There comes a time when we all need a break. Like, the kind of break that allows us to think, breathe, sit down, clean up, sip coffee, finish a project, feed another child, feed ourselves, or engage in conversation with an actual grown adult. I’m never going to project judgment on the parents who gain their breaks by the glorious way of electronics. My husband and I are very keen on the idea of utilizing electronics as educational tools. While we do have some “just for fun” games on our handheld devices (hello, Fruit Ninja), a majority of the apps listed below will teach your child as they play. Whether good or bad, that’s for you to decide, but should you be one of those parents whose child could teach their grandparents a thing or two about navigating an iPhone, I thought it might be nice to share some of my family’s favorite selections.
Click the icons below to download for Apple or Android devices. The recommended ages are my personal opinion.
1. Endless Alphabet
$6.99 | Ages 2+
Not only does this game teach letter shapes, letter sounds, word recognition and meaning, it is adorably amusing as well. Goofy (and graphically top-notch) animated monsters create some challenging words while teaching kids to recognize which letters are which and where they go, building an elaborate vocabulary in no time flat. This one is worth the money. So so so worth the money. The “Endless” series also offers Endless Reader, Endless Wordplay and Endless Numbers (all free unless you purchase the add-on packs).
2. PBS Kids
Free | Ages 2+
We all know and love PBS for our kidlets, right? Martha Speaks, WordGirl, Curious George, Daniel Tiger, Sid, those crazy Kratt brothers, ELMO! I mean, come on. All so good. This app presents an appealing, easy-to-use scrolling sidebar for your child to rotate through and select the character of their choice, offering either a short clip or a full episode. We all know PBS is educational in general. I mean, half their shows have the word “WORD” right in them. Use of this app will definitely get your kid settled in so you can take that shower you’ve been wanting to take for two days. You might even have time to wash your hair.
3. Fairy Salon
Free | Ages 4+
OK, OK…I know little girls are so much more than makeup and tiaras, but this salon app is one of my favorites in that category. And I’m not lying when I say that I played it on my niece’s iPad for 45 minutes straight…four days in a row. You get to administer the fairy’s spa treatments, apply their makeup, style their hair, choose their accessories and apparel and even select your favorite set of fairy wings. The game could stand to eliminate the annoying girly giggles every time you swipe a finger, but if you mute this app, it’s pretty fun for your little fashionista.
4. Sago Mini Forest Flyer
$2.99 | Ages 1+
There may be no cuter character in app existence than the ridiculous pink bird in Forest Flyer. Sago Mini knows what they’re doing in the world of children’s app entertainment (so much so that they actually have plush toys of their characters available for sale. I want one. So bad.) Forest Flyer is great for toddlers who like to giggle and is simple enough to navigate while holding their attention for a good length of time. Fly your robin around his forest and uncover fun animations, making him sing, dance, skate, eat, swim, and even belch. Sago Mini offers a number of other apps – all very cool – about space, monsters, music, bugs fairy tails and more. Bundles of five or eight different apps are available for purchase.
5. Duck Duck Moose Word Wagon
$1.99 | Ages 2+
The music in this app will make you hum on repeat all day long. But more than that, it helps teach letters, phonics and spelling so the age range is extensive. Load letters into the wagon to make words and get sticker rewards for correct answers. Almost everything you touch comes with a sound effect and fun animation too (good or bad? That’s for you to decide). Duck Duck Moose has many great apps for youngsters. My favorites include Peek-a-Zoo, Musical Me, Fish School, *Moose Math and *Itsy Bitsy Spider. (*available on Android)
6. Shiny Bakery
$1.99 | Ages 2+
Even yours truly won’t burn food using this app! A game all about following recipe instructions and combining the correct number of foods to create an end product of either a cake or cookies (which you can then decorate and serve to customers). The longevity of this app is a little shorter than others since it’s a lot of the same thing, but kids like repetition, right? Plus, they can put boxer shorts and old shoes in their cake batter which is hilarious if you’re three! You can pick up the Shiny Things preschool bundle for $2.99 for three apps (Bakery, Shapes & Colors and Circus).
7. YouTube Kids
Free | Ages 0+
Not sure if I’m the only one who has handed my kid the YouTube app on my phone so she could watch Let It Go (for the gadzillionth time) on a car ride and, when the song is over, she magically navigates her way to an unedited episode of Sons of Anarchy. Not. Cool. YouTube finally won over its parent audience with their new app called YouTube Kids. It’s basically YouTube, but with carefully-selected, age-appropriate channels and playlists so anything that plays on FX will certainly not populate during their browsing. Popular clips included Thomas the Train, Sesame Street, Minecraft and some Dreamworks content. Oh, and parent bonus – you can set an in-app timer to shut it down when their designated screen time is over. Brilliant!
8. Monkey Preschool Lunchbox
$1.99 | Ages 2+
This game offers great variety, giving your child seven options to learn about colors, shapes, counting, matching, and size differentiation. All led by Mr. Monkey himself, even the youngest of preschoolers dig the idea of earning reward stickers, playing the simplistic puzzles and probably enjoy hearing that repeated annoying monkey screech more than their parents do. I am convinced that this app is the reason my daughter can now school me in Memory.
9. Zoo Train
$.99-$1.99 | Ages 2+
This app focuses on the basics of shapes, colors, puzzles, letters and words. Kids can build their own train, play music on steam whistles, spell words with animated freight, and decorate a traveling suitcase with reward stickers. There are five games total on this app, covering a range of ages. Creating the train track is not an easy task for beginners and pushing colored whistles to make music might bore an older preschooler. The variety is quite nice and the fact that it’s all train-based could be quite the selling point for the right child audience.
