When ‘screen time’ gets such a bashing from many parents, I may be seen as some sort of alien when I proudly say that my 1year old daughter can confidently and independently use an iPad, or smartphone to find her favourite games, programmes on Netflix, or songs on YouTube. But not only am I quite a fan of quality children’s TV (I do ban a lot of shows but will happily have Cbeebies on for hours), I am incredibly proud of how ‘technology literate’ my children are. I am also proud that they have been using touchscreen technology from the age of 7months.
Most households own at least one smartphone or tablet. This is not a post designed to make parents feel they have to purchase an iPad for their children to use, this is just why I love my children using our iPad (that we purchased pre-children) and what educational value we have found in it.
Our children are the digital, touch screen generation and in the same way computers came into schools and homes when I was younger, electronic whiteboards and iPads are in the majority of Primary School classrooms today. I can remember when there was a sudden switch in my schoolwork and I was expected to do most things on a computer. This either meant booking some time in the I.T. lab, or doing it at home (computers in your home weren’t that common then)! Shortly after that pretty much everyone had a computer at home (along with the fun of painfully slow, dial up internet that didn’t work if you were on the phone!). I am digressing somewhat, but you get the idea.
Tablets are fantastic tools that are often overlooked, as parents just simply aren’t aware of all the great educational games and apps that are available and worry their children will just sit watching people open egg surprises on YouTube all day. So here is a brief look at some of my daughters’ (1yr and 4yrs) favourites:
Top apps for 6months plus
- Penguin Books – Happy Babies: Ladybird Baby Touch
This is a really lovely, simple and colourful app that is suitable from 6months. It can be run on an auto-play function, or on a more interactive function that requires you or your child to touch the screen to reveal the next picture. It is basically a digital lift the flap book (which makes sense as it is created by Penguin books), like the Ladybird books it features animals and then asks “Where’s your baby?” before revealing them. The music and voice over used it really good, gentle and calming. The images and colours are attractive, visually stimulating for young children and friendly. My favourite aspect is that when you touch the screen you get visual feedback (every time you touch the screen circles appear where you have touched) so children quickly learn the effect of their action.
- Penguin Books – Peekaboo: Ladybird Baby Touch
This app is very similar to the one detailed above as it is made by the same company, but rather than just featuring baby animals, it is a Peekaboo game of Farm, Sea, Animals and Vehicles. Again very much a kin to a lift the flap book. With the same gentle music, nice voiceover, great colours, friendly appealing images and great visual feedback. Peekaboo has a number of developmental benefits for babies and this fun interactive is great. This game teaches the concept of object permanence (that things exist even when they can’t see them), problem solving skills and co-ordination.
- Fisher-Price – Storybook Rhymes Volumes 1, 2 and 3
Most families will have at least one Fisher-Price toy lurking in their toy box and their apps are equally engaging. I particularly liked these for my girls from age 6months as they feature popular nursery rhymes such as Incy Wincy Spider in a fun interactive way, helping the child’s language and literacy development. Each app (I have used volumes 1, 2 and 3) has two books/rhymes, each of which have an option to ‘Read and Sing’ or ‘Read and Play’. The voiceover used is really good and the words of the songs are highlighted (Karaoke style) at the bottom of the screen. They have the familiar Fisher-Price design in terms of the images, so they are very attractive, child friendly and colourful.
- Blue Zoo Productions (Cbeebies) – Meet the Alphablocks
Any fan of CBeebies will know of the Alphablocks and I LOVE them, for anyone who hasn’t heard of the Alphablocks; it is a CBeebies programme where letters of the alphabet tell stories and make words using phonics and I love it because it teaches children the correct phonic sound of each letter. This app is very basic in the sense there is no game involved and not a great deal of interaction, but it features all of the Alphablocks (every letter of the alphabet) and each one does a little song demonstrating its sound.
- Fox and Sheep – Nighty Night Circus Bedtime Story
This is a really lovely app with friendly and attractive images and calming narration. The concept is that the circus animals (all housed in individual homes within the circus) are going to bed and you need to go and turn off their lights. I think it is really good for teaching children a sequence of events and bedtime routine as after you turn off the light the animal settles down and goes to sleep. As children can often find lights being switched off scary, this is a gentle way to reinforce this process as a safe part of going to sleep. It is also just a fun game.
Top apps for 1/2years plus
- Sago sago: Sago Mini Pet cafe
Sago Mini make lots of really good apps for children, this one features three activities that teach children about colours, shapes and numbers in a really fun way. As the name suggests it is a cafe based game with a Cat, Dog and Bird. Children can feed the animals by matching food to its silhouette (by swipingg or tilting), Count out and then feed food to the correct animal based on colour or Create a colourful fruit smoothy and experiment with mixing colours. My 1 year old loves this game and is now a dab hand at all three activities, it has especially helped with her shape recognition.
- Sago Sago Toys Inc.: Mini Space explorer
This is a brilliant game for younger children who are learning how to move things on the touchscreen by holding their finger down on them. The play is an open ended activity as the child guides the dog through space passing by and playing with over 30 animations. My daugher’s favourites are the farting planet and playing on the see-saw with the aliens. This game also gives children the opportunity to make up stories to go with the animations.
