In part one of this feature, I focused on my first daughter,Jessica, and her iPad use. My second daughter, Elena, turns two this week. Like her sister she has had her own iPad since she had just turned one (my wife wanted a mini for her birthday so her old one was repurposed for Elena.)
What's interesting is that she gravitated towards a lot of the same apps that Jessica did despite having dozens and dozens to choose from on the device and without us directing her choices. Certain apps by key developers just connected with both of them. There are around 50,000 apps in the education section of the App Store and figures estimate that almost 75% are aimed at early years and preschool kids. So why do my kids return to certain ones time and time again over newer ones I might download for them?
A lot of it comes down to delivery. Even from that young age, kids seem able to recognise quality - none of the apps they return to are what I would call poorly designed. Interactivity is also key, with both girls favouring apps that allow them to engage directly rather than passively. These apps also offer choice and challenge.
So for this second part of the article, I'm going to detail the brands and apps that I've seen the girls get the most out of and try to break down why that is. Let's start with the big ones - the brands who always delivery winners. In my experience, this means starting with what I'll dub The Big Five. Click on any of the logos to the right to visit the company's website.
I've already written a whole article on the reasons Toca Boca are awesome which you can find here. Suffice to say, there's no other app developer that could top this list. Everything they put out is gold standard and the variety is dazzling.
The girls are particularly big fans of the Toca Band, Toca Doctor and the Hair Salon apps. The benefits of these apps are vast - from developing logic and reasoning to understanding real life skills like cooking, health and hygiene. When Toca launched the Hair Salon Me variation, allowing users to use their own photos, it quickly became Jessica's go-to app for a long time and she still returns to it regularly to give me a quick cut and blow dry.
DUCK DUCK MOOSE
My second pick has to be Duck Duck Moose. Makers of the incredible Chatterpix amongst others, Duck Duck Moose set a really high standard with everything the release. As well as enjoying making stuff like the carpet talk using Chatterpix, Jessica has enjoyed using Moose Math to develop basic counting skills.
One of the best things about Duck Duck Moose though is the sheer range of apps that they have available; there really is something for everyone from Trucks to Fairytale Maker and some fantastic nursery rhyme themed apps. You can read our exclusive interview with the CEO of Duck Duck Moose here.
Though their range of apps is relatively small compared to Toca and Duck Duck, the next choice for me has to be Avokiddo. Both Emotions and Beck and Bo are apps that the girls return to time and time again. The artwork and tone of the the Avokiddo apps is uniquely engaging and they make great use of a wide range of interactions. Beck and Bo is without a doubt one of the single best options for preschool kids. Emotions is also a great app for use with SEN students or those that lack language skills. Our interview with Avokiddo from last year can be found here.
Chances are that a lot of you have heard of the last three companies I've mentioned (or their apps) but perhaps you've not heard of THUP. They make the Preschool Monkey series and If you haven't seen these in action, go check them out. When Jessica was one, Preschool Monkey Lunchbox was by far her favourite app and it quickly became Elena's too. When I Grow Up is another one that they have both spent a lot of time with. THUP have actually just released a new title: Expolrers, which Jessica is currently using a lot. I actually think that this is their best app yet as it develops non verbal reasoning skills through identifying associated items (eg touch the things that you can eat, touch the things that you have at a birthday party.)
The MiniU series by PopAppFactory is another excellent range that Jessica enjoys a lot these days. Her favourite by far is The Kitchen. She's even learning about simple colour mixing through the app by using the juice blending activity. The best thing about the MiniU apps though is the wide range of activities that you get within each app, ensuring that children can enjoy them again and again. Read our interview with PopAppFactory here.
I'd also like to highlight a couple of other companies that put out high quality apps the girls enjoy
Based here in Dubai, Appy Kids are a smaller company that are starting to make some big waves. Their apps are language learning tools for Arabic and Hindi, aimed at the very young - though perhaps a little older than preschool. The fact that the girls enjoy interacting with them is testament to their superb design and polished delivery. Seriously - they have some of the best animation I've seen in any educational app. You can read our interview with CEO Dinesh Lalvani here.
Fairlady make a series of apps based around a pair of characters, Grandma and Grandpa These loveable characters teach kids a lot in various settings from Grandma's kitchen to Grandpa's workshop, which has been the favourite title for the girls so far.
What I really like about these apps is the way they include video footage that relates to the topic such as workshop tools in use. This helps reinforce the concepts being taught through the actual games. Of course for Jessica the best bit by far is that you get to high five Grandpa when you get things right!
