As new mother, I didn’t have any thoughts on media use, aside from having always been strictly against TV before age of 2.
I figured we had a while to go until other media use ( computers, iPhones, video games) become a concern. However, in our world of virtually living on our iPhones (for both me and my husband who only last month switched to Android, sucker!), I underestimated the power it would have on our suddenly aware baby.
It makes total sense: they are designed to mimic their parents and when seeing us with our iPhones in our hands or pockets half the time, Alexis decided that she wanted to see what the fuss was all about. At first it was all about just pressing the HOME button for fun. Then I got a “bright” idea to download a baby app (Sound Touch). It was the end of life as we know it. Enter the world of Toddler iPhone use.
I think it was around 7-8 months when she fell in love with it. She loved the Sound Touch app and it was pretty “educational” AND in Russian, so I felt she was getting enough good exposure for it to be ok, passable, even though I wasn’t happy about how passionate (read: obsessed) she was about it. It was one of her first words, after mama and dada: TANG! (for “thing” as that is how we had to call it after she figured out the word “phone”). She still calls it that at 18 months and never switched to the actual word for the phone.
For a while, I felt iffy about letting her use the iPhone. I mean, she was only using things that were beneficial to her during the times where a more beneficial parental interaction wasn’t possible, but I still didn’t like how MUCH she enjoyed listening to her app pronounce words, pictures of which she pressed. Soon came the discovery of Dr Seuss books and that made me feel slightly better about giving her the phone since she would be listening to a book, of all things… I battled like this for months, going back and forth between “Should I never give her the phone again?” and “She loves it and the apps are harmless (no fast scene switching, age appropriate content)“.
It wasn’t until just recently though that I finally realized how great some of the iPhone use can be and despite my fear it was greatly beneficial to her on many levels, including learning the whole English and Russian alphabet (both sounds and letter names) on her own by using the apps.
You can read about our story, my media philosophy, Lexi’s iPhone use and what we do and plan on doing, as well as the research I’ve read about, in my long and detailed post about Media usage scheduled to be published next week. Subscribe here if you want to be notified of it, or follow my Facebook page.
This post is about apps we have found to be great and/or educational.
The age reference I am putting in the brackets is the age Lexi started using this particular app and the age when I noticed her getting something beneficial out of it, not necessarily the age your baby will be ready to use it or gain any benefit from it, but it will give you some kind of idea.
OceanHouse Media ( Started using at 9 Months+/Best for 9 Months+)
The best book apps out there. They have a whole range of Dr. Seuss books which are a huge hit with toddlers and babies. This was one of the first apps we used with Lexi at a pretty young age. Because she’s always been a huge bookworm and Dr. Seuss was her favorite, AND she was “reading” books far beyond her age, I got quite a few Dr Seuss e-books for her and would initially read them to her on “READ IT MYSELF” option to maximize parental interaction, and then as she got older and smarter, she started using AUTO PLAY, where the book gets read to the child. That was a great app to use when dinner needed to be cooked or laundry needed to be done and Lexi wasn’t co-operating. Because it’s a still technically a book, it doesn’t change frames, it doesn’t move like a cartoon, it simply reads a story with illustrations.
Cat in the Hat learning Library (Best for: 18months+)
A spin off of Dr Seuss’s Cat in the Hat books, these are more educational than anything else. If you have paper books of the same type, you know the format. They talks about earth, animals, north pole, deserts, birds. It’s best suited for older kids (5+), but Alexis has always loved these books. For older kids, these books can help them with reading and spelling, as words are highlighted as they are read, and you can press on an object or a word to see it in red letters and hear it spoken out loud.
Aside from Dr Seuss books, OM books have awesome collections called Little Critter and Berenstain Bears both of which are great hits with Lexi. The Little Critter stories add a little twist to the books by placing characters throughout the story that you’re supposed to find and click on (a mouse and a spider). Each book also goes over some major changes in a toddler’s life: New baby, Going to the dentist, Helping out, All by myself, etc.
Disney story apps (various ages):
The Lion King (Started using at 9 Months +/Best for 18 Months + ): It’s an absolutely gorgeous app with special effects and Disney music. BUT this app is VERY interactive and is designed for use with a parent or for much older kids. Every page needs some sort of input from the toddler which might be difficult for those who aren’t skilled with the iPhone yet. Since Alexis was using the iphone since she was 7 months old, she knew the concept of touching and swiping to get things to happen and only needed occasional help when something was too complicated (like finding all the birds with closed eyes and getting them to open their eyes). Aside from the fact that it’s a very hands- on book, it’s a great story, well illustrated and read and more importantly comes in various languages which is SO important for bilingual kids as it’s hard enough to expose them to their non-dominant language)
Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, Toy story (Started using at 9 Months +/Best for 14 Months + )
These are very similar to Lion King with fewer interactive moments. However, they require an adult or the kid to turn pages ( there’s no AUTO PLAY mode), which is good because it calls for parental interaction. However if you’re planning on having your toddler use it, make sure he/she knows how to click on an arrow button to get the page to turn. Otherwise, beautiful imagery and good ol’ Disney stories.
