Understandably, not every parent is comfortable with the idea of very young children using apps on the iPhone or iPad. But if you're ready to take the leap, here are some solid, educational options for the 6-and-under club.
1. Sesame Street apps for kids
Price: $1.99 for Rosita's Jump Count; $2.99 for Count TV, Grover's Number Special, and Bert's Bag; $3.99 for Elmo's Monster Maker.
Download: Rosita's Jump Count, Count TV, Grover's Number Special, Bert's Bag, Elmo's Monster Maker
What child — or adult, for that matter — doesn't love "Sesame Street"? This series of apps prompts kids to count, play, and sing alongside the classic fuzzy characters. In Rosita's Jump Count, the child jumps rope and counts to 100 in English or Spanish, with help from Rosita. On Count TV, kids can select from 9 songs featuring the Count, giving them the chance to imitate the lavender vampire's unique counting style. ("One... one apple! Ahh ha ha!")
Grover's Number Special lets kids count and sort ingredients to help Grover weather a series of restaurant mishaps. Bert's Bag is another counting game, while Elmo's Monster Maker lets kids get creative by selecting eyes, noses, mouths, and more to create unique monsters.
2. Dr. Seuss's ABC
Download: Dr. Seuss's ABC for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch
This award-winning app combines Dr. Seuss's colorful, zany ABC book with audio narration and interactive reading features. Kids can listen to the story and read along; each word is highlighted as it's spoken. They can also tap a picture to hear the word spoken and see it shown on the screen, helping early readers make the association. There's an autoplay option in which the story reads itself and advances automatically like a movie.
3. Monkey Preschool Lunchbox
Price: 99 cents
Download: Monkey Preschool Lunchbox for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch
This colorful app, aimed at the 2- to 5-year-old set, leads preschoolers through a variety of age-appropriate tasks including counting, recognizing colors, matching, recognizing letter sounds, solving puzzles, identifying shapes, and seeing differences. It may sound like a lot of work, but hopefully your child will be hooked by the app's focus on 2 perennially appealing preschool topics: monkeys and food.
Download: iWriteWords for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch
Adults tend to forget, but learning to read and write is a serious intellectual challenge. If you'd like to give your child a head start on the writing part, check out the award-winning iWriteWords app. Its colorful interface prompts kids to trace letters using one finger; when all the letters of a given word have been traced (say, "fish"), a drawing of the concept appears. The app lets kids practice uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and numbers.
5. Zoo Train
Price: 99 cents
Download: Zoo Train for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch
Zoo Train offers five games on topics like letters, word recognition, matching patterns, solving puzzles, and identifying shapes. There's also a musical component where kids can play or listen to songs using a set of rainbow-colored train whistles.
6. Peekaboo Barn
Download: Peekaboo Barn for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch
A good choice for younger toddlers, Peekaboo Barn features a barn full of mystery animals. Kids tap on the barn door to reveal which animal is waiting to greet them. Besides learning to associate animals with their sounds, the labelled animals are a good chance for early readers to practice word recognition. The animal names can be shown and spoken in English and Spanish.
7. Fish School HD
Download: Fish School HD for iPad
The brightly colored schools of fish for which this award-winning app was named move around the screen to form letters, numbers, and shapes. There are 8 activities including matching, differences, and color identification. The soundtrack features the ABC song as performed by violin and cello.
8. Super Why!
Download: Super Why! for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch
Developed as a companion to the PBS preschool series of the same name, this app features four games designed to help 3- to 6-year-olds become successful readers later on. Activities include letter recognition, letter sounds, writing, rhyming, and choosing appropriate words to complete a story.
9. Jack and the Beanstalk Children's Interactive Storybook
Download: Jack and the Beanstalk Children's Interactive Storybook for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
Experts agree that reading aloud together is one of the most important things you can do to support your child's learning. There are a number of storybook apps that could help, but this version of Jack and the Beanstalk is especially appealing. Its soft, Disneyesque illustrations are accompanied by audio narration and read-along text. The best part for kids is that each page contains one (or several) hidden surprises, which are revealed by a touch.
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