Last July, I posted about apps for toddlers and preschoolers. This update, by request, is meant for preschoolers, kindergarteners, and some for early grade schoolers. By now, your little one may be a master tablet manipulator, so dragging cute bunnies around the screen doesn’t cut it anymore. She’ll want more challenge and you’ll want higher educational value, both without losing the fun. As before:
I highly recommend…making an account on appshopper.com and adding [finds] to your wish list. Many of the paid apps drop in price regularly, so you can get notifications and snag them when they are free or cheap. Note that some of these linked below have separate iPhone versions. And some have free lite versions. I’ve linked to full iPad versions here.
Make sure to really check for the lite or freemium versions. In many cases the price gap is large.
The major skills you’ll probably want to encourage at this stage relate to reading and math.
The “Endless” apps by Originator are still among the best and most engaging for early reading, spelling, and numbers. Endless Wordplay lets kids spell and put words in sentences, with the same darling animated payoffs as Endless Alphabet.
For letter recognition and writing letters, check out Wiggly Words, Yum-Yum Letters, and iTrace. For spelling and reading, in addition to the Originator apps, try Wonster Words (note high price and freemium lite version on this one), Gappy Learns Reading. For my boy, the winner was a puzzle/arcade game that smuggles in spelling challenges called Sky Fish Phonics.
Believe it or not, excellent and engaging reading apps are hard to come by. Some of the best ones are available on fairly high-priced subscription models. Check out the offerings by Rosetta Stone, such as Kids Reading.
Some counting and math apps to check out, in addition to Endless Numbers by Originator (fremium version here), include Monster Math, Animal Math, and Mathseeds. Blake eLearning, which publishes the latter, sells separate apps by grade level in a variety of categories. Tribal Nova offfers some cute games in various categories including Numbers, Addition, and Subtraction, but they’re also on a subscription model.
For learning to tell time, Bamba Clock is the best I’ve found, but note it weighs in at an insane 600+ MB. For learning about weather, try The Weather and Kid Weather. The former is published by Tiny Bop, who also offer a ton of great science-related and other creative apps, each worth the download, but each suited to slightly different levels.
Kids at this age are likely to be filled with wonder about the world around them and how it works. Don’t shy away from topics that might seem beyond them. For astronomy, StarWalk Kids, Montessori Planets of the Solar System, and Explorium Space for Kids. For geography, again, Earth 3D is excellent. Also try Kids Planet. For geology, The Earth by Tiny Bop. For a fun way to build and play with ecosystems, look at Toca Nature. To introduce (natural) history and cosmic time through a timeline, check out Timeline Eons. This is more of a general reference intended for adults, and so this one requires the parent to do the walk through. There’s a narrated Evolution Story, which looks so promising, but it crashes on my old and full iPad 2 half-way through. Maybe it will work on your brand new shiny one.
Kids can make elements in a virtual lab with Toca Lab. Some other virtual labs such as How to Make Electricity, Simple Machines, and the Everything Machine, are more advanced, but worth keeping for the future. For anatomy, look for The Human Body Explained and The Human Body by Tiny Bop. DNA Play introduces DNA by making monsters from DNA code in a (perhaps too) simple way. The puzzle Crazy Gears teaches some basic mechanics in a fun way. Inventioneers is another mechanics app we’ve yet to try.
On the less pedantic front, there are a whole bunch of engaging games to build virtual worlds in a minecraft style such as Toca Blocks (2D) and Toca Builders (3D). We haven’t yet tried Block Earth. My now 5 year old son really enjoys two world creation / play god games more intended for adults. In Doodle God, you combine elements (starting with the basics like water and earth) to make increasingly more complex things (law, werewolves). It’s rather abstract and may require your help. Pocket God has maybe too much cartoon violence, but if you can bear that it’s cute and creative.
Finally, there are a whole bunch of puzzle games more intended for adults that have challenged him in a positive way. AZZL, RGB Express, and Monument Valley, and Twisty Hollow. A few others haven’t quite caught his attention yet but might be more appealing to your little one: Shadowmatic, KAMI, Little Things, Sputnik Eyes, Spirits (a Lemmings clone), and Zen Bound 2. The latter requires a bit much stregnth and dexterity because it involves moving the iPad around.
Here’s another practical tip. My boy has become pretty greedy for “new games.” How you want to handle that kind of voracity for novelty is up to you as the parent. But in case you want to try out new apps and/or save them for later without little Skip getting into them just yet, you can hide them away in a secret folder. But my guy found that out rather quickly. So now the apps for later are all on the 2nd and 3rd pages of a folder called Productivity with a bunch of really boring icons on the 1st page.