I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer -- my wife is the one with all the fancy degrees and, you know, can do algebra and stuff. But there is one thing I know quite a bit about, and that would be apps for kids. My son just turned 3 in June and has been using an iPad for the past two years. In that time, I think I've downloaded nearly every app in the Apple App Store for kids, to the point that I almost never look for any apps for myself anymore. So without further ado, here are my picks for the best kids apps that I've come across this summer:
I've had a Gmail account for my son since before he was born, and I email him all the time -- stories about his daily life, pictures, whatever. I plan for it to be a gift for him when he's older. He's obviously a little too young for Gmail right now, but that doesn't mean he can't use email. Maily is a new app that allows kids to send emails to whomever their parents allow. Kids can use brushes to draw and write in an email, take photos, use stickers -- all within a very kid-friendly interface. Watching my son's face light up when he gets a new email from Grandma is priceless.
If your child is ready for addition and multiplication, check out Sushi Monster. Feed the monster by matching the number he wants to eat. My son loves it when the monster eats. Most importantly for these types of apps, a mistake is not punished -- the monster just throws the numbers off the table instead of eating them.
If it's time to start learning geography, check out Stack the Countries from the same developer who did Stack the States. You are asked a question such as "Paris is the capital of which country?" and then presented with four choices. Choose the right one, then stack them on top of each other until your pile of countries passes the goal line. With more than 1,000 questions it makes learning about capitals, landmarks, continents, flags etc. much more engaging than just reading them in a textbook.
As soon as I saw this app, memories of watching "The Great Cookie Thief" on Sesame Street came flooding back. From the "kids these days have it made" file, this app builds upon the old sketch by helping kids build identification and observation skills, as well as adding a photo booth, brushes and stickers to create your own Wanted Poster. Just be prepared to have "IT'S HIM! IT'S HIM! I KNOW IT'S HIM!" stuck in your head for weeks.
This one held my son's attention for longer than usual. You choose from many different pieces of scrap to build your robot, then fly him around an obstacle course. Again, important that there are no penalties or rules so your little one can concentrate on just having fun.
This app is an interactive episode of the TV show, which, if your child is a fan of it, is pretty cool. In addition to the expected touching, shaking, swiping and dragging, it helps build language skills as you can talk directly to the app to help Mickey and friends finish their race. It also has activities focused on counting, memory, shapes and problem-solving.
The beloved PBS show returns as an app, with LeVar Burton in tow, and features more than 150 interactive books and videos. It's an absolute pleasure to know he'll be with my kids as they begin to read -- just as he was with me. The only negative about the app is the price -- it requires a subscription to read the books, which is $9.99 a month, and you can only have five books "checked out" at a time. That might seem expensive in the app world, but consider how much less you get in life for $10.
Don't have time to peruse the App Store all day long? Check out KinderTown, an app that curates all the educational apps for kids 3 to 8 years old. It uses former educators to vet the apps for quality and then has parents test them out before allowing them admission. It's an invaluable resource for parents.