If you’re one of the many Americans whose stocking held an iPad this holiday season, you’re probably thrilled to be on the cutting edge of technology and will want to take a look at the best free iPad apps for kids. However, if you have kids who are itching to get their little hands on your device and start iPad-ding, you may be wondering, What do I do? There are so many apps! How many of them are appropriate for kids? Are any of them educational? What are the best free iPad apps for kids and which ill my children enjoy most?
Whether your kids will be borrowing your iPad, or are the proud new owners of their own Apple products, they’ll be tapping, sliding, and typing to their hearts’ content sooner than you think. That's why it's important to know what the top 10 best free iPad apps for kids are.
“When you look at all of the children’s apps in the iTunes iPad Store for the first time, the amount and variety can feel overwhelming,” acknowledges Jinny Gudmundsen, author of iPad Apps For Kids For Dummies®. “It’s important for parents to have a reliable resource that will help them to cut through the clutter and choose the best free iPad apps for kids."
Gudmundsen, who is the respected USA TODAY Kid-Tech columnist, has made it her mission to provide just that in her book which contains information about all apps as well as the best free iPad apps for kids. She has personally taken a multitude of kid-friendly apps on a test run, and in iPad Apps For Kids For Dummies® she breaks all of them down including the best free iPad apps for kids. Whether you’re searching for apps that will appeal to a dinosaur lover, have strong girl role models, those that will keep the whole family entertained on the road, are educational, or are designed for kids with special needs, you’ll find them all—and more—in this volume. It's a great help to have the best free iPad apps for kids all in one place.
“If you and your kids are iPad novices, I recommend getting your feet wet with these best free iPad apps for kids,” Gudmundsen suggests. “That way, you can figure out what you like best worry-free. If an app doesn’t work for you, no problem—just delete it. You won’t be out any money. And I think you’ll all be surprised by how fabulous free can be!”
So don’t waste any time taking a look at the best free iPad apps for kids!
Fire up that iPad and read on for Gudmundsen’s top ten best free iPad apps for kids as described in the book:
- Monster Hunt—The Memory Game (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 5 and up, Innovative Mobile Apps).
Using monsters that will remind your kids of Monsters, Inc., this is one of the best free iPad apps for kids that is a memory game for one to four players. Starting on a grid of four squares, monsters appear briefly and then are shielded. You try to tap the squares where you last saw monsters. As you succeed in memorizing where the monsters are hiding, the grid gets bigger and more monsters are shown. Appropriately ghoulish music accompanies this monster memory hunt, and when you eventually fail, the monsters growl at you with delight.
“Although this memory game has no bells and whistles, it’s very well done,” comments Gudmundsen. “It has no ads and no in-app purchases, and there’s also a multiplayer mode.”
- Squiggles! (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 3-6, Lazoo Worldwide, Inc.).
Another of the best free iPad apps for kids is an artistic app that creates a no-fail drawing playground where young kids can use their fingers to paint. It presents your child with a scene that needs a squiggle and demonstrates how to draw it. For example, your child might be asked to draw the exhaust of a car, the wool on a lamb, a mane on a lion, or nests for birds. After drawing, the player hits the “Go” button, which causes the squiggles to magically animate.
“The app also lets you take a photo and add squiggles to it, and includes an interactive story adventure,” adds Gudmundsen. “I love that this app teaches kids that by using their creativity, drawings can become anything they can imagine.”
- Ellie’s Wings HD—Free animal coloring game for children (Free US/CAN/UK, ages 3-9, Daniel Sonnenfeld).
This free gem is yet another of the best free iPad apps for kids and lets kids decorate animals’ wings by finger-painting. What makes it so much fun is that it automatically produces symmetrical drawings. Paint a purple heart on one wing, and it simultaneously shows up on the other wing. The app offers you three different animals to “wing-a-fy,” including a butterfly, a bee, and a horse. Each has its own personality and responds to your touch.
“This is one adorable app,” assures Gudmundsen. “With nine buckets of paint, three sizes of paintbrushes, animated stickers, and paint splatters, kids can do a lot to decorate these wings. As one of the best free iPad apps for kids, the app’s interface is uncluttered and intuitive to use. My favorite moment occurs when placing the spider sticker—which turns out not to be a sticker at all. The real spider inevitably surprises the animal whose wings you are decorating by climbing down the wing and out of the picture. It’s hilarious!”
- Alien Assignment (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 4-8, Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College).
This fun app sends your child on a scavenger hunt to take photos using the iPad which makes is another great one of the best free iPad apps for kids. An alien family called the Gloops has crash-landed on Earth, and they need your child’s help fixing their spaceship. The Gloops’ on-ship computer needs photos of a wide range of items so that it can figure out how to replicate things to fix the ship. Every time you play this game, you’ll get new requests. Examples include: something you clean with, something you use when it rains, something blue, something that smells stinky, something with words on it, and so on.
“By playing this app, kids learn to solve problems and think creatively,” Gudmundsen says. This is why it's among the best free iPad apps for kids. “They must reflect upon everyday objects in new and different ways. Another great aspect of this app is that after kids take the requested number of photos (you can set it to be between 4 and 20), they are asked to ‘show your grown-up’ the photos. This provides you an opportunity to interact with your child and talk about why they chose the objects. When you approve the photos, kids get to see the spaceship repaired and then they can start another episode.”
- Let’s Color! (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 4-10, Lazoo Worldwide, Inc.).
This drawing program presents a series of pages on which something is already drawn, accompanied by a verbal prompt to draw something specific on the page. Kids add to the page by using their fingers and an easy paint program that features a marker, crayon, chalk, squirt bottle, and stickers. When they are finished creating, they push the prominent “Go” button on the page and watch as their drawing becomes animated.
