[warning!Â this is a verrrrry long post.Â if you have no interest in purchasing apps for kids, just skip this one.]Â i’ve been researching kid apps to use in my programs at the library in a very scientific manner–i.e. putting them on my phone and letting my own two-year-old play with them.Â we have a pretty good collection of apps now, and i thought i’d share our favorites with you (we have these all on our iphone, but they’re all also compatible with itouch and ipads).Â i’ll start with the free apps (everyone’s favorite category):
Brief overview:Â Record web-cam videos of yourself reading books (on your computer, not from your phone) from their library of 19 free titles and 500+ other books.Â When played back, viewers will see both the video and the pages of the book.
App Cost & Requirements: Â free!Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later
Hidden costs:Â recording some of the books will cost money
Annoying audio?:Â only if you have a poor quality microphone in your computer (thereâ€™s no music)
Quality of visuals:Â Great!Â Most of what you see is the book itself.Â The majority of the â€œfreeâ€ titles to record are public domain text with beautiful original artwork.
Why he likes it:Â he gets to listen to stories (read by his mama) over and over, he chooses the book, he can control the page turns if he wants to
Why I like it:Â Itâ€™s almost as good as snuggling up to read a good book together, except that he can do it while Iâ€™m cooking dinner (or snoozing for an extra 5 minutes in the morning).
Educational value:Â encourages a love of reading books
Bonus note:Â if you’d like to see how i’m using this app at my library (and see samples of me reading), click here!Â (you can watch the stories on your computer without the app.) our favorite so far is more bears!
Brief overview:Â an app about appsÂ (okay, this one is not actually for 2-year-olds to use, but itâ€™s essential for adults who are searching for apps for kids!)
App Cost & Requirements: Â free!Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.
Hidden costs:Â nearly all the apps they recommend are not free
Annoying audio?:Â no audio
Quality of visuals:Â Simple to use, amazingly well-organized
Why I like it:Â In the first 5 minutes of browsing through this app, I discovered 3 new favorite apps.Â All the apps recommended within this app are reviewed and vetted by professional childhood educators.Â Theyâ€™re organized by target age group, then by broad subject, then narrowed down by narrower subject headings.Â A librarianâ€™s dream!
Educational value:Â this one points out the educational value in the apps it recommendsâ€”priceless!
Brief overview:Â Feed two monsters a choice of 8 foods prepared with 5 different kitchen tools and enjoy their reactions to your culinary skills.
App Cost & Requirements: Â free!Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.2 or later.
Hidden costs: you might get addicted to Toca Boca apps (although there are no annoying links to paid apps for your kids to click on within this appâ€”a welcome reprieve!)
Annoying audio?:Â the music is subtle and tasteful (if a teensy bit repetitive).Â The monsters’ audible reactions to the foods, and the sounds of cooking are â€¦ authentic.
Quality of visuals:Â Love these!Â (along with all the Toca appsâ€”this is one of their strong suits)Â Food cooked in a frying pan actually browns, food chopped in a food processor turn into actual mush, the monsters are cute!
Why he likes it:Â He loves to cook the foods that make the monsters say â€œblech.â€
Why I like it:Â The free play (choose any food!Â Cook it any way you want, in whatever order you choose!) encourages pretending
Educational value:Â teaches sequencing, trial and error (to see which foods the monsters like. Or donâ€™t like), and engages kids in pretend cooking.
Brief overview:Â Four mini-games, one for each season.
App Cost & Requirements: Â free!Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.
Hidden costs:Â after youâ€™ve played all the games, a screen with a link to purchase the full version appears
Annoying audio?:Â The music is okay (if slightly odd during the autumn section?), but my son asked today if we could turn off the cheering after each game is completed (not that I can seeâ€¦).Â I am impressed that the birdsong in the Spring section sounds authentic.
Quality of visuals:Â Nice.Â I like that the children they feature are non-white.
Why he likes it:Â the mini-games are intuitive
Why I like it:Â Itâ€™s a nice app for free, and reinforces the concept of seasons
Educational value:Â sequencing (putting winter clothes on in the right order), matching (leaf shapes)
Brief overview:Â Free preview versions of several PeekaBoo games from Night & Day Studios.Â General conceptâ€”player hears a sound coming from inside something (a barn, the fridge, an elevatorâ€¦.), taps on the doors and they are opened, revealing the source of the sound
App Cost & Requirements: Â free!Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later
Hidden costs:Â plentiful links to the paid versions of these apps
Annoying audio?:Â not terribleâ€¦
Quality of visuals:Â Simple illustrations, clean design
Why he likes it:Â Easy gameplay
Why I like it:Â PeekaBoo Barn is by far the strongest of these offerings if weâ€™re discussing the playerâ€™s ability to predict whatâ€™s behind the doors (what sounds do eggs make?Â Or a boss?), but they all engage in classic Peek-a-Boo fun
Educational value:Â predicting
Bonus story:Â the child who does the audio for Peek-a-Boo barn cannot pronounce the letter â€œr.â€Â My son (who has no problem with that letter) now calls it â€œPeekaboo Bahnâ€ and when the rooster comes up, he says, â€œWOO-stahâ€ in a perfect imitation of the voiceover.Â Apparently in the paid full version, you do have the option to choose an adult voice with more proper pronunciation.
