First, a detour to Disclaimerville: We had specific circumstances that brought us to purchase an iPad for Maggie during our travels; these circumstances were added to and exacerbated by the second pregnancy’s First Trimester From Hell. So while I don’t think this is the right purchase for every child or every family, nor do I really approve of busting out an iPad for Maggie’s everyday use, I don’t regret buying it in the least. It made a very long twelve weeks much easier.
So you went out and made a sacrifice to the Altar of Jobs and got yerself a shiny piece of screen. Good for you! Now…which apps to buy? I can say nothing about apps for adults as the only two we have are Paper Toss (for Tom) and Fruit Ninja (for me) and frankly, Miss Margaret was not really interested in sharing her new shiny. So aside from those two apps and an iBook copy of Tina Fey’s Bossypants for me (OMG SO GOOD), here’s what’s on tap for Maggie. Everything (unless otherwise mentioned) is under $3-4.
Videos: Pixar shorts, Veggie Tales Silly Songs, two music videos (“Single Ladies” by Beyonce and “Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys), one home movie edited by Yours Truly. The Pixar shorts are really fabulous. The animated graphics are so sharp on the iPad screen, they last about five minutes, and they’re fun for kiddos and adults. The religious aspect of Veggie Tales makes me a little uneasy, but their intermission Silly Songs are just that: silly. And fun. Maggie enjoys them. The music videos…well, let’s just say I have to leave the house now and then and Tom is free to entertain his daughter as he sees fit. And now that she has seen the wonder of Beyonce’s thigh jiggles and the dancing robot protecting Tokyo, she will never go back. The home movie is a bunch of family photos and home videos edited together to a 2-minute clip set to Loudon Wainwright’s “Daughter” and was Tom’s birthday present last year. Maggie looooooves looking at photos and herself; ergo, this is a total win video.
Books: You can get kids’ books for the iPad in two ways. You can use the iBook, Kindle, or Nook applications (all of which are free, and I have all three) to purchase them, or you can buy books as applications themselves. Disney, like any good drug dealer, does a masterful job on the first digital Toy Story book and it is free. There are song and video clips, features where you can turn the illustration into a coloring book and color the picture in, and if you’re 8 hours into a 9 hour flight you can turn on auto-play and shut your eyes for a few seconds (ahem). The second and third Toy Story digital book apps are something like four and nine dollars respectively, thus my earlier metaphor comparing Messrs. Disney and Lassetter to drug dealers. First hit’s free, kiddos.
We also have a number of the Dr. Seuss book apps, which do a serviceable job but aren’t the most exciting apps. Never mind that, they’re inexpensive and enjoyable enough. There are numerous free book apps out there, but keep in mind you’ll get what you pay for. Specifically, we deleted each of the 15 free books we got from the StoryChimes brand. Bloatedly long, poorly illustrated, buggy and boring. Hallmark has a nice free book (although it’s a tie-in to their actual physical bear toy, Cooper) about a little bear named Cooper looking for a gift for his mom. Maggie enjoys that one immensely. If it’s free, give it a try; if it sucks, delete it. No harm, no foul.
Games and educational apps: start with buying everything from the Duck Duck Moose app developer. Their Itsy Bitsy Spider app is phenomenal. There isn’t a wasted action in the script; every icon that’s touched responds in a nice, kid-pleasing sort of way. I have slightly less praise for Wheels On The Bus but it’s still very good. Their Fish School–numbers, shapes, colors, letters–is quite well done too. Maggie loves all of them. I have read numerous glowing reviews of Drawing Pad but I think it depends on the kid; it’s a fabulous app for a kid who likes to draw, but Maggie really isn’t into real-life crayons, let alone virtual ones. I’d give it a whirl if your munchkin dug that kind of thing. First Words Spanish is nice but Maggie only likes it in short bursts. “I Hear Ewe” is about 3 dozen photos that when touched play the corresponding sound. “This is the sound a sheep makes.” I find it heart-stoppingly dull but Maggie ADORES it and it’s a free app.
The app that won Maggie’s heart (and my nephew’s, since Auntie indulged him for a while and now he harasses my sister at every opportunity to play on her iPod Touch) is Monkey Preschool Lunchbox. Matching puzzles! Letter recognition! Simple four-piece assembly puzzles! Shapes! Counting! A dancing monkey that coos “Great job” AND you get to pick a virtual sticker after you complete a few rounds. Maggie played this for close to an hour and a half, I kid you not, and left us alone to eat our disgusting airline dinners in relative peace. The background music is…not ideal but I learned to tune it out.
So how gentle is a toddler with an iPad, anyway? You know…pretty gentle. We bought a heavy-duty InCase display/protective case, which helped, and I have had to say “You use your fingers on the iPad, not your tongue” more times than I care to admit, but she was pretty good. There was slight learning curve as she mastered how to drag items and how much finger pressure should be applied and where, but she caught on fast. I noticed my nephew had the same pressure/control issues as Maggie at first but figured it out even faster than she did. Considering the other evidence of his mechanical aptitude (like the time when he was 15 months old and he systematically tried, analyzed and popped every childproofing lock in their kitchen), that’s a kid headed for the robotics team for sure.
The screen is encrusted with filth. Kids are messy. What can you do? I just clean it. We also didn’t buy all these apps and such at once. We had a list in mind of ones we wanted and rolled them out over time to help mitigate overstimulation and not leave us high and dry halfway from DC to Munich with a paperweight full of apps that she’d already seen and used. The only other problem I’ve found is that the “Home” button is too tempting for Maggie to press and then she doesn’t understand why her game/book/video went away. Perhaps a piece of tape or a well-placed binder clip is in our future, but I’m hoping she’ll, y’know, CATCH ON TO HER ERROR sooner or later.
So…that’s how we do. No one from Apple and no developers gave me any money to say nice things about their products, although I would absolutely not have turned them down if they had. I just read reviews of most of these on other sites, tried them, and used the Genius button on the App Store to find recommendations for new goodies. Good luck to you!