Screen time is like the carbs of the parenting world: Some people avoid it, and everyone has an opinion about it. But the fact is that we’re raising digital natives and apps are here to stay — and learn from! Because your time is precious, we have the quick lowdown on the latest, greatest and most educational.
photo: Sago Mini Doodlecast
Sago Mini Doodlecast by Sago Sago
Open-ended, minimalist prompts (a pair of eyes, a box) invite imaginative kids to draw and color to their heart’s content. The app records what they’re drawing and saying. Then it plays it all back for you to save, fawn over and send to doting relatives. $0.99 on iTunes.
Safari, So Good (Cat in the Hat) by Oceanhouse Media
Cat in the Hat fans will love this e-book with its classic Dr. Seuss-like rhyming cadence and illustrations. Tap-able vocab words pop out so you can read the meaning, and you can record yourself reading or choose to have it narrated. $5.99 on iTunes.
photo: Hello Numbers
Hello Numbers by NumbersAlive!
Alphabet apps are a dime a dozen, so when you find a good numbers one, you hang onto it. Each charming digit introduces itself with special characteristics and no pressure to trace, solve problems or answer anything. If you have the Hello Numbers book, you can unlock special features; if not, the pleasant built-in activities are plenty. Free on iTunes.
Disney Story Central by Disney
Their favorite Disney character in storybook form: There’s really very little that could go wrong here. Over 150 books, many with spinoff storylines, read to your kids or can be read silently, so you can finish your errands, fight through traffic, or sneak past the toy aisle in peace. Free with in-app purchases on iTunes.
photo: Kiwi Corner by Kiwi Crate
Kiwi Corner by Kiwi Crate
When the crafting gurus behind Kiwi Crate make a free app, you download it. You then ooh and ahh over pretty pictures, find yourself heart-ing a ton of craft ideas, and mumble to yourself, “I can do these.” And you will, because they’re easy, clever and so cute that you’ll actually want to keep them around. Free on iTunes and Android.
Monster Moogle by Frontera US, Inc.
Leave kids to their own imagination and the end result is always charming/borderline trippy. Always. Which makes this app perfect, with its talking dog narrator, monster characters, and 200+ design tools to make fun and fantastical collages to their heart’s content. $1.99 on iTunes.
photo: Toca Town
Toca Town by Toca Boca
Because Toca Hair Salon, Toca Tea Party, Toca Car, Toca Doctor, and Toca Mini just aren’t enough. Now Toca-crazed toddlers get an entire municipality. They can grocery shop, go potty, oversleep, have a picnic, spend time in the slammer, and pretty much do whatever they want in this irresistibly adorable and responsive world. It’s like the Color Wonder of apps: Let them get all the crazy out without leaving permanent damage anywhere. $2.99 on iTunes and Android.
Storybug by Cricket Magazine Group & Ethervision
Remember how video phones sounded so futuristic when we were kids? Oh, what humble dreams we dreamed. Because now kids can video chat and read a book with a faraway loved one. Now for the awesome part: Different colored hands show where the other person is touching or pointing in the e-book. Hologram parenting in 2015 — we’re calling it now. Free on iTunes, in-app purchases and subscriptions available.
photo: Wuzzit Trouble Math Jr.
Wuzzit Trouble Math Jr. by Brainquake Inc.
The good old days of writing a subtraction problem and borrowing from the tens are long gone. Give your kids a leg up on conceptual math; releasing wuzzits in this game takes strategy and arithmetic they’ll see on turning gears. Stars, trophies and bonus rewards hook them in. $2.99 on iTunes and Android.
Paper by Fifty Three
Let’s be honest; drawing apps for kids can leave a lot to be desired. Which is why this professional non-kids’ app is perfect for them. Your iPad transforms into a sketchbook that, with the Pencil stylus ($59.95), lets you sketch, erase, blend and create like a master. Bonus: No more doodles lying around that you’ll have to secretly trash after bedtime. Free on iTunes.
photo: LEGO Friends
LEGO Friends by Warner Bros.
If your little girl acts “all grown up,” have the LEGO Friends BFFs invite her into their world. She’ll pick out clothes, decorate rooms, roam Heartlake City, care for pets and help the Friends strengthen their friendships. It’s a role-playing game you can feel good about. $4.99 on iTunes.
Little Critters Colors by Oceanhouse Media
Little Critter, with his wide eyes and crooked smile, is always a hit with the toddler set. Leave it to him, then, to teach colors and words in this interactive storybook. Best of all, you can record yourself narrating and keep it on tap for the next time you could use a second you. $1.99 on iTunes.
Plants by Tinybop
Try not to take over when your kids play this one. No easy feat because, just like the crazy popular Human Body app, exploring here — rubbing clouds together to make lightning or fast-forwarding seasonal changes, let’s say — is super addicting. No end goals or point system; just wandering through gorgeous “biodomes” bursting with learning opportunities. $2.99 on iTunes.
Is there an app you love right now? Let us know about it in the Comments section below!
— Selena Kohng