Princess Story Theater (Started using at 16 Months +/Best for 24 Months + ):
Taking interaction and story play further, Disney came up with a Story Theater where instead of listening to a Disney story you come up with one on your own. You’re given a few options for each story and can then record your character moving around and talking in each option you pick. After I created a few stories where Ariel goes dancing in the water, meets a pair of mean eels and shushes them away with a Dinglehopper, Lexi quickly caught on and is now designing her own stories while occasionally asking for my help. It’s pretend e-play at its best.
This is the least impressive of all Disney apps, but it has its place. It’s basically a collection of different Disney stories. The great thing about it is that it has virtually every Disney story imaginable. The bad part – you have to pay per book and the books are so POORLY read with a dull British accent void of any emotion. The only reason I am including this here is because despite of this, Lexi still liked selecting the books and listening through them once she got used to the accent/dullness.
Shrek and Madagascar
I just downloaded them trying to get her ready for the trip to Universal with the Shrek app. It’s e-books like any other with possibly superior graphics and storytelling than others.
ALPHABET, WORDS and READING
Wee Sing (Best for any age)
A new app we downloaded just a few days ago to continue fostering her newfound love for letters and sounds. The app pairs alphabet letters with animals and instruments and takes you through flash cards with a letter and a coordinating animal playing an instrument and three other words that start with that letter. Everything is clickable and either sounds out music, letters or a word. My favorite feature is the ABC song with a indicator of which letter they are on, as well as the alphabet board where each letter is connected to the sounds from the song. So you press A and a boy sings A like he would in an ABC song. You can also explore all the animals, hear their instruments and their names along with the corresponding letter.
Talking ABC (Best for any age)
This is the app with the help of which Lexi learned the Russian alphabet. We have it in Russian, but they just released an English version and it’s the best alphabet app out there.
Not only is it extremely beautiful and visually appealing, the alphabet song that they sing is absolutely unforgettable. The song makes this app. I like the Russian version better but the English version isn’t that bad either, even if it’s sang with a little bit of an accent. The animals of the app are formed out of playdough and make funny sounds and faces. Lexi literally has minute long laughs at some of them.
Aside from the wonderful Alphabet song, it also has great educational games to help your toddler learn his letters and sounds and then test himself. That’s how I found out Lexi knew Russian letters. I decided to play the quiz game with her and she got every answer right. I was floored! I can confidently say that this app (in combination with some other Russian letter apps and me singing the song and pointing out animals and letters with her) is responsible for her knowledge of the whole Russian alphabet at the age of 18 months: both sounds and letters. She had absolutely no other exposure to the Russian alphabet anywhere else.
Note: you can set the song up to sound out letter sounds or actual letter names, depending on what you’re working on. Some other games included in the app are Animal games, Puzzles and being able to spell out any word with the cute playdough animals.
ABC little reader (Best for 12 Months+)
This app was a suggestion from a friend. It claims that it can teach kids reading by showing flash cards in fast sequences, but as you will learn from my MEDIA for TODDLERS post, I am very much against fast scene switching, so we use it with a slightly different purpose. It has a few sections that go over parts of your body, actions and events, with a picture and then the word spelled out and sounded out, followed by a video.
Word World and Word Friends (Best for 24 months or when your baby knows his letters/sounds)
My favorite new app. I have not bought the extensions to these apps so we are only using the free parts of it since they are challenging enough for now, but if you have an older kid who can spell with ease, paid parts offer even more fun.
The two activities she plays the most in these apps are word building and letter recognizing.
In the first, all letters of the word are scrambled and you’re supposed to put letters in place by pressing them in order when the narrator sounds them out. It goes sort of like this: – What letter makes an “SSSSS” sound? You click on letter S and the dog brings it to the empty letter space. “Good Job! Letter S makes the “ssss” sound” or “No, Letter O does not make the “ssss” sound!” And you go on like that until the word is complete and then sounded out.
To my surprise, Lexi loved the game as soon as I downloaded and is really good at it. I would say she selects the right letter based on the sound about 85% of the time. Since we haven’t really taught her sounds of the letters, I assume it’s only going to get better with this game. The key here is being there with her and repeating the question myself if she is having trouble selecting the right letter.
Update: 1 week later, she can now spell correctly nearly 100% of the time). She has very little trouble spelling words like HORN (she just did that today) without any mistakes.
The second game gives you three words and asks you to select the word that starts with a particular letter. This one is easy simply based on the fact that she selects A LETTER she is asked, not necessarily the one the word starts with, and usually it’s the first letter she sees anyways.
Learn ASL (Best for Any Age with parental involvement)
In an attempt to teach Lexi ( and myself) more ASL words, as I was doing a pretty shitty job doing that in my own ( non-existent) free time, I purchased and downloaded this app after trying out quite a few out there. It has a comprehensive list of ASL signs that pertain to a baby and toddler life with a female and a male signers showing off these signs in a video format and explaining how to make them. You can add whatever signs you’re trying to learn into your favorites and just run through them together with your baby. It was very helpful and Lexi loved watching it with me and repeating the signs.
