The best mobile apps for babies and toddlers

by Brad Spirrison

For crying out loud, apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices are not all about games and social networking tools. Some of the most entertaining and innovative applications are designed for children. There are hundreds of compelling titles, in fact, that you can download and run with your baby or toddler. Before too long, they will be showing you how everything works.

As a parent of a nearly two-year-old boy, I present five apps that deliver sanity to my household and hopefully help young Dylan learn a thing or two along the way.

Sparkabilities Babies (iPhone, iPod Touch: $2.99, iPad: $4.99)

Shapes, colors and basic vocabulary with words like “dog”, “cat” and “all gone” brilliantly weave in and out of this remarkable application, which has separate versions for one and two-year-olds. There is minimal interactivity involved aside from touching icons that bring you to eight different segments. From there, sit back and enjoy how circles and stars are drawn, or see how the eyes, ears and mouth appear on a puppy or baby. Each segment lasts about three or four minutes, and through creative and cartoonish repetition displays multiple versions of the same shape or object. The payoff comes at the end when a female narrator asks “what is it? what is it” and concludes that it’s a (fill in the blank). In my non-scientific analysis, I think the app helped Dylan formulate his first few words and expressions. Sparkabilities also frees my wife and I up for 15 minutes at a time to make and enjoy breakfast a few times per week. Parents of young children can’t ask for more than that!

Peekaboo Barn (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android: $1.99)

After your toddler has mastered Sparkabilities and the puppies and kittens found within, he or she is ready for Peekaboo Barn. Pigs, roosters, cows, goats and more are all featured in this animal recognition game. After the red barn doors begin to shake, simply tap on them to find out which animal lies inside. The introductory level of the app then shows off the animal, audibly plays noises like a cow’s moo or rooster’s crow, and then speaks and flashes across the screen which animal is being featured. More advanced levels have children identifying what animal it is by looking at it or listening to their expressions. A playful version of Old McDonald’s Farm serves as a nice soundtrack.

PUZZINGO (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad: $1.99, Android: Free)

My they grow so quickly. Dylan’s favorite app these days is Puzzingo, which properly bills itself as the greatest puzzle on earth. This playful matching game has kids assembling individual components of an airplane and finding the shadows of ostriches and leopards inside a jungle. Each level includes a fun payoff of a balloon popping or plane flying.

Thomas & Friends Day of the Diesels (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad: $4.99)

Thomas the Train is a modern day classic and source of immense enthusiasm in our household. While the videos and toys are nice, the series of Thomas-themed iOS apps win out every time. Out of the several available in the iTunes App Store (note to Android owners that none of the Thomas-branded apps in the Android Market are official), we love Day of the Diesels. The app includes puzzles, matching games and a virtual coloring book. Love that choo choo.

Baby Soother 3-in-1 (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad: $1.99)

As bedtime approaches and you’ve exhausted storytime (that’s right, we read actual books to our little guy too), Baby Soother is there for you in a pinch. The 3-in-1 app includes tranquil images and soundtracks of animated sunsets, aquariums and winter wonderlands. This app often puts me to sleep, and there is no better compliment that that for a parent.