~ early education care ~ where our play supports our learning

General Apps We Continue to Find Value In

It’s important to know your children and their developmental levels as with any teaching tool you use. It’s important to be engaged with children as they are using, as with any activity they are doing. IPad apps are only as good as the intention that they are used with. I believe this is true whether used in a classroom or at home.

I have downloaded too many apps to count over the past few years looking for ones that cover all the early learning skills and support developing ones for early elementary. I learned early that paying a small amount (usually around $2) really turned out to be pennies in the big picture. I spent more than pennies on paper for creative drawing and writing practice alone. I also learned that I do not like apps that required in-app purchases and now avoid them right from the start. I also prefer apps without ads.

I have a mix of general apps and skill specific apps up at all times, but I do not have more than 2 pages active at any time and no folders.  I have the front page for the 12- 15 learning play apps and the second page for the 6 ebooks. I have found the smaller number is less distracting for the children. They learn the app images and quickly navigate each page. I also use guided access to be sure they remain engaged with purpose and are not just jumping from activity to activity. The iPad is used here to support all the other learning that we are doing in our daily activities. It is another tool and experience.

As others are considering bringing touch technology into their programs and parents are looking for appropriate materials, I often get asked about the apps I use. This post is what I consider the general apps that continue to remain on the iPads. These apps are used across the ages here. In a mixed ages program that is important.

Cookie Doodle Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 10.45.43 AM $.99

I have found that children love to bake for real and playing kitchen is a favorite dramatic play activity. This app is an extension of these activities that all the ages love. Most often a group works together when using this app which supports development of social skills and language.

I originally purchased the app to support: 1)Fine Motor Skills: dough making involves tapping, pinching, tilting, twisting, shaking, and stirring; 2) Sequencing: Each recipe has sequential steps required to make a cookie that differ in complexity depending on the cookie type selected; 3) Artistic Creativity: Explore color, shape, and design. With working being able to be saved and shared; and 4) Reading and pre-reading: Ingredients text and images are both shown. As ingredients are added to the recipe, they are checked off furthering word-picture association.

A-Z Music Videos Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 11.15.15 AM Free

Many think there is cost for this app or that you need to subscribe to ABC Mouse. Neither is the case. The app provides 3 unlocked videos (A-C). By watching the videos you earn tickets. Through these tickets you can then open (purchase) additional letters in any order you want. It took us no time to open all the letters. We opened the letters for our names first. (We are still earning tickets, just have no place to use them.) The children are not stationary when using this app. They are dancing and singing (think dance party).

The videos are developed from a variety of music genres. The animated images are appealing in form and color. The letter songs are fun and around here get sung often when the videos are not being watched. I like how the letter and words starting with it are incorporated in text form into the videos.

I’ve found this app supports:

  • Uppercase and lowercase letter recognition for all 26 letters
  • Phonemic awareness
  • New vocabulary words

Leo’s Pad Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 11.28.25 AM Free (1st chapter)

Upon opening the app you join a young Leonardo da Vinci and his friends on adventures. The adventures are a mix of story line and games built to support the whole child. The activities adjust to individual skill levels as played. To many skills are supported to list here. What I like is the ability to have the app set up for each child individually. (For family use you can connect to a Learning Mosaic for Parents for free where you get information about your child’s development as indicated through their usage.)

This app is really a group of chapters that need to be unlocked after the first chapter which you get free. We got the app early in development and have been able to unlock them through our usage, but you now purchase by complete package or individual chapters.

Spot the Dot Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.04.29 PM $2.99

We love “I Spy” books here and this app is in that style. Again a great app to use in a group. I purchased primarily as support for learning colors, problem solving, and lengthening engagement even while experiencing frustration.

Children’s author, David A. Carter, adapted his work to create this app. It’s a colorful appealing app that is totally interactive. Users are asked to “Find the —- dot” on pages that change for each search. The location of each dot you are searching for changes each time you engage a page anew. The colors searched for are the colors all children need to learn. The dot is hidden under objects and patterns that move and shift as the screen is tapped.

I also found it very easy to expand learning on shapes and counting (there are suggestions provided).

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.22.08 PMTo many apps to list out separately. I have also found that purchasing in packages is much better for price point.

I do not have all the Toca Boca apps on the iPad at the same time – usually only 2 at a time.

Draw and Tell Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.26.40 PM $1.99

I love Duck, Duck Moose apps and have many of them. (Another company I buy apps in packages from for best price point.) I also have a variety of drawing apps, but this is the one everyone seems to be able to easily use and can get as creative as desired with. Not only can you draw and color, but you can add your oral story.  (I actually use this app for assessment because of the recording option.)

Zuzu’s Bananas Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.43.11 PM $1.99

This was not an app that initially appealed to me, but the children couldn’t get enough of it. It came from a review site I value, so I watched them engage and them spent time on it myself. I’ve learned that the apps I like initially are not always the best for the children, so I do not do as much previewing as I used to. Now we are more likely to explore together and then figure out if it’s one to keep or store.

This app allows for some parental control that means I can easily adjust for skill level as setting up to use.

The fun, colorful games are based on concepts such as pattern recognition, object permanence, and executive functioning. I also found that there is a good bit of problem solving to even figure out what needs to happen in the game. There are no real directions. It’s a good app for group engagement and I have seen many times where they are explaining what needs to happen to earn those bananas.


Technology Evaluation Toolkits” are available from many resources, so I have grabbed bits and pieces that work for my purpose, realizing my usage may be different than others.

I started here:

  • the ease of use
  • how it engaged a child
  • did it support learning goals (K Readiness and Maine Early Learning Developmental Standards)
  • does it offer custom settings or different levels
  • feedback – encouraging, appropriate for child’s age, how it corrects
  • information is correct

Here is what I have added:

  • approaches to learning (attention, flexible thinking, persistence)
  • Social-Emotional (cooperation, collaboration)
  • appropriate cognitive skills
  • usable by non/pre-readers
  • bias free / gender neutral
  • clear choices and ease of navigating, independent usage after introduction by adult
  • skills build as develop competency
  • support creativity
  • content and graphics appealing to children
  • activities match appropriate attention span levels
  • ability to have multiple players
  • adds to variety of apps
  • no to limited in-app purchases




Author: countryfun

35+ yrs in the classroom ~ love teaching ~ PLAY! ~ technology in ECE ~ sharing books ~ STEAM starts in ECE ~ outdoors ~ being CREATIVE!!

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