“The app’s 18 pages feature things like a person holding a hose,” explains Gudmundsen. “In this example, the prompt asks the child to draw what is coming out of the hose. If your child draws stars, stars shoot out of the hose. If he places a sticker of a robot by the end of the hose, it shoots out robots. Under the parents’ section, you can purchase 16 more pages for $1.99. You can also hide this in-app purchase from kids. I love the way Lazoo handles this in-app purchase option and wish more companies would follow suit.”
- Toontastic: Play, Create, Learn! (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 5-10, Launchpad Toys).
This app makes the list because it’s a magical tech-creation tool. Toontastic harnesses kids’ natural attraction to technology to teach them how to tell stories. By breaking down the parts of a story and having kids create a scene depicting each part, kids learn by doing. This one of the best free iPad apps for kids cleverly incorporates music to create emotional tension in a scene. Then it mashes together all of the scenes to create a unique video cartoon. Kids can also watch cartoons created by their peers around the world! It’s fascinating to see how other cultures tell a story and to observe the common bonds we all share.
“I think it’s important for kids to practice being creative thinkers when they are young,” shares Gudmundsen. “That way, when they get older and enter the workforce, they will be comfortable tapping into their imaginations to solve problems. Toontastic provides kids with the practice they need to be creative thinkers.”
- LEGO Creationary (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 5-10, The LEGO Group).
Perfect for Lego lovers, this game tests how quickly you can figure out what specific object is being built using Lego bricks. The game starts with a roll of the die to determine the category of the item being built (nature, vehicles, buildings, things, and two random options). Four objects appear in the four corners of the screen, within buttons for tapping. In the center, the Lego-building starts in a fast-action video. The goal is to tap the correct object in the corner button before the center one is completed. This game can be played alone or with up to four players. Another great one of the best free iPad apps for kids.
“You’d think that this game, with its simple premise and easy controls, would be easy to win,” Gudmundsen notes. “It isn’t! The building is superfast so that kids need to use observation skills, imagination, and knowledge of Lego-building to be successful. It may take a few rounds before you start getting better. Don’t miss this one if you have a Lego aficionado who enjoys high-adrenaline fun. It will help your kids hone their observation skills and quick thinking.”
- Awesome Eats (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 6 and up, Whole Kids Foundation).
This fast-paced sorting game among the best free iPad apps for kids involves anthropomorphized fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and makes learning about healthy eating fun. Each level asks kids to move food characters from one conveyor belt to another so that they end up in the correct box at the end. Because the conveyor belts can be going in opposite directions, and some stop mid-course and change direction, this game can get frenetic. On the harder levels, kids must navigate around obstacles riding on the conveyor belts and chase off poaching birds.
“In between each of the 32 levels, the app presents kids with interesting nuggets of information about good nutrition,” Gudmundsen explains. “It’s one of my favorite best free iPad apps for kids because it’s fun to play, teaches kids about healthy eating, and doesn’t contain ads or in-app purchases. Whole Kids Foundation, a nonprofit organization connected to the Whole Foods Market, produced this app as part of their mission to ‘engage children in making good food choices.’ Boy, does it! Don’t be surprised when your kids start making suggestions like adding fruits to fizzy water for a refreshing drink.”
- Scribble Press (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 6 and up, Scribble Press). Another of the best free iPad apps for kids lets kids write and illustrate their own books, and then share them on the iPad (or, if you permit, on the moderated Scribble Press servers where other kids can read their work). You can also decide to share your child’s book with friends and relatives via an email link, Facebook, and Twitter. The app can save the book in a format that lets it reside in your iBooks bookshelf.
“This app provides 50 story templates to help your child on her path to becoming an author,” comments Gudmundsen. “The templates provide a framework for kids in which some of the story is already written, and all they have to do is add in their own details. The categories range from writing an autobiography, to aliens, to school, and beyond. In addition to writing, kids are encouraged to add their own artwork or photos. I am very impressed by how easy it is for kids to create their own books. And the final product looks professional, with a border around the cover. When kids see their own book in your iBooks bookshelf, they’ll swell with pride.”
- Sushi Monster (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 7-12, Scholastic).
With this as another of the 10 best free iPad apps for kids, your child can practice addition and multiplication in a setting that’s way more fun than doing math worksheets. Kids solve equations so that they can feed the ravenous Sushi Monster and thereby earn stars and eventually trophies. The game takes place in a circular cafeteria with the ravenous Sushi Monster in the middle. On one counter around the monster, plates of sushi with numbers on them arrive. Kids feed the Sushi Monster by combining the numbered plates to meet the target number shown around the monster’s neck.
“This app offers practice in addition and multiplication,” says Gudmundsen. “There are seven addition levels and five for multiplication. This game was devised to help children increase their math speed by using it for ten minutes a day. The artwork of this math app is bright and colorful. The Sushi Monster reminds me of Cookie Monster from Sesame Street in the way he inhales the sushi. Kids love watching this monster madly eat all the sushi available.”
“The best part is,that these ten best free iPad apps for kids are just the tip of the iceberg,” Gudmundsen concludes. “There are many more best free iPad apps for kids reviewed in my book. Whether you bought your iPad to educate or entertain your kids, get ready for it to start playing both roles. And take it from me—don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to play just one more round of some of these games, too! Happy iPad-ding!”
How much better does it get? Ten of the best free iPad apps for kids.
Jinny Gudmundsen is the author of iPad Apps For Kids For Dummies®. She is the Kid-Tech columnist for USA TODAY and the Gannett newspaper chain. An authority on technology for kids, he loves to research the best free iPad apps for kids and she also works for Common Sense Media, the nation’s leading nonprofit source of reviews on children’s media, and is the editor of ComputingWithKids.com.