It’s time to ’fess up: we’ve all started using the iPad as a pseudo-babysitter. At restaurants, in grocery store lines, and on long car trips, it’s getting more and more tempting to use the magic of the tablet to keep antsy pants at bay. Still, be aware that not all kids’ apps are created equal: some conceal brain-strengthening benefits under a candy coating of fun, exercizing puzzle-solving abilities and encouraging imaginative free play. Below, we’ve collected 10 of the latest, greatest edu-taining apps.
Curious George at the Zoo ($0.99)
Fans of the perennially mischievous little monkey are bound to go bananas over Curious George’s new app, which lets the user try on the zookeeper’s cap. Players practice hand-eye coordination by bathing and feeding the animals, learn about each creature’s habitat by watching short videos, and sharpen their reasoning skills by playing simple mini-games. Best of all, they might finally stop begging you for a pet.
Budding authors can start crafting future bestsellers with this clever, intuitive and fun storytelling app, designed to exercise ever-growing narrative imaginations. A collection of vivid backgrounds, 3D characters and eclectic objects can be combined with text boxes and speech bubbles to create one-of-a-kind e-books. Choosing protagonists and arranging them on each page, kids hone their spatial sense as much as their literary talents.
ABC Phonics Rhyming Words Plus ($2.99)
What this app lacks in style, it makes up in clarity — even young kids who have trouble understanding game rules should be able to pick it up in a snap. The goal is to pair one column’s images with rhyming matches in the column opposite. When each image is touched, a woman’s voice names the object aloud. Learning to rhyme helps toddlers start to consider the sound composition of words, paving the way for their first forays into reading. Note: There is also a free junior version: ABC Phonics Rhyming Words Lite — For Preschool, Kindergarten, First Grade.
Toca Kitchen Monsters (Free!)
They may still be too little to be set loose in the kitchen, but it’s never too early to teach kids about all the work that goes into food prep. In this fun new variation on the wildly popular Toca Kitchen, they’ll have to slice, boil and fry an array of raw ingredients to satisfy the unique appetites of two demanding little monsters (not unlike themselves).
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, Ages 5+ ($2.99)
Based on the bestselling 2010 children’s book by JoAnn Deak and Sarah Ackerley, this app provides an all-around workout for your little one’s brain. Games like chess and memory match coach kids through mental push-ups, while dynamic mini-lectures explain the ins and outs of neuroscience in an easy-to-grasp, colourful comic-book style.
Cosmic Star Finder ($0.99)
Pint-sized astronomers can use this app to start unlocking the secrets of the universe, one constellation at a time. When the handheld device running the app is held up to the night sky, Cosmic Star Finder locates and names the various planets, star formations, and satellites that can seem like a twinkling jumble to the untrained eye.
Little Fox Music Box, Ages 2-6 ($2.99)
Though this sing-along app offers only three songs so far (“Old McDonald,” “London Bridge” and “Evening Song”), enchantingly interactive visuals byanimator Heidi Wittlinger (Oscar-nominated for her animated short, Das Rad) take the concept from straightforward to stunning. As the tune plays and lyrics dance across the screen, little fingers can tap to change the seasons, play with farm animals, or launch Northern Lights into the sky.
happyKids — Veterinarian HD, Ages 2-6 ($1.99)
Kids will love playing pet doctor for the day in this virtual vet’s office, where they can tend to under-the-weather animals. X-rays reveal the furry patients’ individual ailments, which players then cure by winning different mini-games (one involves listening to heartbeats; another revolves around claw-clipping). Next thing you know, they’ll feel qualified to diagnose every sick pup on the block.
ABC Circus, Ages 2-6 ($0.99)
Step right up, folks! This learn-to-write app uses animated circus characters to guide kids through dotting “I”s and crossing “T”s. A different letter of the alphabet is taught by each creature under the big top, including a Unicycling Bear who demonstrates how to print the letter “B” and an Acrobatic Camel who guides first-timers through the motions of “C.” By show’s end, your child’s writing hand should be steady enough to walk the tightrope.
Allison Friedman has written about celebrities, fashion, and Canadian culture for publications like Flare and Toronto Life. She lives in Toronto, where she works at a children’s bookstore, sees too many movies, and makes half-hearted attempts at jogging.