Shop The Story
Stuck waiting in line or plodding through a long-haul car trip? App developer Peter Evan Ginsberg rounds up the best iPhone and iPad apps to entertain (and maybe even educate) toddlers and preschoolers.
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Good For: Ages 3 to 6 What it is: Characters from the popular PBS TV series gently guide the way through four different games to help improve reading and writing skills. Why I like it: The mini-games in Super Why each take a unique approach to the same themes, giving kids multiple paths to learning letters and words. The pacing is excellent—just slow enough so players understand what they need to do without ever getting bored.
Parenting's Birthday Party Playtime
What it is: If your kids had fun with the adorable Toca Tea Party app, they'll love the newest offering from Toca Boca and Parenting. This super-sweet app lets your kid have a birthday every day of the week. Let your kids gather 'round the phone to share birthday cake and more! Why we like it: This beautiful, easy-to-understand app brings imaginative play into the digital age.
Intro to Math, by Montessorium
Good For: Ages 2 to 5 What it is: An attractive app, created by a team of Montessori educators, that teaches the principles of math using virtual wood blocks. Why I like it: I was skeptical at first of the subdued presentation, but the app really does capture kids’ attention. Intro to Math takes an indirect approach to teaching basic math concepts, easing players in with simple sorting puzzles and number drawing games.
Good For: Ages 3 and up What it is: A find-the-hidden-object game with some fun twists. Players must locate objects that fit a particular theme, for example “musical instruments” or “sharp things.” Why I like it: A fantastic game to play with your child that helps her think about how everyday objects are similar or different. It’s also a good example of a game that’s educational without selling itself as a learning game.
Good For: Ages 2 to 5 What it is: Almost 150 drag-and-drop jigsaw puzzles and associated illustrations. Why I like it: After completing each puzzle your child is rewarded with a colorful illustration and a clear voice announcing what they just created—it’s a nice touch that makes Shape Builder serve double-duty as a vocabulary builder for younger kids.
Good For: Ages 2 and up What it is: Breathe into the phone to blow up balloons, shake the phone to make balloon animals, touch to play and then pop and start all over. Why I like it: A well-produced toy that’s guaranteed to get a smile and a laugh. A word of caution: your little one might give your phone a wet raspberry while blowing up the balloons!
Highlights: My First Hidden Pictures
Good For: Ages 2 to 6 What it is: A collection of Highlights magazine hidden picture games. Bring on the nostalgia! Why I like it: The Highlights puzzles are as entertaining as they have always been for young kids. Here, the experience is enhanced by a well-designed interface that clearly tracks what needs to be found and what the player has already revealed. Many additional puzzles are available for download as well—but be careful your toddler doesn’t accidentally buy them!
Bob Books #1- Reading Magic
Good For: Ages 2 to 5 What it is: A traditional learning-to-read storybook where children spell out the words themselves along the way. Why I like it: Pitch-perfect combination of the best of a first reader’s book with a simple spelling puzzle game. The book is read and instructions are given in a clear and encouraging voice.
Cut the Rope
Good For: Ages 3 and up What it is: Cut the rope to solve simple physics puzzles and feed candy to an adorable little monster. Why I like it: Truly a game for all ages, the controls and motion are intuitive even for very young kids. Solving the basic puzzles isn’t too challenging and exercises both hand-eye coordination and spatial logic. Don’t be surprised if your preschooler tromps you at the game!
Kids Song Machine
Good For: Ages 2 to 5 What it is: Ten classic children’s songs presented with a lightly interactive animation. Why I like it: The songs are good-quality recordings, and each is paired with an appropriately goofy animation that players can influence by touching. A great double-duty app as it’s both a toy kids can engage with and a personal jukebox they can use for a dance- or sing-a-long.
Good For: Ages 2 to 5 What it is: Dozens of simple puzzles in a variety of styles and difficulties presented in a child-friendly interface. Why I like it: The freewheeling combination of objects in each puzzle will appeal to kids’ natural love for anything silly. While the design might be a little rough around the edges, the sheer range of puzzles will keep kids coming back to this app for a long time.
Good For: Ages 3 to 6 What it is: An animal-themed version of the familiar matching game. Why I like it: AniMatch pairs a smooth interface with cute animal portraits and sounds. One of the earliest kids’ iPhone apps—and still the best matching game in the store.
Wheels on the Bus
Good For: Ages 2 to 4 What it is: An interactive sing-along storybook of the classic kids’ song. Why I like it: Excellent illustrations and interactivity that unfold page by page in time with the song. Bonus: kids (or parents) can also record their own version of the song to play along with the game.
Good For: Ages 2 and up What it is: A goofy animated rectangle that responds to touch and repeats words in a silly voice. Why I like it: I’ll make no claims to educational value here, but kids are always going to laugh after hearing their own words repeating back to them in a silly voice.
Three Little Pigs Lite
Good For: Ages 3 and up What it is: A highly interactive 3-D storybook of the three little pigs. Why I like it: Three Little Pigs goes over the top with interactivity; the app features a 3-D world you can explore by moving the phone—objects can be touched, tossed, or even blown down. It might get a little overwhelming so kids may need some guidance, but it’s a great example of how a storybook can be enhanced by interactivity.
Monkey Preschool Lunchbox
Good For: Ages 2 to 4 What it is: A collection of simple learning games for preschoolers, all packaged within the adorable experience of creating a lunch for a friendly monkey. Why I Like It: Shameless self-promotion—I created this one. Lunchbox was designed to be an intuitive and educational game for preschoolers. The monkey guides players through the games, cheering them along or very gently correcting mistakes. The games themselves aren’t mired to down by menus or navigation, but flow freely from one to the next so kids are never get confused or frustrated by the app.