Paid Games that get the most play at our house (sorted from least expensive to most)
Brief overview:Â Build your own unique band from sixteen musical characters.
App Cost & Requirements: Â $0.99Â Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.
Hidden costs:Â the front page has a link to the other Toca Boca apps
Annoying audio?:Â a few of the characters can get obnoxious if theyâ€™re played loud and long enoughÂ (Iâ€™m looking at you, Figara the opera singer!)
Quality of visuals:Â Super cute!
Why he likes it:Â He likes to make the rapper, Stikk Figga say silly things (heâ€™s begun repeating S.F.â€™s phrases which is sort of hilarious), and mix up his own band
Why I like it:Â There are so many hidden learning opportunities in this game!Â (hidden because they feel like play, not like music education)Â Each character has four speeds that they perform music at, depending on which level of the stage you place them on.Â The mix of rhythm vs. tonal patterns vs. melodies can be combined in infinite ways, but never sounds discordant.
Educational value:Â music skills galore!
Brief overview:Â Youâ€™re the driver of the train!
App CostÂ & Requirements: $0.99Â Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later.
Hidden costs:Â the front page has a link to the other Toca Boca apps
Annoying audio?:Â cutesy but unobtrusive repetitive soundtrack.
Quality of visuals:Â Cartoony cuteness
Why he likes it:Â It has TRAINS! (with which he is obsessed)
Why I like it:Â Great pretending opportunities.Â You can make the train go the speed you want, you look out of the train from the driverâ€™s viewpoint, you can blow the whistle, stop to pick up/drop off passengers, etc. and instructions for new games are clearly explained non-verbally
Educational value:Â first-person creative play
Brief overview:Â Five mini games, featuring different trucks, focus on pretending
App Cost & Requirements: Â $1.99Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later
Hidden costs:Â a link on the front page to their other apps
Annoying audio?:Â gah.Â Cartoony versions of classic â€œkid songsâ€ including at least one Christmas tune and they all grate on my picky nerves.Â the kid voiceovers are fine.
Quality of visuals:Â Bubbly, cartoony cute
Why he likes it:Â It has TRUCKS!Â And hidden characters doing silly things!Â (like the shark that you can poke in the car wash to make him play a riff on an electric guitar)
Why I like it:Â I like the pretend play value, but I will say that the game play is fairly linear and predictable
Educational value:Â pretend?Â Sequencing?Â Thereâ€™s a sorting game in the garbage truck section, where kids are supposed to sort the garbage, compost and trash, but thatâ€™s far beyond the capabilities of my two year old and he gets frustrated with it.
Brief overview:Â Ten mini-games in a retro-cute forest
App Cost & Requirements: Â $1.99Â Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.
Hidden costs:Â none
Annoying audio?:Â I find the music in this one utterly charming and I have yet to get tired of listening to it.
Quality of visuals:Â Gorgeous!Â Really, just super eye-candy.
Why he likes it:Â He enjoys playing the games (although the firefly one spooked him the first few times he encountered it)
Why I like it:Â I am a sucker for pretty packaging.Â A few of the games have educational value, the rest engage in pretending activities (feeding animals, growing and plucking carrots, etc.)
Educational value:Â shape matching, mazes
Brief overview:Â Create a picture using found objects combined in an infinite variety of ways, based on the artwork of childrenâ€™s book illustrator, Hanoch Piven.
App Cost & Requirements:Â $1.99Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later
Hidden costs:Â none!
Annoying audio?:Â There is one song sung over and over which can get a bit annoying after 10 minutes of repetition
Quality of visuals:Â fantastic photographs of the objects and general game design is elegant.
Why he likes it:Â This is one I think heâ€™ll gradually get more and more out of.Â Current favorite ways to interact with the app are watching the well-made demo videos and just exploring the menus to see what â€œstuffâ€ is available to play with.
Why I like it:Â There are soooo many ways to play with this app.Â It truly has freeplay and the instructive videos encourage participants to just play around with the objects, not worrying about doing it right or wrong.Â This app is entertaining for ALL ages.Â Because of that, I invested in the “premium” version, but there’s a “lite” version for $0.99 if you don’t want to pay for the full version.Â I’m not sure what the difference is–I’d guess there are less options for objects to use in the artwork?
