There are apps for kids so young they’ve no idea what an app is.
Still, even a 1-year-old can savor an iPad storytelling session on Mom’s lap while Grandma in New York joins them through an in-application video chat. And any 3-year-old can start learning her numbers by putting five fingers on the screen and magically conjuring up the cutest little animated numeral she’s ever seen.
With an endless cavalcade of new apps for the Apple iPad and its Android rivals, we decided to poke around for five great apps that could benefits kids aged from one to five years. With the help of pediatricians, app reviewers, schoolteachers and parents, we struck gold.
FOR THE 1-YEAR-OLD
Storytime (Kindoma; iOS, free): Mom creates an account on her iPad. So does Grandma or Aunt Shirley. E-books, either free or purchased for a few dollars through the app, are selected. And with the infant and parent peering out from one in-app window at the top left of the screen, and the distant family member smiling in another, the reading begins. And any of the participants can use a finger to highlight a word in the text or a picture on the page.
“When kids reach 12 months, they’re learning to relate to people and not just things,” said San Luis Obispo, Calif., app reviewer Carisa Kluver. “So anything you can do with them that helps foster what we call ‘joint engagement' can be really beneficial for the child.”
FOR THE 2-YEAR-OLD
Endless Alphabet (Originator; Android and iOS, prices vary): Two is the talkie era for the young kid, said Florida app guru Jill Goodman. “A typical 2-year-old is starting to pick up some real language skills. They can comment, they can request, and they’re increasingly aware of what’s going on around them. So anything that expands and enriches those skills is really good.”
Brightly colored graphics, animated figures of all sorts, catchy music and a smorgasbord of new words to learn make this app a great fit for a language-absorbing child of two. The words are more challenging than “cat” and “hat,” and they truly come to life right before your eyes. Take “BELLOW.” The six letters scatter about the screen. Touch one and it becomes a little creature that pronounces its sound. The L, for example, sings “la, la, la, la” as a soft jingle plays in the background. The child can then pull in each letter to complete the word at which point the whole word BELLOWS! And a friendly voice then says “to bellow is to yell in a deep voice.”
FOR THE 3-YEAR-OLD
Little Digits (Cowly Owl; iOS, $1.99): This very cool interactive app is all about finger counting, a key foundation for a 3-year-old starting to build up math calculation skills. First you see the zero, which in this app is a friendly creature with stripes and little horns. Hold down one to ten fingers on the screen and the corresponding number pops up, each a cute character introduced by a little kid’s voice identifying the digit. Simple addition and subtraction drills come next. When “1+5” pops up, for example, the child presses down with six fingers on the screen.
“Most kids are learning to count around three, so this helps them make a tangible connection between the number on the screen and the fingers they’re pushing onto it,” said Jinny Gudmundsen, the KidsTech columnist for USA Today. “They can actually ‘see' the number in the fingers they’re using.”
FOR THE 4-YEAR-OLD
Reading Raven (Early Ascent; iOS, prices vary): This app offers happy music, colorful landscapes and an adorable raven that flies over the home screen to lead kids to one of five letter-learning lessons. From a ski lift above, a letter drops through the air, which the user grabs and attaches to the snow-covered tree with the corresponding letter. Each letter is sounded out, then a motherly voice says “d makes the sound as in … dog.”
Tech journalist Brad Spirrison with appoLearning has seen the Raven work its magic with the writer’s nearly four-year-old son. “I’ve seen him use a lot of apps over the years,” Spirrison said, “and this one really stands out. It’s helping him learn his ABCs by tracking letters with his fingers, and it’s teaching him upper and lower case, as well as help with spelling basic words.”
FOR THE 5-YEAR-OLD
Sid’s Science Fair (PBS KIDS; iOS and Android; prices vary): Based on the television show Sid the Science Kid on PBS Kids, this app gives children entering kindergarten an animated and interactive introduction to a whole slew of scientific concepts, from examining butterflies and leaves, to categorizing and sorting objects by color and pattern.
It’s a natural fit for any budding scientific explorer, said Monica Burns, a New York City schoolteacher who reviews apps on her blog ClassTechTips.
“It helps kids look for sequences in life sciences, and it’s a very powerful tool for teaching reasoning and critical thinking skills to 5-year-old,” said Burns. “Not only are the kids really excited by the bright cartoon characters, but they’re seeing real-life examples of how a flower blossoms, for example, so they’re learning critical skills without even knowing it.”