Sound Touch (7 Months/ When your baby becomes interested in doing more than just clicking buttons)
The very first app that Lexi used and she is still madly in love with it. We were recommended this app by our Kindermusik teacher and never looked back. The concept is simple- it’s a grid of several illustrations of items combined by themes (animals, wild animals, household, transportation, musical instruments, etc). When pressed, a photo shows up with the name of the item sounded out in whatever language you set the app to. This was a huge deal for me, because there are rarely any good Russian apps out there. Each time you press the item, a different photo of the same item pops up, so you get to see different versions of the same thing, which is a very valuable learning tool for toddlers. Very quickly Lexi learned all the words available and knew what they were- random things like helicopter, saxophone, dishwasher, etc at 9-10 months.
Video Touch (9 Months/ When your baby is tired of Sound Touch)
Same concept as above, but in video. Just like in Sound Touch, the videos change each time you press the same item and they are very high quality. This has been absolutely amazing to watch when it came to Lexi’s development. She would become obsessed with one category, music for example, and watch it over and over again, different versions of the same instrument playing and imitate it. Lately she’s been walking around with her drumstick to her mouth singing and tapping her fingers on its side, pretending to play the flute. She has had zero exposure to flutes or images of flutes, except for this app. She also recognizes instruments like harp anywhere she sees one and even connected the harp and a little string based instrument we have at home that resembles a harp as similar string instrument.
EDUCATIONAL GAMES, NURSERY RHYMES, SONGS
Fisher Price Apps
|Storybook apps feature nursery rhymes told line by line and illustrated with colorful characters.|
Where’s Puppy is an app that teaches body parts with an adorable puppy and kitten. Lexi loved playing this and pointing to her own body parts when she was younger.
Let’s Count, Animals and Monkey apps go over numbers, animals, shapes and colors. Non-interactive.
Shapes and Colors displays dancing shapes and colors while sounding them out when pressed.
Duck Duck Moose
This has a series of apps that are really well made and fun for toddlers.
Peek-A-Zoo (Best for 18 months+)
A very cute app that features different animals who announce themselves in kids voices when pressed. It includes games where you have to select an animal who is doing a certain action: wagging his tail, trying to hide, calling on the phone, crying, is sad, is happy, cross eyed, etc. A great app for attention (look and find type) and to help toddlers recognize actions and emotions.
Old MacDonald and Wheels on the Bus (Age: 14 Months +)
If your toddler loves songs, this will be great! Extremely interactive, very fun, will send them into a fit of giggles and is accompanied by their favorite toddler songs.
Peek-a-Boo Barn (Best for new iPhone user)
The Barn shakes with an animal sound coming out from its closed doors. You click on the barn, the doors open up and it’s a HORSE (DOG, DUCK, etc), and a kid’s voice says “HORSE!” Barn doors close up again.
Simple but works with babies. Not very educational, but fun.
Puppi Love (Age: 12 Months+)
Most everyone is familiar with Puppi Love. It’s an adorable puppy that talks to you, teaches your letters, colors and numbers, plays peek-a-boo with you, tells you stories, sings you songs and lets you feed him. Lexi really got into him when she learned to recognize letters and numbers. Early on, she would play peekaboo, since it only required her to tap the screen, then she transitions to feeding the puppy while saying “nom nom nom mmmm”. Later came her favorite songs, then letters an numbers along with quizzes ( she loves quizzes, like her mom) and finally the storytelling. From the educational standpoint, the letters, numbers and colors parts of the app are very helpful. You get to pop bubbles, which is fun for them, but at the same time you’re listening to the names of the letters and numbers.
Memory games (Age: 14Months/18Months +)
I haven not found an English app that has a memory game good enough or one that is well made (attractive graphics, large images, cards with objects appealing to kids) but I did want to bring a Russian app to your attention. Bookvario has a great memory that is fabulous. Easy to play, features animals and very kid friendly. (see the app below under RUSSIAN). A memory game is really a great way to help your kid focus and develop their memory. Alexis has been amazing at playing her memory games. She got the concept almost immeidiately and can match like a pro. She hasn’t developed strategies yet, but definitely speed matched some boards and moves up in levels fast. She can even manage a hard board ( with many matches) if given enough time. It’s one of her favorite games to play.
I don’t have a large Russian readership, but in case some of you out there are reading it and are raising your kids bilingual, here are a few Russian apps to help with that.
A library of Russian books. Illustrations are pretty bad but it has some of the old favorites like by Mayakovski.
Alphabet flashcards that sound out letters and animals.
This was Lexi’s first Russian book and she used to love it. She doesn’t read it anymore but for the 7-12 months age it was invaluable. It has a really fun story, great illustrations and awesome narration.
An Alphabet app that goes through each letter and associates it with an animal. The most valuable part of the app is the memory game (read above in MEMORY GAMES)
If I didn’t mention your favorite app, please feel free to add in the comments!
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