How did people parent before smartphones or mobile tablets? I received my first iPhone when my daughter was about 3 years old, and having that magical little box with us on long trips or in the doctor’s waiting room has been such a lifesaver. I use the iPhone or our recently purchased iPad Mini for everything, from getting directions to meal planning. I even use it as a white-noise machine (a great white-noise machine app, here) when we’re staying in a hotel. These devices make it easy to travel light, which is quite a feat with kids in tow!
There are a ton of amazing apps and games that are specifically tailored to kids of all ages. With a few years of experience under my belt, I have found some fun and educational apps that are always winners with my 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.
1. Heads Up—This is a fun app for the entire family! Created by Ellen DeGeneres, Heads Up is sort of like an online version of charades. You pick a category from a large selection that includes animals, art, and acting it out. The app then starts a timer, and you hold the device over your head with the screen facing out. Your friends or family see a topic on the screen and then describe what it is, and you have to guess what it is without seeing it. It’s fun and interactive, and my whole family loves playing. It’s a wonderful way to use your mobile device to bring your family together! Cost: $0.99
2. Toca Boca Birthday Party—Pretty much anything from Toca Boca is on my list (we also have the Christmas app, the clean-up app and the haircut app), but my daughter’s current favorite is Birthday Party. You pick each item for the party, like a cake, gifts, drinks, plates, etc., and then throw your own little party. My kids would spend forever with this game if we let them. Cost: $2.99
3. Fruit Ninja—This is a game that is fun for kids and adults. Basically, you’re trying to slice up fruit with a ninja sword (aka, your finger) before it falls to the bottom of the screen. My 7-year-old likes to play in easy mode, but if you play in game mode, it can get pretty intense. The kids and parents in our house enjoy this one. Cost: $0.99
4. Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App—Pretty much anything from Mo Willems is fantastic, and this app doesn’t disappoint. It’s based on his characters from the Pigeon Book Series, and it lets kids create their own stories and then save them to read later. It’s sort of like mad libs with a grumpy pigeon. There are other features too, like learning how to draw the pigeon and memory games with the bus driver. Cost: $5.99
5. Peekaboo Barn and Peekaboo Forest—This is by far my son’s favorite thing to do on the iPhone. These apps teach kids about animals. When each animal knocks at the barn door, my guy gets so excited to hear their noises. He likes to steal my phone and I’ll find him sitting with this game on his bedroom floor. Little rascal. Cost: $1.99 for each
6. Elmo Calls—This wonderful app was recommended to me by a friend when I was having trouble potty training my youngest. The app is set up visually to look just like a normal phone call or Facetime call, except your toddler is talking to Elmo on the other end of the line! There are several different calls to choose from, such as special holiday messages or calls of encouragement. Elmo can also leave voicemail messages for your child. Cost: $0.99
7. Spelling City—We were introduced to the Spelling City website when our daughter was in first grade. We used the website religiously to work on her spelling using games and practice tests, so we were thrilled when I found the app to use on our mobile devices. We input our spelling words for the week, and then when we have a free moment, I have our daughter play one of the games or do her review program. It’s wonderful! Cost: Free
8. Netflix—There are times when I’m stuck in a situation with the kids where I just need a minute of peace (like, say, when I’m sitting in the dentist’s chair!) and I need something both kids can do at the same time. This is where the Netflix app comes in handy. The kids can browse through programming and find a show they both like, and for the most part, they don’t argue over who is doing what. This can be an issue with games, as one kid will be playing and the other one wants to participate too, but for whatever reason, a show on Netflix is usually something they can agree on. I am also a huge fan of Netflix’s kids section, which makes it easier for my children to browse safely without being exposed to adult series and movies. Cost: App is Free, Netflix streaming cost varies by plan
What are your favorite apps or games for kids? Any lifesavers out there I should know about?