By Jesse Stay of Stay N' Alive (Twitter/FriendFeed)
As a father of four, gadgets I buy must be something my entire family can enjoy.
When I got an iPhone, I also got my wife an iPhone, and we're seriously considering iPod Touches for the kids this Christmas (Promise not to tell them, okay?).
The iPhone is not only a tool Mom or Dad can enjoy and use to become more productive, but it can serve as an excellent learning and entertainment tool for your children. There are many apps that are great for both young and old, which are essential for a Dad like me. These five applications in the iTunes App store are some of my favorites, which the entire family can enjoy. And only Koi Pond ($.99) isn't free.
My sons, 6 and 4, love this one. It's simply a basic drawing program, which lets you select colors, pen size, shape, and background color, and create different pictures by drawing on the screen. You select the background color, then you have the option to select if you want to draw freeform with a pen, draw lines, circles, squares, or blobs, and you can doodle all you want. There is also a pay version that offers ability to enter text on your graphic, and have an image as your background that you can draw on. It's great for the kids when you don't have a pen or paper nearby to keep them busy. It's my 4 year old's favorite app.
Pros: Simple idea, hard for kids to get into trouble. The pay version only adds to that experience.
Cons: Not easy enough to use, at least for kids. For kids that can't read, it's hard for them to know to click on "New Doodle" to erase their image and start over.
I saw this one enter the App store, and predicted immediately (check my Google Shared items) that this would be top 5, and sure enough, it got up to number 2 before going down again. The idea is simple. It's a Jack O' Lantern. You can change the face of the Jack O' Lantern by sliding the eyes, nose, or mouth over to make different faces. You can also make spooky sounds by shaking the phone or iPod Touch. It's nice and easy, great for younger kids, and catchy enough even adults can have fun with it.
Pros: Extremely simple, great for younger kids and even toddlers (my 6 month old loves my iPhone!).
Cons: I'd love the option of more faces, and maybe a few more sounds, or additional functionality. However, the idea is meant to be very simple.
This is a classic. I know few iPhone owners that haven't tried this one. Koi pond is simply a pond with Koi fish and lilly pads in it, which you can slide your finger around and make rippling sounds and motions in the water. It's perhaps one of the most relaxing applications on the iPhone - nothing is more relaxing than the sound of rippling water and birds chirping in the background. Better yet, you can shake the phone, and fish food is sprinkled in the pond and the Fish come and eat the food. Be careful though, if you disturb the water, the fish avoid coming near the area you disturbed.
The part I love most about this is that due to the simplicity, it works great for keeping kids busy, especially infants and toddlers who can't read and have limited hand-eye coordination. My 6 month old loves touching the screen and hearing the resulting sounds rewarding him for his actions. He loves looking at it and seeing the cool colors and hearing the sounds that come from the app. I would say this is my 6 month old's favorite App.
Pros: It's so relaxing! It's my new "stress ball". Nice and simple.
Cons: I can't think of any cons to tell you the truth, unless you don't like Fish.
Memory Match by Jirbo
I had a lot of fun with this one. It's a play on the classic, "Memory" game, giving you 30 cards, all turned over, that you must sequentially turn over and see if you can remember where the matched images are. It's a one player game, but something you or your kids can play over and over and challenge each other on the score it gives you. You can also upload your scores to Jirbo.com, and share your score with others using the app.
Pros: Easy to use, fun to play. Who can turn down a game of Memory? Great for kids, young and old, and helps refine their memory skills.
Cons: No 2-player mode, even on the same device. It's single player only. It would be nice to play with someone else like the real card game, or even over WiFi with someone on another device nearby.
This is quickly becoming one of my favorites. It's based on the classic, "Connect 4" game, where you and another player can play to see who can be the first to get 4 of your color in a row horizontally, vertical, or diagonal. You can choose to play by yourself against the computer and track your score, or play against another player on the same device.
As a family we usually take a travel version of the real Connect 4 board game with us on road trips to keep the kids busy. Now we can simply bring our iPhones, and our kids can have multiple options given to them, with no lost pieces, and no mess!
Pros: A classic favorite! Gives easy, normal, and hard levels for all ages. Fun for the child and adult.
Cons: I'd love to be able to play with other nearby phones instead of having to pass the phone back and forth. It may be a little too hard for age 4 and under.
Know any other family-friendly iPhone apps that the kids can enjoy? We're always looking for more. Leave your suggestions in the comments.
Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.