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When I was a kid, I got this magazine called Penny Power, which was put out by Consumer Reports with the goal of helping kids grow wise to the concepts of money (mostly spending it) in age-appropriate ways. It's no longer published, but I still remember some of the lessons it taught me, because it made those lessons fun.
Dinorama appeals to me for the same reasons, now as a parent myself. It's filled with teachable moments about money, wrapped up in a tycoon-style game where kids build and run their own dinosaur park. It's clever and cute, and refreshingly gender-neutral, and it plays like a game that subtly teaches you about money, not a capital-E Educational app that is also a game. You start out with an empty park, plus enough money to buy a dinosaur and exhibit him to gradually growing crowds of visitors. The more improvements you add to your park – such as bathrooms, a photo booth, food stands, and decorations for the dino cages – the more visitors you'll attract, and the more you'll earn, which helps you in turn buy more improvements.
In other tycoon games, you might save up 50 coins and spend 'em all on one flashy item, but Dinorama encourages more conservative behavior. You'll quickly figure out that you have to keep a little money in reserve, since your dinosaurs need to eat, and it costs money to clean and repair their habitats, as well as to keep your photo booth and popcorn stand stocked with product to sell. On rainy days, fewer guests will show up, and your income will go down as a result – but not your expenses, so it's good to keep a literal rainy-day fund. And on sunny days, your visitors will skyrocket, so you better be stocked with supplies and ready for the rush.
Don't worry – it's not all business. Dinorama throws in funny dinosaur facts and little extra touches, like how you can fling your visitors around the park with a finger swipe. Each dinosaur performs a special trick when you give it a treat, and if you have money for splurging, you can buy them funny costumes and spruce up their diorama-like habitats too. All combined, there's enough to do to keep you puttering around the park while your coffers build up. More concepts are introduced gradually, and eventually you'll even unlock a bank that pays interest, if you're willing to keep your money tied up for certain lengths of time.
And thankfully, this isn't a real-time game like Tiny Tower or Farmville; the clock doesn't keep running when you're not playing the game, and there are no in-app purchases to speed things along. That means you can give it to your kids without worrying that you'll get a push notification while in church, saying you need to spend $5 or a dinosaur will perish. (These dinos don't die anyway; if you refuse to feed them while you're playing, they'll get sick and sluggish and eventually run away, which ultimately hurts your park's business.) There's no advertising here, either.
The bottom line. With plenty to do, plus adorable graphics and details, Dinorama is a great way to teach kids about money and business concepts.
iPad running iOS 4.3 or later
Cute, charming, and fun. No in-app purchases or other gotcha elements. Teaches your kids money concepts in a subtle way. Unlockables keep the fun going. Ramped-up difficulty appropriate for grade-school kids.
Kids might need help at the very beginning figuring out what to do, especially if they don't read. Rated for kids 4 and up, but probably better for slightly older kids who can read and add.