Review: Knights and Castles app

**This is a Product Review Post**

Product Name: Knights and Castles by Encyclopædia Britannica
Buy Online Here: Download either on or via the iTunes store
Price: £4.99
Star Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The blurb: Children across the world can now learn about heroic knights, courtly love and historic castles at the touch of a button, as Encyclopædia Britannica releases its latest educational mobile app.
Knights and Castles, which has been released on iTunes looks at the rise of the chivalric knight and knightly orders, life inside a medieval castle and further medieval legends.
Aimed at children aged 8 – 12, the app is sourced from Britannica’s expert curriculum-based content, and is specifically designed to help them with homework, projects and exams, when looking at the middle ages.

The app also includes exclusive content on:
The complete A – Z of Arthurian Knights
The history of castles in Europe
A history of Knighthood
Daily life as a Knight
Further information on life in the Middle Ages

Initial Thoughts: My 8 year old daughter is such a history buff. She absolutely loves to learn about how people lived in the middle ages and has covered topics like the Great Fire of London and Ancient Greece in her schoolwork, so I thought this app would be perfect for her. She studies at home for the fun of it- always watching the Horrible Histories videos on You Tube and watching the show on TV so I was excited to lend her my iPod Touch for the afternoon to show her this new app. Unfortunately she wasn't impressed.

The app promised to be 'packed with facts, interactive features, quizzes and games' but we found it lacking. It certainly had plenty of facts, but it came over rather 'text-booky' which made it seem like 'hard work' rather than the learning through fun that she gets from Horrible Histories.

It's probably unfair to compare, as Encyclopædia Britannica deals purely in educational facts whereas the information she gets from Horrible Histories is acted out, so there is some entertainment value there too. The actors give historical factual information, but presented in a modern day way, so you might get an 'X Factor' style contest to pick the best King and references to modern day people who wouldn't have been alive in the eras they are depicting. However learning with Horrible Histories is great fun- I never enjoyed history at school and can't remember much from those lessons, but now I know exactly who King Henry VIII's six wives were, in what order and whether they were divorced, beheaded or died, or the one lucky girl who actually survived! I've learned this because my daughter has enjoyed watching the You Tube video of King Henry VIII singing his tale of his wives! So in reality, King Henry VIII probably didn't sing, and seemed like a miserable old sod, but factually the information about his marriages has been learned and 'cemented in' to not only my 8 year old's brain, but mine too. The information in this app was sadly, rather forgettable.

What I Liked and What I Didn't: I did like how the app was designed around the curriculum to help children with homework, projects and exams. The facts presented are exactly what they are learning so from that point of view, it does the trick. There are games on the app, but mainly these seemed like 'afterthoughts'. I only say this because the games are not there to emit more information on history. They have not been designed to educate whilst you play- they are just games. For example, there is a jigsaw game where you can take a picture of a castle or a knight and shake the iPod to shatter the pieces, then you have to move the pieces to put the picture back together. Challenging, yes. About history, yes. Did we learn a new fact from it? No. It was just a jigsaw. The other game was called Brush Off. Here you get a close up of (for example) some stonework- a castle wall. You have to swipe your finger across the screen to reveal the image underneath, and who gets it first wins - it's kind of like a historical version of Cathphrase. It was fun to play a few times but ultimately, the novelty wore off quite quickly, and we were not more knowledgeable for playing it.

Overall: The Encyclopædia Britannica prides itself on having an understanding of what knowledge seekers need in the digital age, but sadly I didn't agree. The next lot of apps need to have more gameplay where things are learned as a result of the games. The app cost £4.99 and if I was going to spend a fiver on this kind of material, I'd put it towards a hard copy book about the facts, as I'd get what I'd expect with a book. No games, lots of facts and plenty of historical information. An App suggests more, so I would only be prepared to pay £0.59 for this app. It seemed expensive compared to the price of thousands of other Apps you can buy.

I'll leave you with the Top Ten Facts about Knights and Castles which we enjoyed:
1. A Knight’s education began at the age of seven
2. Before becoming a Knight, a young man would serve as a page, a squire and then an armour-bearer to a nobleman
3. Knights were “dubbed” (officially given the title) at the age of 21
4. Knights were governed by the Chivalric Code of Religion, Honour and Courtesy
5. The word comes from the Old English word “cniht”, meaning horseman
6. Most castles were built in Europe between AD 800 and 1400
7. Keep castles began to appear in the 1100s as builders preferred to use stone over wood
8. Castle walls were often more than 4.6 metres thick
9. The castle’s defences were managed by the constable, who commanded the guard
10. Castles were often self-contained, with kitchens, storehouses, stables and other buildings to serve the residents

The Encyclopædia Britannica has kindly agreed to give away two Knights and Castles Apps to readers of this blog. Despite my negative comments above it is very factual and would benefit a child who was learning about knights and the middle ages for school, so if you would like a free app, leave your email address below and I will arrange for them to send one to you. The first two addresses given will get the Apps- there are only two to give away.

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