Friday, February 10, 2012

Our favorite iPad apps

Zoe demos iPad apps for her cousins, who also have an iPad
I've had my iPad for a little over a month, and it's very much become a welcome member of the family. I don't commute with it (fear of theft combined with lack of wifi) and it isn't a replacement for the iBook when it comes to blogging (it really isn't for content creation at all), but it has its many uses.

I much prefer browsing my favorite internet sites, blogs and news outlets via Flipboard and Zite, both free apps that make content consumption more like flipping through a magazine than the scrolling, clicking and scrolling we're used to do when reading online. I like playing Words with Friends on a larger screen and I got a free download of Scrabble from Starbucks that I use to play with Zoe, passing the iPad back and forth.

But it is the kid apps that have made the iPad such a hit in our household, and the girls gave the device a real workout during our trip to and from Mexico (and, to be honest, there was probably an hour or two of iPad time each day as well). The following are the apps that have stood the test of time and and travel and are still popular with my daughters, 7 and 4.

Grimm's Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel by PopIris are virtual pop-up books that read aloud slightly unfamiliar versions of classic children's fairy tales and alternate traditional print pages with elaborate, interactive pop-up pages that function as mini games. Both girls are big fans and return to these story-games again and again. Although they lack the pop-up games, MeeGenius! Kids Books offers a small shelf full of free book titles that children can read or have read to them by a narrator. Since Ada still can't read independently, she likes to have the iPad read to her when no one else will.

My PlayHome is a dollhouse in iPad clothing. The girls delight in moving the family members around the virtual home, washing them off in the shower, feeding them breakfast and jumping on the bed. Easter eggs hidden throughout the house and yard and clever sound effects gives what seems like a limited interaction long-term play appeal.

Among the educational apps we've sampled, Montessori Crosswords is a great word-building app inspired by the Movable Alphabet that my 4 year old can't get enough of. Both girls have spent some time with MathGirl (technically for iPod, not iPad), which rewards correct answers with items the player can use to build a garden, and Zoe has made progress moving through Grade 3 SplashMath, a math challenge program that rewards kids with aquatic life for their virtual aquarium.

When it comes to promoting creativity, we've had a lot of luck with free apps. Toontastic is a fantastic program that lets young children storyboard a cartoon, record the VO and play it back. Drawing Pad has provided Ada with hours of contented drawing time, and Zoe, having used it to create a podcast at school, likes recording made-up songs using GarageBand. Scribble Press is another great app for school children--it allows them to write and illustrate books that can then be ordered in the mail (for a fee).

One of the apps I was most excited to purchase and experience was Alice, a beautifully rendered version of Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately, it lacks recorded narration and the moveable graphics, and, while lovely, doesn't take full advantage of the platform's capabilities. That and the kids couldn't be less interested in this $8.99 download. We've had much more fun with the iPad version of The Monster at the End of This Book.

Other apps I'd recommend to parents include the Wiggles Alphabet Adventure (which is more appropriate for 2-3 year olds), Toy Story, Paint with Time and MoodyMonstr (the last 3 are all free). Although they haven't grabbed my kids' imagination to the extent of the others, I've found them solidly build apps that are easy to navigate and take advantage of the iPad platform.