- Sago Sago Toys Inc.: Ocean Swimmer
This game is pretty much the same as the above but set underwater and featuring a fish instead of a Dog in Space. Again there are over 30 animations/ things for the fish to interact with and the child is in charge of where the fish goes and which things it interacts with. My daughter’s favourite is the singing sea monster! It is nice to have some games like this that teach a number of skills (how to drag and move things on a touchscreen, story telling and imaginative play) but also put the child completely in charge and not set to a particular outcome or goal.
- BBC Worldwide (Cbeebies apps): Hey Duggee, Storytime, Playtime Island, Sarah & Duck, Charlie & Lola, Get Well Soon and Justin Fletcher apps
Cbeebies doesn’t really need much introduction or explanation so I have grouped them all together. I would advise you search in the App store for ‘Cbeebies’ and choose your favourites as they are all good. My daughters love Charlie & Lola, Sarah & Duck and Hey Duggee. They are all good and have a number of different learning opportunities as well as featuring their favourite TV characters and well known Cbeebies images.
- TinyHands apps: Towers, Sorting, What’s my pair, Tiny Hands, Racoons
Tiny Hands apps are developed with child psychologists (as advertised on the App store) and feature attractive and child friendly images and scenes. They teach concepts such as shapes, colours, seasons, sorting, hand eye co-ordination, quantitative perception, concentration and vocabulary. My 1 year old loves the sorting games and can now correctly and quickly sort objects on the game by colour and shape. The different apps come in different difficulty levels and I purchased a bundle of apps and have been very happy with all of them. They do offer free trial versions too.
Top apps for 3/4years plus
- Motion Math: Hungry fish
This is a fantastic game for number recognition and basic maths skills, as you feed the fish with number bubbles and the fish can only eat a specific number at a time. The difficulty level can be easily adjusted and children can do instant addition by putting number bubbles together. This gives children an intuitive way to visualise addition and number recognition. Further levels are available via in-app purchase that feature subtraction and negative numbers.
- Toca Boca AB: Toca Robot lab
This game allows children to build their own robot with pieces of scrap, they pick the head, body arms and legs and after putting it together they fly it around the robot track, collecting stars, navigating their way past obstacles, through a maze like structure to get to the end. They never make the same robot twice as different parts are always available each session and it is stress free play as the child is in charge of what parts they use and which way they go, yet it teaches some key skills such as problem solving, visual memory, hand eye-coordination and obviously use of the touchscreen.
- Fisher-Price: Think & Learn Code-a-pillar
This attractive and fun game teaches basic coding to children as they have to give the caterpillar the correct instructions to make it to the end of the maze and make it up to the next level. This game teaches children the basics of coding – how following a multi step plan gets to the end goal, it also teaches problem solving, number recognition and sequencing. Coding is becoming more common in areas of the curriculum now and this simple game (with varying and increasing levels of difficulty) teaches the basics in a really child-friendly way.
- Fairlady Media Inc.: Grandma’s Garden and Grandma loves bugs
The Grandma’s Garden App features an American crazy little Grandma and her garden of veggies. Children match up the vegetables, identify letters, count objects, colour in and watch real gardening videos. It is fun and engaging while teaching numbers, shapes, letters, colours, vocabulary and object differentiation. The Grandma loves bug app by the same maker, features the same Grandma but this time children are spotting the differences between bugs, matching bugs, counting, spelling, colouring in, letter matching and recognising number groups. Both of these apps have a lot of educational potential and although the American pronunciation and names for some of the vegetables is different to the UK it really has a lot to offer. The Grandma offers lots of positive feedback and encouragement and even does funny little dances when you get things correct.
- Innovative Mobile Apps Ltd: Monster hunt – Fun logic game to improve memory
This funny and engaging game features cute monsters hidden behind squares, the monsters are revealed at the beginning then you have to memorise where they are and select the correct squares. You can adjust the reveal time and the size of the grid, so it can be adjusted to the child’s ability level. If you don’t get it right a spooky sound effect goes off making it a fun game for children of all ages. These types of memory games have been linked to increased mental sharpness and improved memory.
Good entertainment apps
As well as playing the above games, tablets and smartphones are also useful for general entertainment and as I have already said, I believe there are educational benefits of children’s TV programmes and films, so these are my favourite apps for that:
- YouTube Kids
This app is a simplified version of YouTube showing only videos classed as suitable for children. It offers more control for parents. My girls love watching songs on YouTube and their favourites come from Mother Goose Club, Super Simple Learning and Little Baby Bum.
- iPlayer Kids
This is pretty self explanatory but I love that they have created a separate children’s version of the popular iPlayer app. It has all your children’s Cbeebies favourites.
- Disney Life
Use of this app requires a monthly subscription but if your child is a Disney fan it may be worth it, especially as there is no contract so you can unsubscribe at any time. It features all the Disney feature films (although some very new releases will not be on there yet), you can also watch Live Disney TV, read stories and watch Disney TV programmes. My girls love Sofia the First and Frozen so they go crazy for this app.
Again this app requires a monthly subscription to use but you may not have been aware that you can set up a separate user within Netflix for your children and set it up as a child’s profile. This means only children’s programmes and films are shown and they really do have a good range of shows and films on there. My girls favourite is Max and Ruby.
* Please note I haven’t included prices of the Apps as it is possible for them to fluctuate over time, but in general these apps range from Free to £2.99 per app and some are available in bundles which can be more cost effective.
* I have not received any incentive, payment or request to write this post, these are simply the apps I use with my children and have decided to share, images are photographs I have taken of the apps on my iPad.
Does your child use a tablet/smartphone? What are your favourite apps?