I am a tech mom, unashamedly, and unabashedly. It’s a controversial subject. I may be slammed with vitriol in the comments section, and and that is fine. I am prepared. I know, however, that despite what we may tell everyone else (and even ourselves) that I am not the only one. The iPad is a much loved friend and teacher in our house. My daughters, henceforth they shall be known as Wonder Woman and Pixie Puff, or WW and PP (why? Well, apparently it is a thing when you’re a mommy blogger to adopt Secret Service like codenames for your kidos to protect their anonymity. So, I let eldest (Wonder Woman) come up with the names, because all of my ideas were rubbish, and who is better at code names than a 4 ½ year old? Anyhow, back to it…)
My daughters, Wonder Woman, who is four, and Pixie Puff who is about to turn two (taking a minute to giggle at the names again) love the iPad, learn from the iPad, and have never really known life without the iPad. 98% of the apps that we let them use are educational, and they are always, always supervised. That is the key to making anything a learning experience. If you are right there with them, or at least as familiar with and aware of the apps that they are using as they are, then it can be a truly fun and rewarding educational tool for the whole family. (we preview and teach ourselves every app before we let them dive in, which is also a great excuse for you to play with some pretty awesome cyber toys.) WW was reading by the age of four. PP is already doing rudimentary math, phonics, patterns, and has sorting down to an exact science. Could we have taught them those things without the iPad? Yes. Absolutely. Is the iPad the only method of teaching that we use? Of course not! The girls help in the kitchen (sorting and math), we do a lot of experiments (science, creative reasoning, physics), we read to them from actual books all the time, we garden, we play, we live our lives, but we are still, without a doubt, a pro-technology household. Here are some of our favorite apps, with all of the whats and wherefores. There is so much more to the iPad than Angry Birds.
Age Range- 18mos & up
$$ Range- FREE – $1.99
Skills Taught- manners, creative play, fine motor skills, matching, deductive reasoning, group play, music, math, colors, and so much more. The “About” Page on the company’s website really says it all. These were the first apps we discovered that really upped our expectations for kid’s “games.” Until we discovered Toca Boca, we primarily had the basic ABC apps, flash cards, but nothing bright, vibrant, and truly fun for everyone. (I absolutely play these games even when the girls are not around.) There are Tea Party, Birthday Party, and Store apps that involve more than one player, a hair salon and fashion design apps where kids can explore their creative sides with colors and shapes (and no in app purchases are required for the fun to continue! That is a MUST in our house.) There is even an interactive house with myriad tasks and adorable characters. Reading this on paper, it seems that these apps would be “girl-centric,” but that is the brilliance of the folks at Toca Boca. They manage to cross gender lines and age lines for a truly unique interactive experience for the whole family.
Ages- 4-10 (but I would say 3 & up)
BrainPopJr.com, the website that inspired this app, is any educators’ dream, chock full of free videos that explore and explain science, health, social studies, reading, math, arts, and technology in wonderful short lessons and videos suited for young children. The movie of the week app condenses it into one free lesson a week. (More are available via subscription, which is $7.95 a month (or $85 a year) and is absolutely worth it.) This week’s lesson is about the difference between rights and responsibilities. Other lessons have included how volcanoes work, classifying animals, bullying, and nouns. It sounds pretty heady, and you may think that your young one can’t possibly grasp some of those subjects, but I assure you that it is laid out in one of the most kid friendly and amazingly easy to absorb formats (Following Moby the Robot and his human friends) that I have ever seen. WW, at three, began soaking up the lessons, and astounding relatives with her surprising pockets of knowledge. This site is especially great for homeschoolers, and is even available in-classroom, and school wide for teachers. (There is also a non-junior counterpart for older kids, and Spanish language versions available.)
Ages- 6mos – 2years (although I catch our 4 year old playing all the time)
$$- $1.99 and Up
Teaches- animal names and noises, food names, occupations, alphabet, basic phonics, seasons, and more
There are a lot of apps of this sort. What sets the Peekaboo apps apart is that they are just charming (Read: not annoying.) Utilizing adorable cartoonlike characters (that even dress up for different seasons and holidays) and the artwork of Charley Harper and Richard Scary, soothing (Read: not shrill and abrasive) music and sounds, and children’s voices, the Peekaboo apps are a great way to teach toddlers basic words and animal noises. My A-Z is special because it allows you to customize using your own pictures (G is for Gramma!), and who doesn’t love that?! Your little one can learn the alphabet with the help of familiar faces. These apps are simple, but stand the test of time for you and your little one.
Ages- For the whole family
Tailoring itself a “music concierge,” Songza has industry professionals create playlists based on everything from mood, to season, to time of day. It’s in the same vein as Spotify of Pandora, but in my this blogger’s humble opinion, is a much better way to discover new music that you and your family will love. There are numerous kid friendly (and Wiggles free) kid categories that will make family road trips a bit easier to take.
Ages- 2 & Up
Teaches- All about the science of light.
This app is on the pricier side, as far as apps go, but it is gorgeous, and will teach adults a thing or two about light and the world around us. A fully interactive experience, you follow the charming robot, Bobo, through a digital pop-up book of light related experiments. A must have for the budding scientist in your family.
Ages- for the whole family
$$- Free (Limited) with a $3.99 monthly subscription option
“Like Netflix, only with interactive picture books,” is how I described this app to my husband. For $3.99 a month, you family gets unlimited access to an ever changing, and ever expanding world of stories. The categories are a map with such magical lands as Adventure Island, Glassics Grove, Fairy Tale Forest, and Looney Lagoon. We cannot get enough of this app. It makes the bedtime story choosing so much easier!
This app is the best thing that I have discovered in a long while. We have all fallen prey to the “free apps of the day,” apps that end up being full of spam, loaded with apps that are “free,” but not really free, or apps that involve upgrades and in-app purchases. This free app guide is different. The free apps (ranging in price from 0.99 to upwards of $30) are chosen by the people. You vote on what apps you love SO much that you think other people should be able to have them for free, usually for one day only. Kid’s apps, camera apps, lifestyle apps, organizers, you name it, they’ve had it. Free. Really and actually free.
This is a categorical nod to the many interactive storybook apps out there. It is a great genre, and there are a fair few that deserve at least a mention. Even Monsters Get Sick (Busy Bee Studios), Pinocchio and Red Riding Hood by the Bean Bag Kids, 3-D Interactive Classics by Story Toys, Madera and Figaro Save the Day (Lyn and Line), and Sam’s Superheroes (featuring a female lead!!) by Captive apps.
I tried to steer away from branded apps in this blog. It is not that there are not great ones out there, I just like to try to support smaller studios when possible. These apps really are wonderful. I hope that you and your family enjoy them as much as we have. Remember, anything that you do together can be fun and worthwhile learning experience.