Jamie Pearson is the co-publisher of Best Kids Apps, a review blog for parents looking for the best children’s iPhone, iPad, and Android apps for kids.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past couple of years (and for the sake of argument, let’s assume you haven’t), you know that iPhones and iPads are the best thing to happen to traveling parents since portable DVD players.
If you have one, lucky you!
Now all you need are a handful of high quality apps with good replay value to keep your kids busy and happy while traveling. Don’t have time to slog through the entire iTunes App Store looking for them? Here are a few of my favorites.
Best apps for kids 0-4
Interactive Alphabet, Age rating: 1+
This is a greaty way for kids to experience the alphabet! From a home screen they choose from among 26 colorful letters (that look a lot like refrigerator magnets). Each page has an age appropriate original illustration (like “D is for Dinosaur”), background music, and an animation for your child to discover.
Fish School HD, Age rating: 1+
In this educational app (disguised as a fish tank full of fun), kids learn about shapes, letters, and numbers. It works best for toddlers and preschoolers just starting to learn the alphabet, but there’s plenty of fun free play and learning for older kids too.
First Words: Animals, Age rating: 1+
Your kids can learn the alphabet and simple animal words and impress the heck out of their grandparents with this adorable app. It might look like baby homework, but it’s actually a lot of fun. It turns out babies actually like homework! They grow out of though, trust me.
Monkey Preschool Lunchbox, Age rating: 18 months+
In this highly addictive game, a playful monkey cheers you on as you count fruit, put puzzles together, and match cards. Stickers are your reward. Well, that and a happy, dancing monkey of course! Some screens might require mom or dad to help their toddler, so stay nearby.
The Going to Bed Book, Age rating: 0+
This sweet classic book by Sandra Boynton is very, very dear to my heart. I probably read it aloud at least 300 times when my kids were small. To be honest, I really didn’t want anybody messing with it. Which is why I was so relieved when the app version blew my socks off.
Best apps for kids 5-8
Cut the Rope, Age rating: 5+
Cut a series of ropes (negotiating the laws of physics and gravity) to feed candy to the world’s cutest little green monster. Perfect graphics, appealing music and sound effects, and a ridiculously cute character. Very challenging too, at least I thought so.
Highlights My First Hidden Pictures, Age rating: 5+
This fun and very slick app that will take you back to the dentist’s waiting rooms of your youth. It’s also a great way to introduce toddlers and preschoolers to the delight of hidden picture puzzles.
Kids can look for almost a hundred objects hidden in the eight included illustrations and get clues whenever they need them with no penalty.
Weetwoo, Age rating: 2+
This is one of our all time favorite iPad apps. It’s a one-stop parent-curated video browsing gadget for kids – like YouTube, but with filters.
Channels include Animals, Fun Shows, Learn, Music, People, and Places and developers have listed hundreds of hours of kid-friendly programming with everything from funny kitten videos to a Discovery Education short biography of Ludwig van Beethoven.
Tales2Go, Age rating: 5+
This all-you-can-eat story app for the iPhone and the iPod Touch is hands down the best educational app we’ve ever seen — it’s going to change the way families kill time.
No longer do parents have to browse and buy audio books one by one, which is time-consuming and expensive. With a single touch they’ll have access to over 900 stories for kids aged 3-11, with more being added every day.
Slice It! Age rating: 5+
The tagline for this app is, “Once you slice … you can’t stop!” and that’s very true. All you have to do is slice various shapes (stars, trapezoids, squares and so on) into some number of equal parts. Sound easy? If only.
There’s a subtle geometry aspect to this game, so if you want to think of it as education, who are we to stop you?
Best apps for kids 9-12
Fruit Ninja HD, Age rating: 5+
This app is a lot like Doodle Jump because it’s fun, easy, and very hard to put down. Using your finger as a blade, you swipe various pieces of fruit that fly up in the air, chopping them in half. In classic mode, you also have to avoid the bombs. Good for hours of quiet fun.
Playtime Theater, Age rating: 5+
This app is an amazing, portable puppet show theater for the iPad. The main screen is a customizable, interactive castle play set that gives kids characters, props, and sound effects and invites them to create and record short shows. It works best for creative kids with long attention spans.
Stack the States, Age rating: 8+
This cute app offers kids a fun way to face the necessary evil that is memorizing our nation’s 50 states and their capitals. I don’t know what your school district curriculum looks like, but our kids have to go through this mind-numbing process in 5th grade. How I wish we’d had this app then!
Baseball Superstars 2013, Age rating 8+
If you’ve got a baseball-crazed kid in your house, this is the app they’ll really love. It’s a bit of a splurge at $5, but hey, baseball games are really long, so it’s good value on a time-adjusted basis! Kids can play in six different modes from Homerun Race (a quick slugfest) to Season Mode (what it sounds like) and can customize almost every aspect of the game.
Angry Birds, Age rating: 8+
Did you think I was going to leave the world’s most iconic app off this list? You thought wrong. Here’s the story line: Evil green pigs have stolen these birds’ eggs and are now hiding out in their castles. It’s up to your kids to wreak revenge on the pigs using (of course!) little red, black, blue, and yellow birds and a giant sling shot. Huh?
Play at your own risk though. It’s very, very addictive and it will raise your stress hormone levels through the roof. The birds aren’t the only ones who wind up angry.
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