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Five Favourite iPad Apps for Munchkins at the Mo

I used to travel heavy.  By heavy, I mean when my son and I travelled to the US last year, three of the carry-ons were full of his toys, books, markers, stickers, and puzzles.  It wasn’t that I thought he actually needed all of this for the 11-hour flight, but I was concerned for the welfare of our fellow passengers.  I didn’t want any of them to be privy to a meltdown in the skies.

On the way to the flight gate – a beast of burden carrying my son and these huge bags (so colossal that they didn’t fit in the handy “check if your carry-ons are small enough to be considered carry-ons” guide near the check-in counter, but I winked and smiled at the counter attendant and managed to finagle my way through) – I vowed to find the toy of all toys.  I was on a quest for the ultimate all-in-one little darling’s doodah that didn’t require me carrying half our home, the toy that came complete with bells, whistles and foghorns, with cry-proof gadgetry (for the little guy and me), with harm-proof gadgetry (for passers-by and passengers in the seats near us), and with educational gallimaufry.

A few months after this trip, my son was in hospital and a friend of his let him borrow her iPad.  Complete with games, books and movies, this little rectangular piece of technology became the Apple of his eye (amusing myself with that pun, I am).  This book-sized piece of modern machinery was the toy I had been searching for, the holy grail of playthings.  This extraordinary curio eliminated the need for me to carry 30lbs worth of child amusement accoutrement.

When my son left the hospital, his pa bought him his own iPad.  It was a true blessing as distractor during various tests at subsequent hospital visits.  Almost a year later, and I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I love his – ahem, our – iPad as much as him.  Don’t tell him, but I occasionally play with some of his apps when he’s not around.  That reminds me, where the heck is that iPad charger?

Here are our five favourite entertainment, game and book iPad apps for little ones right now:

Scribblify
Compatible with iPhone and iPad
Age recommendation:  4+ (if using alone, but if playing with a parent/carer, I think it could be used at 2+)
Cost:  $0.99 in the US, £0.69 in the UK

Scribblify is my and my four-year-old son’s favourite iPad app.  We play with this drawing and painting app the most, and it never gets old.  It keeps him engrossed for at least an hour at a time, and the art pieces he creates really are amazing.  My dad told me David Hockney creates exhibition-worthy art on iPads, and as I perused Sir Hock’s creations, I have to admit that I thought to myself that my little guy’s masterpieces are worthy of an exhibition.

This app does not require any artistic abilities to create figurative, abstract, surreal, or scenic art pieces. With effects, 28 different brushes/textures and hundreds of colours – varying values, combinations of colours and custom blends – children and adults alike are only limited by their own imagination.  And although the age recommendation is 4+, if a parent is using Scribblify with a little one, a munchkin as young as two could easily enjoy the app.  We love the horizontal, vertical and quadrant mirrors.  Remember when as a child, you’d fold paper in half, cut shapes with scissors, unfold the paper, and see the mirror shapes on both halves?  Well, imagine that, but in electronic form.  We also love the fact that we can share Enlai’s  works of genius with friends and family on Facebook or by email.

Drawing Pad
Compatible with iPad
Age recommendation:  4+ (if using alone, but if playing with a parent/carer, I think it could be used at 2+)
Cost:  $1.99 in the US, £1.19 in the UK

This portable art studio app is delicious.  Whenever my little guy chooses this app, I become the kid in the candy shop.  If you and/or your mini-me have any sort of art appetite, this will satisfy your hunger.  Enlai loves opening up the electronic drawer filled with brushes, pencils, crayons, a blending tool (we call it “the smudgy”), markers, stamps, paper, stickers, and rubbers (erasers for my US compatriots).  When any one of the tools is tapped, a range of colours is presented.  The coloured pencils alone offer about 60 different hues.

Nevermind that Apple chose Drawing Pad as “iPad App of the Week” in several countries, or that it has been featured on nytimes.com, usatoday.com, and awarded Editor’s Choice Award from Children’s Technology Review.  What I – a mama whose role often includes acting as foremost funmaker and principal picker-upper – love about this app is the fact that it keeps my little fella entertained for at least as long as it takes me to do some cooking and washing, and sitting down to take a breath and doesn’t present a whole new mess to clean up.

Enlai taught me how to use two fingers to rotate and resize the stickers, and he sometimes magnifies the stickers so much that they become the background for his drawings.  He loves that he can save his art should he be interrupted – potty breaks happen, as do meal and bath times – and reload it later to continue his touchscreen tour de force.  And just as we can with Scribblify, we are able to share Enlai’s art with friends and family on Facebook or by email.

Elmo’s  Monster Maker
Compatible with iPad
Age recommendation:  4+(my opinion is that if shown how to use it a few times, a toddler aged 3+ could use it alone, but if playing with a parent/carer, I think it could be enjoyed at 1+)
Cost:  $3.99 in the US

We both laugh out loud every time we use this app.  Elmo prompts us to select one “blank” monster from a choice of five and then to decide on something for the top of the head, the eyes and the nose.  The choices alone make us giggle, including Elvis wigs and lampshades for tops, fried eggs and Groucho Marx glasses for eyes, and disco balls and butterflies for noses.

