Monday, November 5, 2012

What's on Your Phone- Best Apps for Kids

(I wrote this piece for the Golden Gate Mother's Group Magazine.)

When my friend’s toddlers turn two, I always send a lovely card inscribed, “Congratulations, your child is now two years old! Let’s raise a glass to two hours of screen time per day!” In addition, I include an insert with a list of the children’s television shows least likely to drive the parents batty, as well as my top apps for kids. Caillou, and his fuzzy white background, are not allowed within twenty feet of this list, or my home.

In all seriousness, growing up in a technologically-advanced world provides amazing opportunities for young children to learn, as well as new challenges for parents. Studies have been conducted warning parents of the amount of time children spend in front of screens, and a recent report by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that enhanced ebooks (like those found on iPhones and iPads) distract children from the story and prevent them from remembering key details of the narrative. Balance is key when using technology, as it is in all aspects of parenting.

Still, while there are those among us who eagerly maintain that a screen-free household is best for young children, there are many others who need to prop an iPad in front of the tot for a few minutes while they: shower, eat, pee, dress, talk to the doctor, put the baby down for a nap, etc. For those parents, we have devised a list of our favorite smartphone apps to engage the toddler/preschool crowd, while (hopefully) expanding their skill sets, even a tiny bit.

Eric Carle's My Very First App ($1.99) by Night & Day Studios, Inc., combines illustrious Eric Carle images with three different matching games of various levels. Parents and children alike will enjoy challenging their memory while finding pairs of the distinctive pictures. The narration can be changed to one of six languages: Japanese, German, Dutch, Spanish, French and English.

Agnitus Learning Games for Preschool to Kindergarten (free) created by the Agnitus team, including GGMG’s own Khan family, is an exciting new app giving children the opportunity to explore basic preschool curriculum (numbers, shapes, colors, letters and the like) through eight different fun and engaging games. Azhar Khan, CEO and co-founder, explained what sets this app apart from the rest of the field, “Children start off playing groups of intuitive educational games that assess their academic readiness. Then, as they demonstrate proficiency of skills at one level, they are moved to higher levels and to new sets of games in order to keep them engaged, challenged and learning at their own pace.” Agnitus also creates skill reports for parents to monitor their child’s progress as well as identify and help with areas in need of attention.

According to a 2007 study in the journal Developmental Psychology, a child’s mathematical ability at kindergarten is a better predictor of later success than reading skills. Parents can foster a child’s numerical understanding and spatial reasoning in many ways, including utilizing the new technology now available.

My First Tangrams ($1.99) by Alexandre Minard, provides children with a template to create pictures using the classic tangram shapes. By using this tool to help visualize how different shapes can fit into the environment, children strengthen their spatial reasoning skills while using their imagination. The app also grows with the child. Although it is recommended for ages four to seven, the easier modes are toddler friendly.

Park Math ($1.99) by Duck Duck Moose, has won numerous awards for excellence in educational apps. With two levels, preschooler and kindergartner, Park Math helps children with numerous math topics, including counting, number recognition, addition/subtraction, sorting and patterns. The engaging graphics and music, combined with the interactive experience, make this game a must-have for little mathematicians.

Monkey Math School Sunshine ($0.99) from the creators of the beloved Monkey Preschool Lunchbox, THUP games. Your child is sure to adore discovering mathematical concepts with her favorite animated monkey. With nine different games, the perky little monkey takes children on an adventure of patterns, counting, sequencing and number comparison.

Team Umizoomi Math: Zoom into Numbers ($2.99) by Nickelodeon. The perfect game for children who like to Crazy Shake!!! With five different levels, children develop various preschool math skills.

Early Literacy

Although it is widely recognized that for the little ones, human teaching is far better than electronic lessons, a well-designed app can assist parent and child in the learning process. The apps listed below will not teach your child to read, but they can aid in letter recognition and basic preliteracy concepts.

Wee Sing & Learn ABC ($2.99) by zuuka incorporated, including GGMG’s own Nipp family. If your little one loves singing the ABCs, she will surely adore the interactive alphabet app that combines music and play with learning letters. There is also an explore mode that allows children to discover the sounds of various animals and musical instruments.

Super Why ($2.99) by PBS Kids. Work on the alphabet with Alpha Pig, practice rhyming with Wonder Red, trace letters with Princess Presto and save the story with Super Why! This app pledges to give your child the Power To Read! Their version of the alphabet song is quite catchy, too.

Word Wagon ($1.99) another favorite from Duck Duck Moose. This four-tiered game allows children from preschool to first grade to investigate letters, words and phonics with Mozzarella, a mouse, and Coco, a bird. With over 100 words in seven different categories, the Duck Duck Moose team has created a game that permits the learner to work at his own speed, while encouraging the player to challenge himself.

Books on App
Yes, of course it is highly important that we read to our children. There is no better way for them to learn the joy of literature than by cuddling in our arms while we recite If You Give a Moose a Muffin for the fifteenth time that day. That said, there are times when you just can’t. (For example, my youngest spends somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes on the potty trying to poop. Our usual routine of me sitting on the floor reading various Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious books can be difficult to execute at certain periods of the day. However, my phone is always ready to read her The Cat in the Hat over and over and over again. )

omBooks (apps range from $0.99 to $14.99 for collections with multiple books) by Oceanhouse Media. With ebooks from authors such as Dr. Seuss (The Lorax, Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat), Mercer Mayer (the Little Critter books) and Jan and Stan Berenstain (The Berenstain Bears), children can read-along, read on their own or use the auto-play mode. Each book has numerous interactive buttons to press and highlighted words for early readers.

Read Me Stories: Children's Books (app is free and comes with several sample books; you have the option to buy the rest of the series)by 8Interactive Limited. With custom content created for the app, the books do not have the same narrative charm or detailed pictures as omBooks, but for the price, it is a find. Each series is only $1.99.

MeeGenius! Kids' Books (app is free and comes with a few books; other books are available to buy and download) by MeeGenius. This app lets parents download a variety of classic childrens’ stories, as well as new titles, and keep the books at their fingertips. It includes read-along and read-on-your-own modes.

For Parents
The following apps may not be educational, but they help busy parents organize their lives and shave a few items off their task list.

Artkive (free for a limited time) by The Kive Company. Does your child bring home at least a dozen works of art from preschool each week? While you may love the artist, the art itself is not always frameworthy. However, this app, created by GGMG member Amanda DeRose’s brother, allows you to photograph and digitally store your child’s artwork. You can tag each piece with the child’s name, age and date created, as well as print and share the masterpieces with friends and family.

Mom Maps ($2.99 for the full version, but there is also a free option) by New Media Parents, Inc. and created by GGMG’s own Jill Seman. Have you ever found yourself in a new city or neighborhood and need a quick recommendation for a child-friendly restaurant? A quick search on Mom Maps can point you in the direction of the nearest park, playground, museum or restaurant that won’t treat you like you brought in the plague once your toddler begins to squirm.

Cards (free) by Apple. Let’s face it, all the best photos of your child are taken on your phone. This simple app allows you to upload those beautifully candid shots, craft personalized cards and send them to the grandparents while your child swings at the playground. A perfect way to share a thank-you note, birthday greeting or thinking of you message.

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