Our recently purchased iPad was keeping an otherwise unmanageable Elle blissfully quiet the other evening, as I attempted to prepare dinner while simultaneously trying to keep my other unmanageable child from driving me completely insane. In between my entreaties to Emme to go play with her blocks, or throw them around the living room, or color on the walls, or do anything besides pull on my pant-legs and whine, I could hear the voice of Dora the Explorer coming from the iPad in the living room. But she sounded kind of panicked – not really a tone I’ve heard often from dear old Dora, my daughter’s favorite cartoon character. In fact, Dora’s normally cheery tone was starting to sound downright dramatic.
Is Boots the Monkey mired in a mud pit and Backpack can’t find a rope to pull him out? Is Dora stuck on one side of Sleeping Snake Lake without a life jacket? Why such distress, Dora?
I ambled over to the couch to catch a glimpse of the Dora clip my daughter had discovered on YouTube. On the screen, I see Dora, blood spurting out of the side of her head, stumbling out of a Cadillac that has just launched off a cliff, while a red-eyed Spongebob Squarepants stood smiling sadistically from the cliff’s edge above.
Great. Thanks a million, YouTube. So my new iPad can keep my kids entertained, but at what cost? Can I buy an app for soothing my daughter’s nightmares?
Even my 18-month-old can navigate an iPhone, probably better than my parents (maybe even better than me). Kids intrinsically “get” the iPhone and iPad’s multi-touch user interface, because it is so simple and intuitive. But I’ve found this gets us into trouble.
Giving my 4-year-old nightmares about a sadistic Spongebob running Dora off a cliff, or other potentially detrimental detritus my preschooler could stumble upon while traveling through the sometimes not-so-friendly world of YouTube, isn’t unfortunately my only concern when it comes to letting my i-whatever occasionally babysit my kids. As my mom discovered with her recently purchased iPad, some seemingly innocuous apps – which might cost only 99 cents to download – can wind up costing you real money, in significant amounts. Apparently, my daughter racked up $128 in Smurfberry charges while playing Smurf Village the other evening (luckily, my mom was able to get the charges reversed, but they told her you only get one chance to make that mistake.)
Let’s face it: Our kids are going to learn to read, write and count on iPhones and iPads. Instead of watching cartoons on television, they’re going to be listening to interactive books on Mommy’s iPhone, and playing educational games on Daddy’s iPad. One contributor to the online forum ComputerWorld estimated that by the time today’s preschoolers reach Middle School, they will have been using multi-touch user interfaces almost every day for eight or more years. “While nobody was looking, the iPhone became a universally understood part of children's culture… The role of the iPhone in the lives of children is, in my opinion, an underappreciated cultural phenomenon,” he wrote.
This technology is, admittedly, brilliant: While I make dinner, my toddler can learn French on my phone’s Baby Flash Cards app. My preschooler gets a physics lesson, learning about water’s fluid dynamics and gravity, playing Where’s My Water. And during those times when I really cannot read another book to my children or play another game or tell them another story, when we are all cranky and tired and waiting for our tortuous airport layover to end, my kids can actually be entertained (and quiet) watching the adventures of an interactive storybook magically unfold before them.
But, this technology can also be menacing.
The key is finding the good apps – and that means testing them ourselves before letting our children embark into the great big exciting world of the iPhone and iPad unsupervised.
These are some nightmare-free apps I’ve discovered, and while I’m not about to give up on reading my kids a bedtime story or sitting with them at the kitchen table to help them write their name, I can’t deny that they’re going to be an iPad generation – and thus, I’ll have to be an iPad parent (but, hopefully, and educated one.)
Here’s a rundown of some of the best educational, or just plain fun, apps we’ve discovered.
Toca Hair Salon, by Toca Boca. I can’t say this app has any educational value; however, it’s pretty entertaining – and more engaging than, say, Angry Birds. You pick a subject, then with taps on the screen, kids can wash their hair, rinse it, blow it dry, snip it with scissors, move it into place with gel, buzz it short with clippers, dye it different colors, even add bows and bling. The best part is the subjects’ response to all the different stimuli; a bow might get you a smile, while too many snips could elicit a skeptical harumph. $1.99. Toca Boca also has some other simple but fun interactive apps, like Birthday Party and Tea Party.
Word Wizard helps kids learn their alphabet and beginning spelling. I don’t feel bad whipping this one out at a dinner party for a bored Elle, since it at least plays the part of being educational. $2.99.
Gube is all kid-friendly videos, like a censored YouTube. Knowing Elle won’t mistakenly discover Dora drenched in blood is worth the $3.99.
Where’s My Water, by Disney, touted as a “physics” puzzle game. Kids tap the screen to make the water flow down different channels and, hopefully, into Swampy the Alligator’s bathtub. $1.99.
Toddler Stamps. Emme, at not even 2 years old, won’t be pacified by iPad substitutes like indestructible toy computers. This app allows her to pick interactive “stickers” and place them into different scenes… supervised, of course, to avoid the risk of her $500 toy being dropped on the ground or into the toilet; 99 cents.