There are many parents who keep screen time out of their children’s lives until kids are over the age of two or three. We are not among those parents. Simply by virtue of having very “connected” jobs, we have lots of screens around and accessible. And while we definitely think too much screen time is a bad thing – Evan’s not going to get away with spending hours at a time in front of a gaming console – we were more than happy to find games for our iPad that we could play as a family or let Evan experiment with on his own (“on his own” meaning “with Mommy or Daddy right next to him for encouragement”).
Evan doesn’t get much iPad time – maybe 30 minutes a day, if that – but we’ve downloaded a ton of apps and have played with them with him enough to know which are he enjoys most. Lots of apps intended for toddlers are grouped by being for age 5 and under, which is a really large grouping. Evan simply isn’t going to be able to figure out an app that’s designed with a five-year old in mind. So we’re proposing a new category – “young toddlers.” And if Apple ever calls and asks to use our idea, there’d better be a big payout. So, without further ado, here are close to a dozen of our favorite apps for the two-year old set. Despite the photographic evidence above, Bejeweled Blitz isn’t one of them.
The Peekaboo Series
So technically this is more than one app. But since they all do basically the same thing, I’m lumping them together. Each app is a static scene (the porch for Peekaboo Sesame Street, the fridge for Peekaboo Fridge, etc.). When the door on screen gives a little shake, that’s the cue for the child to tap on the door to open it, revealing a new item or character each time. The item displays for a moment before app shows the printed name of the item and says the item name. And like clockwork, our child repeats whatever the app says. It doesn’t take him long to start saying the items as soon as he sees them instead of waiting for the app to say the item’s name. Which is the whole idea, I suppose. He’s gettin’ some learnin’!
There’s several apps in the series, including a couple (like Sesame Street) with licensed characters:
- Peekaboo Sesame Street
- Peekaboo People
- Peekaboo Trick or Treat
- Peekaboo Friends
- Peekaboo Barn
- Peekaboo Forest
- Peekaboo Fridge™
Elmo’s Monster Maker
Speaking of Sesame Street, our favorite red monster from the block has his own app where kids (and adults) can add eyes and noses to different monsters and then make them dance and play. Imagine how amazing a nose of pumpkin pie would smell…
Counting with The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Counting with the Very Hungry Caterpillar is an app that can grow with your child, thanks to counting lessons that get progressively more difficult over a series of levels. In level one, kids just count food on the screen, associating the visual of a quantity of a single foods with the name and sound of the number that represents that quantity. By level five, kids are sliding foods the app asks for into the caterpillar’s mouth while a timer counts down.
Kids Vehicles: Construction
Evan LOVES trucks. LOVES. And that extends to all big vehicles; as soon as we get him in the car to come home from daycare, he asks for “more machines” – his code for wanting to watch Mighty Machines. Kids Vehicles: Construction lets you play with 10 different types of construction “machines.” Each one rolls onto the screen, and kids can interact with the vehicle by tapping on certain parts – doors open, headlights turn on, cranes go up and down. Each time something happens, the game’s voice announces it so kids can connect the action to the words and sounds (and things like hydraulics even have sounds). The vehicles are very detailed, down to the accurate tread of each vehicle’s different tires. Kids can pick and choose from the vehicles or have them roll across the screen in order.
Learn With Homer
There’s a lot to explore in the Learn With Homer app. When launching the app for the first time, kids set up a profile and avatar and then proceed to a map with locations representing the different mini games within the app. Like the counting app, this app can grow with your child. There’s a basic painting area for younger kids to experiment with, and early readers can practice phonics and words. In between, there’s a game where kids feed a zoo animal from a vending machine, and you can also choose to have short books and poems read or sung.
Logic is a simple app that introduces kids to color, numbers and shapes. The colors area is the only area we’ve really used with Evan; it involves matching squares of colored swatches, at which point that app says the name of the color out loud. But you can do the same with numbers and shapes, even going so far as to match the shape and color of a single item to the corresponding words (“blue triangle”).
Pat the Bunny
A children’s book classic, Pat the Bunny has entered the digital age. Children can “read” through the digital book and participate along with activities like helping a sled go down a hill (with a flick of the finger) or raising the blanket from in front of someone’s face. There’s also a digital coloring book included; swiping objects with your finger turns them from black-and-white line art to full-color illustrations.
Evan loves musical games almost as much as he loves trucks. And PianoBall is one of the most fun games we’ve found. Stars appearing on the “keys” tell kids what to tap next, turning every child into a piano virtuoso. You can change instruments from piano to things like the saxophone, and you can also adjust the keys to be more monochromatic in color. Evan loves clapping at the end of each so he can stop what he’s doing and encourage us to clap for him.
There’s a whole host of Toca apps, but Toca Band is one of the few that Evan can play with (several of the others he’s just starting to explore). Kids pick performers for different spots in the band based on their sound effects (each performer is different). The kids also add a lead singer, who rises up on a platform while the app zooms in so the child can play the performer like an instrument. There are tons of musical combinations possible, and sometimes they sound really good.
Evan is still too young for learning his letters completely, but Wee Alphas is at least getting him used to letterforms. In this app, the alphabet is presented in one long poem, and on each screen one or two letters is hidden in the body of an animal. The illustrations are the star here; they’re more sophisticated than the typical cutesy kids’ app illustrations, which we like.
Even Mommy has fun with this one. Wee Rockets lets you build a rocket and then navigate it through a mini game collecting planets and blowing up asteroids. This game has helped Evan a lot with going from just tapping on the screen to tapping and dragging. Yay for fine motor control! And this is another app with great graphics.
Yup Yups Play Park
I had never heard of Yup Yups before this app; apparently it’s a character on a kids’ show in Canada. The app itself doesn’t have a lot to do, but the illustrations are what keeps Evan entertained. Yup Yups Play Park features Pink, one of the Yup Yups, morphing into items that your kiddo taps on. The cat is a favorite, but the drum is a close second. This app isn’t going to turn our kid into a genius, but it’s enough to keep him entertained waiting at the restaurant or riding in the car.
What iPad apps can your toddler not live without? And how do you feel about young kids and screen time? Hopefully I’m not opening a can of worms!