…and 6 of them are FREE!
There is great debate over the use of ‘screens’ with children under the age of 2. Beyond 2 years old, the debate shifts to how much screen time is too much screen time. If you don’t believe in screen time before 2, then this post may not be for you. From our perspective, we believe the debate should center more around what type of screen time you are offering and whether or not you are sharing in the experience with your child. In today’s modern era, technology can enable great learning opportunities at every age, not to mention, displace weighty books and handfuls of toys in the diaper bag when you are on the go.
Both my girls have been exposed to technology from an early age. We live 1,900 miles away from my family in Texas, and we use FaceTime to talk to my parents, grandparents, sister and nephews multiple times a week. It enables my girls to have a face to face relationship with long distance family, who they would otherwise only see 1-2 times a year. Big M has ‘read’ MerMer books and given her virtual tours of her Pretzel Log Cabin over FaceTime. Lil’ M likes to sing songs and nursery rhymes with my Mom over the phone. They have learned how to use them from observation. Lil’ M takes my iPhone and pretends to order pizza. Both girls could unlock my iPad and open and close apps by 18 months old. My 3 year old knows how to command Siri to “Play Frozen soundtrack!” while we are driving down the highway.
As with many things in life, the key is always moderation and parental supervision. My girls share an iPad (which is my husband’s old one), and we have restricted it so they can only access the apps we put on it. They cannot buy more apps, make in-app purchases or go on the web. My husband and I are the keeper of the iPad and dole out its usage: it is commonly used in the bathroom, on long car rides or flights, and on blustery afternoons or sick days when we can’t get out to play. At restaurants or in the cart at the grocery store, I have definitely handed over my iPhone to pacify a hungry or cranky child until the food arrives or we get through the checkout. So yes, our kids have had screen time before 2 years of age, but always in moderation and always with parental guidance and supervision. Oh, and we protect the iPad from destruction with this iGuy Case… it comes in lots of colors, they make versions to fit iPads 1-4, as well as the newest models. And biggest selling point, Lil’ M still hasn’t managed to destroy it or the iPad, or remove the iPad from it!
Birth to 12 Months
Apps for babies? Yes, I used apps with my babies. I found all of the apps below to provide stimulating, development-stage appropriate images and activities, and, most importantly, I played them with my child.
High Contrast Patterns and Shapes
This app features graphic, full screen black and white images in a slide show set to music. As newborns, babies can only focus 8-12 inches away from their face, and they prefer high contrast, black and white images while their brain is still learning to discern colors. This app was a great replacement for image cards, and found it provided an appropriate level of stimulation for tummy time: soft music to get their attention and lift their head and great, slow changing images for them to focus on.
This is a simple app that features a barn with open and closing doors. You hear an animal sound, the barn shakes, and when baby taps the doors, they open to reveal the animal inside and the animal’s name is said. Repeat. Lil’ M made about 10 animal sounds before she could say just about anything else other than Mama and Dada. It also reinforces object permanence, just like playing Peekaboo does.
Fisher Price Apps
Fisher Price has a host of free apps that are great for tiny hands. Most teach basic cause and effect – touch the screen and a sound plays or an object appears. Our three favorites: Giggle Gang, Shapes & Colors and Where’s Puppy’s Nose? With Giggle Gang, you can even record your little ones own laugh for playback.
12 – 24months
By 12 months, both my M&Ms began to get the cause and effect of the touch screen – and they loved to push the button and open app after app. They became more interested in apps that called for their interaction – whether they played familiar songs they could sing along with, or more advanced cause and effect. And all of these Big M still enjoys using at 3.5, though she has found new favorites too.
Interactive Alphabet is a great one to grow with your child. It has a ‘Baby mode’ that automatically moves from one letter to the next, allowing your child to interact with the different images for each letter. The ‘Explore mode’ allows navigation to be more self-directed. It also sings the alphabet. Big M still uses this app to type words (guided by lit letters on an onscreen keyboard) and her latest favorite, ‘Trace’ which teaches her how to write her letters by following the blinking light with her finger.
The girls like this one because it is a very simple, easy to use drawing app. Vibrant, neon colors change automatically every time you lift your finger, and move it across the black background. There are a few brush stroke options, and you can play back your drawing like a movie. Best of all, it’s FREE with only a narrow ad banner across the top.
Make It Pop
Even I enjoy this one – Make It Pop features 5 games in one app, all of which featuring popping sounds, from popcorn, to balloons, bubbles and firecrackers. Each game also features one of the following: numbers, letters, shapes, colors or size vocabulary. The graphics are beautiful, and it’s simple enough for Lil’ M to play without frustration, while engaging enough that Big M still likes to play it as well.
Zoo Train also features multiple games in a single app. This is one of the first apps I can remember Big M actually “playing” (doing more than just banging around on the screen). She would build train after train and watch it drive through the various backgrounds. She also liked to play the whistles, which sing familiar songs, like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Row Your Boat. By 2, she could do all the simple picture puzzles, and now she still plays with it to build the train track puzzles and build the word puzzles.
Our Favorite Sing-Along Apps
The next four apps all feature beloved children’s songs, complete with animation and interactive graphics. TabTale makes the first two, which also feature other interactive games. Note that they are free to download, but require upgrades for the full song and all the games. Old MacDonald and Itsy Bitsy are made by DuckDuckMoose. We LOVE all their apps – they also provide some comedic relief for adults, while still being age appropriate for toddlers.
Another app by DuckDuckMoose… we told you we LOVED their apps. Fish School was another one of Big M’s very first apps that she really interacted with and got the hang of right away. It has several modes – the play mode let kids drag fish around, make them bigger with a cute little kiddo voice narrating their actions. It also teaches letters, numbers, shapes, colors, has a matching game and a game to discern differences. The girls love their graphics too.
And last but not least, in this age group, Elmo Calls. Lil’ M said Elmo pretty much right after she said Mama and Dada… and she doesn’t even get to watch Sesame Street very often because Big M dictates show time most mornings. This is a great one to have on your phone. You can also search for specific topics – like going to the doctor or brushing your teeth – and have Elmo call to encourage your little one about it. There is also Cookie Calls, if your toddler is more of a Cookie Monster fan.
Come back to see us next week when we share our favorite 21 Apps for Preschoolers! You can also find recommended music apps from our guest post, Music for Little Ones, by Brian, a twenty year music educator. Do you use the iPad or iPhone with your baby or toddler?
If you enjoyed this post, you can find all our favorite iPad & Technology posts from around the web on our like-named Pinterest board.