We go into chuckle overdrive once our monster is created because we are then given the option to allow him to dance, pose for a photo, or play.  If we choose the former, the monsters dance to different tunes, from polka to country to some 80s keyboardy tune.  Some of their dance moves and dance faces have me in stitches.   If we opt for Elmo to snap a photo, he asks the monsters to say “cheese”, the screen momentarily goes white (as if an actual camera flashes), and the shot – complete with different backdrops – can then be retrieved in the iPad photos.  Enlai’s favourite is the play mode, when Elmo comes out to play with the monster.  He sometimes says “boo” and startles the monster or does random things with the monsters, like ducking so as to miss a rubber chicken or pretending to ride a roller coaster.

My little guy somehow figured out how to tickle the monsters (this is not an obvious option in the app).  One day, Enlai came running from his room to my shower, excitedly shouting, “Ma, you won’t believe this!  Come and see this!”  I asked if there was a fire, rodents or bugs involved, to which he shouted in reply, “No, it’s the Elmo monster.  He’s ticklish!  And the other one plays a trumpet!”  He discovered that if you do absolutely nothing (i.e. ignore Elmo’s prompts to press a button) and just watch the monster for a few seconds, one of them plays a trumpet, one chomps on an apple, and others yawn, doze off or say something funny, among other things.  The sounds of some of their voices crack me up.

One thing I love about this app is the fact that it’s seasonal.  The options and backgrounds change according to season and highlight different objects we often see during particular times of the year, such as bunny ears and Easter eggs in the spring, seashells and ice cream in the summer, Christmas baubles and reindeer antlers in the winter, and acorns and leaves in the fall.

The Monster at the End of This Book
Compatible with iPhone and iPad
Age recommendation:  4+(my opinion is that if shown how to use it a few times, a toddler aged 3+ could use it alone, but if playing with a parent/carer, I think it could be enjoyed at 2+)
Cost:  $3.99 in the US, £2.49 in the UK

With narration by lovable, furry Grover, touch-point animation and silliness wrapped up in more silliness, this quickly became an adored app.  Our fuzzy blue friend spends the story worrying about the monster at the end of the book, aiming to convince us not to turn the page.  The clever software developers of this app must have children, because if you tell a toddler to not turn a page, what do they do?  Exactly.

The fact that Grover helps little ones learn to read by speaking the words of the story as they appear on the screen was lost on us.  And although the fact that this app reached No. 1 in books in the app store, was the recipient of the Editor’s Choice Award in the Children’s Technology Review and was named one of Babble’s Best Apps for Kids of 2011 is wonderful, but once again, all these accolades were completely lost on us. Enlai and I both just appreciate the story, silliness and interactivity.

Because Grover is genuinely frightened at the possibility of confronting the monster at the end of the book – even becoming a comical drama king with shrills and arms thrown in the air – he ties down pages with knotted ropes, nails wooden slabs, and builds brick walls, all in an effort to keep us from turning the pages.  Little ones are able to decide the pace of the story as their touch determines whether the story stays static on one page for several minutes or whether they turn the page as soon as the prompt to do so pops up. Telling you what happens with the monster at the end of the book would be like disclosing what happens at the end of The Godfather trilogy.  I can’t bring myself to do it.  Rest assured that there is a likelihood of  laughter, not tears.

Toy Story
Compatible with iPad
Age recommendation:  4+(my opinion is that if shown how to use it a few times, a toddler aged 3+ could use it alone, but if playing with a parent/carer, I think it could be enjoyed at 2+)
Cost:  Free

If you and your little one have watched the three-part Disney dynamo that is known as the Toy Story franchise, then it is likely you will enjoy this app, if for nothing else than it affords an opportunity to interact with familiar and cherished characters.

While we are yet to take full advantage of all the app has to offer, including an interactive book , games, colouring pages, two sing-along videos and two games, Enlai colours the three colouring pages nearly every time he has the iPad in his hands.  He has even developed his own stories around these pages that have nothing to do with the actual Toy Story plot.

With this app, your little ones can hear the story read aloud, and can even record their own narration to listen to (or for younger children, their parent’s narration).   On each page, we can tap the screen to play various sound effects and character voices.  While I like the games – Parachute Drop and Toy Barn Maze – Enlai is not very interested at this stage.  The two sing-along videos – You’ve Got A Friend In Me and Strange Things – come with lyrics, and we’ve probably watched the former video about 20 times over the last ten months.  I think the main appeal of this app is the price and the choice.  It’s not a one-trick piece of software; there’s a lot on offer.

Now then, it can’t all be fun and games, can it.  Watch this space for my and Enlai’s review of our top handful of educational apps for precious offspring.  In the meantime, happy apping.

Category: Art, Baby and Toddler Accoutrement, General, Reviews, This Parenting Stuff

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