery Game, and within a week or so, sure enough the kid was doing advanced math and soaking up information about world geography like never before.

Osmo makes brilliant use of one of the most important pieces of technology of our times – smart devices and tablets – but takes the play and learning largely off the screen to engage with kids.

Children use things like erasable pens, maps, magnifying glasses, fake money, and fake pizza toppings in front of a propped up iPad to solve mysteries, create works of art, assemble the perfect pizza, count out dollars and cents, and beyond.

My son has played with a lot of great educational toys over the last few years, but few have been as effective as the Osmo play kits at providing genuine entertainment and education at the same time. And rarely have I checked out a toy and within minutes, said to my wife,”This is coming on the next trip with us!”

Setting up the Osmo hardware

Osmo Kits

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Osmo

Using any Osmo play kit requires two pieces of hardware – a base station and a mirror, which costs for $39.99 for the Amazon Fire Tablet, $39.99 for the iPad, or $16.83 for the iPhone. This hardware comes with some of the kits but not all, so make sure you’re getting the essentials before you start ordering anything from company. We have the one for an iPad.

The base station holds an iPad, tablet, or phone upright at a slight angle while the mirror piece slides down over the camera and redirects its view to an area in front of the screen where, in theory, your child will play. This elegantly simple design allows for perfect integration with the screen and the hands-on activities in which your child will engage, activities that truly do meet just about every interest a kid could have.

What an Osmo kit does

Osmo kits pizza

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Amazon

Say you want your kid to learn about fractions. What sounds more fun – problems in a math textbook or assembling a pizza that’s one-fourth pepperoni and one-half peppers? Or maybe your child wants to get better at drawing – would instructions from Mickey Mouse, Mr. Incredible, or a Disney princess help keep him or her engaged and amused even as those fine motor skills develop? And last I checked, running a detective agency that sees a kid (virtually) chasing thieves across the globe is a much more enjoyable way to learn geography than with flashcards.

The Osmo kits make use of the impressive processing power of an iPad or tablet, and allows for a unique, tangible interaction that hardly feels like wasted screen time. We have no problem with our son wrapping up his allotted video game session only to turn to his Osmo Super Studio drawing program or his Pizza Co. game because we know he’s both learning and having fun.

Pros and cons to consider

The design of the Osmo hardware and how the kits integrate physical objects and art creation impressed me.

What really amazed me was just how quickly Ben’s grasp of basic math and geography concepts, and drawing technique advanced. He completed the Pizza Co. kit in less than a week and at the time of this writing, is almost done with every challenge in the Detective Agency too.

The price tag is steep for some kits and not cheap for any, so the speed and alacrity at which he completed these kits is my only real complaint because once finished, most Osmo products don’t have a lot of replay value. It’s not like the characters hidden on the cartoon maps can move to new locations, and it’s not all that much fun to draw the same Donald Duck cartoon a third time.

Some of the kits do have more open-ended play and others can be replayed on harder levels, but just know that you might only be buying a few days of entertainment. That said, the skills and knowledge gained last indefinitely.

Another option to consider

While there aren’t really other products like the Osmo hardware and kits, it is worth noting that you don’t need an iPad to use Osmo games or projects. Like I mentioned, there is also a $16.83 base and mirror for the iPhone as well as a $39.99 option for the Amazon Fire Tablet.

So is an Osmo kit really worth your money?

Osmo kit 3

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Amazon

Paying upwards of $70 for a play kit that your child may only use for a week or two is a bit of a drag to be sure, but there are plenty of Osmo kits in the $40 range and a few art kits under $20 provided you already have the base and are only getting the game.

Price aside, I’d still strongly recommend Osmo because I’d rather pay a good chunk of change for something I know my kid will love for at least a little while and from which he’ll draw lasting value than spend less on a toy or activity that may well fizzle from the start.

Pros: Genuinely educational and entertaining at the same time, multiple kits covering different topics available, kits pack down small for easy travel or storage

Cons: Many kits lack solid replay value, some kits are quite expensive

Get an Osmo Base and Mirror for iPad from Amazon for $39.99

Get an Osmo Genius Kit for iPad (base included) from Amazon for $70

Get an Osmo Pizza Co. Kit from Amazon for $39.99

Get an Osmo Detective Agency Kit from Amazon for $39.99

Get an Osmo Super Studio Kit from Amazon for $14