10. ABC Go
$2.99 | Ages 2+
This game focuses on letters and words, building your little one’s vocabulary while entertaining them with the wonderful world of automobiles. Uncover real photos of all sorts of vehicles, from row boats to police cars to hang gliders, using your fingertip and imagination. Plenty of sounds accompany each image (plenty of sounds) and kids can even play videos of their selected vehicles in action, which is pretty entertaining. If you have a lover of things that go Vroom, get this app. My son played it religiously when he was 2 and 3.
11. Interactive Alphabet
$2.99 | Ages 1+
A. A is for Awards. This app, which focuses 100% on the letters of the alphabet, has won a number of those. You can select Baby Mode (which automatically goes through each letter without needing to prompt the game), or Explore Mode (allowing youngsters to play at their own pace). Kids will learn their letters and what words start with those letters. They can trace upper or lower case letters and animate objects with the touch of a finger. You can also set it to Sing Mode, which lets you belt out a tune with 26 of these adorably simplistic robots.
12. Duck Duck Moose Super Comic Maker
$1.99 | Ages 3+
Does anyone else have a comic book geek on their hands like me? With this Parents’ Choice Silver Award-winning app, they can build their very own comic book from start to finish, selecting background scenes, sounds, superhero characters, stickers and personalized recorded voice narration. They can even save their comic and share their creativity with friends or family. Coloring pages are also available for the youngsters. Pick up a three-pack bundle for $2.99 which includes this app, Fairy Tale Maker (the same app, but with princesses), and Draw & Tell. I would totally spend the extra buck and get ’em all. Duck Duck Moose is a brilliant company.
13. Storybots Starring You Videos
Free | Ages 1+
You know those crazy folks who brought you the dancing JibJab elves that show up on everyone’s Facebook feed at Christmas time? Yeah, they made an app. Available on iPad and iPhone, the Starring You Videos app comes with three free music videos and more can be purchased with a membership. I’m all about the free stuff and if you child loses interest, delete the app. But, that’s how I roll. Membership is $4.99/month and gets you access to a whole bunch of stuff. Your child can place their face in the video and watch themself dance and sing and make a fool of themself from anywhere.
14. Monsters at the End of the Book
$4.99 | Ages 2+
Raise your hand if Grover was your favorite Sesame Street character of all time! Yup, mine too. This book is such a classic and it never fails to make me smile, especially since I have nearly perfected my Grover impersonation. This app tells the story, and allows your kids to control what happens next or make Grover talk. He is so funny, my kids would laugh incessantly while “reading” this app. Sure, it highlights the words that are being read, but overall, this app is just for giggles.
15. Bugs and Buttons
$2.99 | Ages 2+
Bugs and Buttons is another app with a little something for everyone (except entomophobians). Little ones can practice completing patterns or their alphabet, matching cards, counting numbers, navigating mazes or sorting by color. Older kids will like squashing ants with their finger, flinging bees into a flower using a sling shot or playing a simple game of tic-tac-toe or connect the dots. Bugs (and buttons) are everywhere in all 18 of these colorful games. The variety of games is SO worth the low price.
$2.99 | Ages 1+
This app is focused solely on counting numbers. Kids will be prompted to animate objects with their finger after the countdown is complete. The colors are bright and the tasks are simplistically perfect for kids around the age of two (such as putting pennies in a piggy bank or building a yummy looking sandwich). They are given verbal encouragement after each success, so if you have a toddler who is learning numbers up to 20, this app is one of my favorites!
17. Spot! Animals
Free | Ages 2+
With ten different background scenes, it’s harder than one would think to locate all the hidden animals in this game, especially if you’re a toddler. Use your fingers to navigate around a swamp, jungle, safari or more to try and locate the five animals or objects listed on the bottom of the screen. You can also set the game to “Toddler Mode” where kids can just seek out any animal they find on the screen. And yet again with this app, kids can choose a sticker reward after each victory. It’s basically free hide and seek on your mobile device.
$.99 | Ages 4+
Need a math app? A perfect one for kids just starting elementary school would be Mathmateer. This app, unlike many other math apps, covers a wide range of concepts including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, time, money and patterns. In this rocketship-themed game, kids can earn medals and money, which are used to soup up their rocketships. Reading is very helpful in this game because there are quite a few instructions. Launch missions (56 total) can be customized to fit whatever difficulty level is suitable for your child. Once you play it a few times, you’ll get the hang of it, so stick with it. Only complaint: “space font” is tough for young eyes to read.
19. Whose Toes are Those?
Free-$.99 | Ages 2+
This gameshow-style match game is quirky and oddly animated, but apparently kids find great amusement in watching disproportionately-drawn penguins bust a move. I’ll never understand kids…or this app. But it makes them laugh hysterically and I guess you can’t put a price tag (or an explanation) on that. They won’t learn too terribly much, but sometimes that’s just not important.
20. Crazy Helium Video Booth Lite
Free | Ages 3+
Let’s be honest. I might love this app more than my kids. I sometimes even use it to send my husband requests for what to pick up at the store (it’s just so much more tolerable when you nag looking and sounding like you do using Helium Booth). This free not-at-all-educational app allows you to take a 30-second video selfie using one of their oddball effects (square chin, big head, Hulk monster, etc.) and speech alterations and speed (robot, squirrel or super mega baritone). Navigating the app might take some adult assistance, but it’s something you’ll all enjoy. The results can be hysterical and then you can completely mortify yourself by posting it to social media or sending it to your friends. Much like this:
So there you have it. A short survival list for those times when the only thing that might save the moment comes with a touch screen. Obviously, there are thousands of kid-friendly apps out there and my kids get sick of the same ones over and over too, so now it’s your turn.
Tell me…what’s YOUR favorite kid app? And why?