Beyond these core brands, there's still dozens of apps that I could spotlight. Rather than write an endless list though, I thought I'd mention a few types of apps that are great for preschoolers and highlight the best of each type.
Jessica loves doing real, physical puzzles - something that a Foundation Stage teacher recently told me is becoming less and less common. Before she became a dab hand at the real thing though, she actually learnt how to do puzzles on the iPad. These days she'll do several physical puzzle every single day but will still go back to puzzle apps on occasion. Elena followed suit and learnt digitally before surprising us with some rapid puzzle completion for real.
There are so many puzzle apps to choose from and they have used a wide range. When looking for a puzzle app, try to get one that allows you to vary the number of pieces that each image splits into such as Puzzle Jigsaw. There's a Minnie Mouse one that they've both returned too a fair bit too but the name escapes me.
Ah, Talking Tom the cat and his pals. There are pros and cons to using these types of apps. As with the puzzles, there's a huge range on offer, with varying quality of delivery. Outfit7 who make Tom, Ben and the others probably make the best ones but they will try and sell stuff to your kids through in app purchases.
Nonetheless, they can be great for developing language since they will record and repaet what the child is saying. There's also an app called The Winston Show which claims too take things to the next level in terms of conversing with a digital character. I've never been able to get it to work properly though.
Mark making, colouring in, simple drawing and early letter formation can all be developed using the touch screen interface. The range of apps on offer to let preschoolers achieve these goals is huge though so what do you choose?
There are a whole host of gimmick drawing apps such as drawing with stars, neon etc but on the whole, I think you're better getting a more comprehensive package such as Drawing Pad. Jessica only really uses this these days when she's looking to draw on her iPad since it offers such a wide range of digital art tools all in one place.
Doodle Buddy deserves a mention too though as it has a lot of fun stamps with sound effects alongside the traditional pen tools. It was a definite favourite for the first year. We've also recently had a play around with Drawing Together (with both girls drawing/colouring on a mirrored screen) which was interesting to say the least!
You may have noticed the picture of Jessica and her celebrity pals in part one of this feature. That was made with Puppet Pals 2. Though both girls enjoy using the Puppet Pals apps, they are too little to enjoy them on their own and will only select them if I'm there to help them. Same goes for the excellent Sock Puppet app and the somehwat expensive Disney Princess Story Theatre.
However the one app of this kind that they both will opt for independently is the lesser known Playschool Artmaker. The difference here is the ease of access for bringing characters into the scenes since they can be selected from a simple drag and drop menu along the top. Scenes can be recorded and the toy characters can be manipulated using the touchscreen as you would expect. The girls also love that some of the characters split up into puzzles before they can be added - a really nice little touch.
There can be only one "winner" in this category - Endless Alphabet. This app genuinely helped Jessica learn the letters of the alphabet. I'll always remember when we heard her start to mimic the letter sounds from the app for weeks after she started using it. Elena isn't yet two and can still put some pretty impressively complex words together using it.
Their recent follow up app Endless Reader takes things even further by dropping the words intofull sentences. Both are superbly polished in their delivery and truly some of the best apps for toddlers on the market.
Not so much a real category but more a chance for me to round off this list by grouping a huge proportion of the apps on sale in the App Store together. These are the apps that are tied in to known brands - be it for those of TV, film or book characters.
Disney is an obvious choice and the Mouse House has produced a wide range of apps. You can't fault their quality as the production values are always very high. The price can be too though so be warned...
The girls do enjoy some apps based on established brands. Peppa Pig, Room On The Broom and My Little Pony spring to mind as pretty good examples. Obviously the inclusion of characters that kids are familiar with will ensure instant engagement but they don't seem to maintain it as long as some of the apps mentioned earlier in my experience.
Nonetheless there is one app that stands out above all others from my experience: Elmo's Monster Maker. This character making app allows toddlers to create their own monsters by adding parts to their faces. What makes it stand out is that the monsters themselves aren't just drawings but full video clips that move around, bringing their creations to life instantly. I guarantee you that if I checked my Photo Stream now, there would be dozens of these colourful creations in their courtesy of the girls.
So that's that folks. I hope you've found this part of the feature useful. If you have any questions, comments or feedback, don't hesitate to contact us via our social media pages.
Rise of the iToddlers pt2
In this second part of his special two part feature, site founder Steve Bambury shares some of his top choices when it comes to apps suited for preschoolers.