Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The App Post, Summer 2012

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One of my pet peeves are all the articles, blogs, and threads that tell you what your child MUST be doing, MUST be learning, MUST be playing with right that second, or you are quite simply a failure in the parenting realm.  I mean, if your baby is seven months old and hasn't mastered the 32 signs that 57-year-old childless man working at Wendy's said they must know by now, your kid will never get into college.  Shame on you.

Sometimes reading those articles is worth the headache from all the eye-rolling, as it may inspire a new sign or find an app that will keep my kid from emptying out the drawers at the doctors' office. (Next time, doctors, don't stick her in the GYN room.  That one is on you.)

I'm not going to claim to have The Best Apps EVER! but I will tell you what helps our kid get smarter, gives her a chance to interact meaningfully with technology (because bashing my Canon on the ground is not what I had in mind, meaningful or otherwise) and occupies her for more than 23 seconds.  If you have a child between 1 and 4 years old, you know this is practically a lifetime.

First, set the mood.

Cost: free
This is similar to Pandora, but improved, particularly when you are feeling indecisive or just need music fast.  It is fun to use, gives helpful suggestions, and has several playlists for children.  There's even a playlist of children songs that won't drive parents crazy, as they don't sound like Raffi on repeat.  I haven't tried the sleep timer, but it is there if you like to fall asleep to music.  Just know that if you choose "candlelight dinner" you may get an odd mix of Michael Bolton, Air Supply, and Disney love songs.

Now, on to the kid.

Bookish Apps

Nighty Night 
Cost: $2.99
Some day, when I win the lottery, I will buy my kid all the fancy Montessorium apps.  For right now, I get similar apps for free when I can, in hopes that by time we really make use of letter tracing and basic addition, I'll be buying a better version of what is available now.  That being said, Nighty Night is worth more than 299 hard-earned pennies.  A narrated bedtime story that takes place on a farm, it is the responsibility of the child to put all the animals to bed.  At first, V. would watch me turn off the light switches or pet the animals so they danced or brayed.  But now she does it on her own, much to her delight.  She builds a nest between the ottoman and couch (using the blanket her uncle brought from Ecuador - it was for the family, but try and tell her that...) and goes to work diligently putting all the animals to bed.

Good night, dear dog.

Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime
Cost: $0.99
I was fortunate enough to get this when it was featured on before I even had V., and I had just as much fun with it then as she does now.  Popular nursery rhymes (now with the option of narration!) come alive.  Each screen has some sort of interaction that goes along with the rhyme: You destroy the brick wall until Humpty cracks open, drop the cleaver on the mice's tails, or spin the cow over the moon.  The illustrations are collage-style, and the app as a whole is very beautiful.

Alphabet, Words, and Early Writing

Cost: $3.99
Once again, this was a freeappaday find, and V.'s first real app.  I found it when she was about 2 months old, and she still uses it today.  Silhouettes of common items/animals are flashed across the screen while a narrator says their name.  This would have lost V.'s interest many months ago if it weren't for the plethora of languages available.  She loves to see pictures she knows the English for and hear labels in foreign languages.

Alphabet Zoo
Cost: Free
This is an odd app.  It will likely make you crazy, but is decent in terms of educational value and toddler-useability.  
A line of letters stretches across the bottom of the screen.  Toddler selects a letter and it appears in the center of the screen, and the narrator says the letter's name.  Then, the one downfall to this app - when you touch the letter, it gives the phonetic sound for that letter.  It will do this twice, which makes me ask why couldn't they add more than one letter sound?  Eight letters in our alphabet make more than one sound, and they are important to know.  Once you get past the limited letter sounds, an animal appears.  This is the part that will make you crazy: the animal also makes noise... only it is the narrator making the noise they believe that animal should make.  Ever heard a mid-40's man's impersonation of an anteater?  It is amusing the first few times.  Then you hear it the 73rd time in under 80 seconds and it isn't so funny.  But V. loves it and can control this app completely on her own, so it wins points.  Besides, she is picking up on some animal and letter names, so I just have to love to hate this app.  I did, after all, download it.

Cost: Free
I like this app, and it will last us many years.  Right now we use it as an early writing activity, tracing the letters together, but letter tracing is just one of four activities.  (I haven't tried the other three.)  The letter tracing gives the child a dotted line to follow within the bubble letter, and insists on following the "proper" direction.  Once the letter has been successfully traced, it is placed on a "chalkboard" background that continues to collect letters, so kids can see their progress.
I also like that it is an iPhone app as well.  For emergencies.

Just For Fun

Cost: Free
We have downloaded two of these apps - one with shapes and colors, one with body parts.  Neither are terribly entertaining, and they possess little challenge, so V. is easily bored with them.  Still, the shapes one has a musical keyboard she likes to jam on, and the body parts is good if you sit there and ask her where her nose, eyes, knees... are along with the puppy.

Cost: Free
This is an app for your cat.  Or your toddler.  I wanted to see if it would entertain the cat, and got a 2-for-1 deal.  They play with this app together.  A little fish appears on the screen and swims away from your touch.  When you do catch the fish, another faster fish appears.  That's it.  And when it is on, that is 2 less beings tangled in my legs while I cook.

Cost: free
Remember when computers became more than just a green screen, and when you had finished your assignment, your teacher would let you play with Kidpaint?  (Kidpaint is now an app, I just learned.)  And you would make THE BEST picture of zombie unicorns battling dinosaurs in space?  It is that, all over.  My child has yet to turn out any awesome space adventures, but we've only had this app for a few months.  Also, she has no concept of space, zombies, unicorns, and a minimal understanding of dinosaurs.  We'll get there.  In the meantime, she'll enjoy hitting all the buttons to get different colors, stamps, shapes, and textures.
(And when she's asleep, I'll recreate the epic pictures of my youth.)

Cost: Free
I just discovered this last night.  I won't tell you that my husband and I laid in bed playing with this app for a good few minutes when we should have been sleeping.  (You try and resist the fireworks!)  There are many fireworks apps, but this one is free and awesome.  V. got up bright and early to try this out before I wrote this post, to see if it would make the cut or not.  I made those breakfast cups, fed the dog, and took the dog out twice while she sat on the couch drinking her Kefir and making the iPad explode with color.

I'd love to know your toddler's favorite app.  We have a 14 hour (minimum) car ride coming up in a few weeks, and I know that when hour 12 hits I'll be searching for any app to keep her sane for a little longer.  

(More on my Crazy Car Trip Prep later.  I thought it would be rough a rough trip with a nursing, eating 6-month old.  It was a dream.  Let's hope for a repeat, now that she is a year older, has an opinion and an attitude.)


  1. Good luck on your trip!! We just did a 7 hr ride. We did lots of looking for cows and horses :)

    I got an app called Uncolor and Uncolor Dogs. The screen is black and rubbing your finger on the screen uncovers a picture. Titus likes it for a few pictures at a time.

    1. Oh, we'll be finding all sorts of animals! Thanks for the suggestion - sounds perfect for V.!

  2. Love these ideas. I'm tweeting the link to your blog :)

    1. Thanks! Try the gak and Ivory soap with Silas this summer! Both were less than 1 minute prep and loads of fun!