Educational value:Â creativity, visual organizing
Brief overview:Â Sesame Streetâ€™s Bert has a brown paper bag with a surprise insideâ€”what could it be?Â Something to count!
App Cost & Requirements: $2.99Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later.
Hidden costs:Â none
Annoying audio?:Â The soundtrack is very Bert-like (accordion-esque, plodding) and can get annoying if your child plays the game for more than 10 minutes in a row (likely).Â Also, I find it odd that when youâ€™re done counting stuff, Bert says something like, â€œNine!Â Nine erasers!Â All together!â€ â€“ the phrasing rhythm is stilted and that part is extremely repetitive.Â I do appreciate that Bert has several different phrases that he employs between rounds of opening the bag to find something new inside.
Quality of visuals:Â If you love Sesame Street, you will love the visuals in this app.
Why he likes it:Â He loves Bert, the gameplay is simple, and he likes to see what different things are in the bag (thereâ€™s quite a variety, and when the objects do begin to repeat, theyâ€™re in different amounts than before)
Why I like it:Â Because kids have to swipe their finger through the pile of objects to send them, one at a time onto the tabletop, and when they do, they hear Bert count aloud, theyâ€™re really learning how to count objects
Educational value:Â one-to-one correspondenceÂ
Brief overview:Â Grover the waiter is back and needs your help to gather the ingredients for todayâ€™s â€œspecial,â€ as ordered by the Blue Guy
App Cost & Requirements:Â $2.99Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later.
Hidden costs:Â none!
Annoying audio?:Â a chime-y song during the food-catching scenes can get a bit repetitive if played too long.
Quality of visuals:Â Classic Sesame Street quality
Why he likes it:Â Grover says silly things (and drops food all the time, hilarious!)
Why I like it:Â Although he hasnâ€™t quite figured out the whole â€œtilt the screen to make the tray move to catch the ingredientsâ€ concept, there is still counting practice and simple recipe instruction. (and the foods do eventually drop on the tray, even if you don’t tilt it.)
Educational value:Â one-to-one correspondence, sequencing
Brief overview:Â Pick a blank muppet, add eyes, nose and headgear, then Elmo will play with your monster
App Cost & Requirements:Â $3.99 (yikes!)Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later.
Hidden costs:Â none!
Annoying audio?:Â I love this music!
Quality of visuals:Â If you love Sesame Street, youâ€™ll love this app design!
Why he likes it:Â Hilarious interaction between Elmo and the created Muppets (dancing, saying â€œboo!â€ and scaring them to pieces, silly eye/nose/hat options)
Why I like it:Â I think this app gets re-designed each season (right now, itâ€™s pretty autumnal) which adds significant value to this pricey app since the new designs come packaged as app updates.
Educational value:Â although it touts â€œdecision-makingâ€ skills and â€œart and creativityâ€ Iâ€™d say this one is best at just being fun!
Other apps worth mentioning:
Although he hasnâ€™t played with this one a lot, I LOVE the cut paper visuals, lack of soundtrack and simple â€œpaper dollâ€ game play. $1.99 Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later
This one makes much more sense after watching the accompanying video.Â It also appears to be based on a British picture book.Â Toca Band is a better execution of this same concept, but I do love the illustrations!Â $0.99Â Compatible with iPad (there’s a separate iPhone version). Requires iOS 4.3 or later.
Although this one doesnâ€™t get played with a lot at our house, I could see other kids really enjoying it.Â Itâ€™s about as close to playing with a dollhouse as you can get on a phone app.Â The music is subtle and the characters are a range of ethnicities. $3.99 (or try out two rooms and an all-white family for free here!)Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.
This app is a solid favorite with my son, but I have mixed feelings about it (and the whole series of related apps).Â I do love the navigation featuresÂ (click on any letter to go to a listing of animals whose names begin with that letter), but is it really worth the money to buy an app whose main feature is pulling in videos from youtube?Â The videos they choose are of a vast range of qualities (from home movies of someoneâ€™s pet to zoo-made videos to national geographic clips) and Iâ€™m not 100% certain of the legalities of using the videos in this way.Â That being said, he has some favorite animal videos that we watch over and over and heâ€™s learned a lot about the animals, plus the vocabulary words, â€œincredible!â€ and â€œfantastic!â€ from the voiceovers during the â€œgameplayâ€ portion of the app (usually scribbling your finger all over the screen to â€œuncoverâ€ an animal).Â $2.99Â Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.
whew!Â that’s it for my first wrap-up.Â i’d love to hear from you–was this a helpful post?Â what information would you like to see included in future app reviews?Â do you have favorite apps that you don’t see listed here?Â if you’re a librarian–do you use apps in your work and if so, how do you incorporate them?Â if you’re a parent of a young child, do you allow your child to play with apps on your phone?Â do you set a daily time limit?