Category Archives: app reviews

Screen Time for Preschoolers? If You Choose to Offer Screen Time, Make it Count With These Apps

Parents have to make the decision to offer or restrict screen use to their youngest kids.  I won’t take sides on this, as it is a decision that is made by knowing the child, the family    dynamics and the risk/rewards at the moment.  I believe that if young children are going to use screens, that they should be using them with an adult and they should have well-designed apps that build skills rather than simply entertain.  Easier said than done.  There is a lot of poor material out there.  It may keep a child quiet for a time, but it isn’t teaching them anything except that if they protest loudly enough, their parents might cave.

Two app designers that I can strongly recommend are Tiny Hands and Duck Duck Moose.  Both have fun apps that require a child to think and listen.  Nothing happens by randomly tapping a screen.  The graphics are fun but not so intense that they are overwhelming for kids with visual processing issues.  Tiny Hands has apps for younger toddlers and older toddlers, and Duck Duck Moose starts out with simple games and progresses to math and reading apps.

For older toddlers and preschoolers, THUP has Monkey Preschool Explorers, Monkey Preschool Lunchbox and Monkey Math Scholastic Sunshine.  All very well designed and impossible to play without paying attention.   Filling the aquarium with sharks is totally fun!!

My readers may know that I like to pair screen use with a tablet stylus to build pencil grasp and control.  Want A Stronger Pencil Grasp? Use a Tablet Stylus Make sure that it is a stylus that doesn’t have any metal, or your glass screen will not survive.  Young children can break off the rubber tip, so they need some initial supervision and instruction.  Since I highly recommend that screen time is done with an adult, that shouldn’t be a problem!

Want A Stronger Pencil Grasp? Use a Tablet Stylus



The trick? They need to use a short stylus and play apps that require primarily drag-and-drop play. Stop them from only tapping that screen today, because tapping alone will not make much of a difference in strength and grading of force.

Why will drag-and-drop play work? The resistance of the stylus tip on the screen builds strength and control at the same time. They gain control as they get the immediate feedback from game play. Too much force? They get stuck and can’t move the styluses the target. Too little force? Again, the target doesn’t move. Could they revert to a fisted grasp and accomplish this? Sure, but that is exhausting, and you are within view of them anyway….right?

For this to work, young children need supervision, but not helicopter supervision. And they need to know that how they hold any utensil matters to you. My best approach to build grasp awareness is to appeal to their desire to be older. Tell your child that you have been watching them, and you believe they are ready to hold a stylus like an older kid. Oh, and you can explain to them how to hold the stylus the easy way. They just have to watch your example and play some games for practice. Yup, you ASK them to play on a tablet!

Best drag-and-drop games for young children? I like the apps from Duck Duck Moose, especially the Trucks and Park Math. Every app has some tapping, but you can select and “sell” the games that require drag-and-drop. There are apps that little girls can play to dress up princesses, mermaids, etc. Pick the ones where they have to drag the items over to the characters. Same with wheels on trucks, shapes into a box, etc. The Tiny Hands series of educational apps have a lot of drag-and-drop play.

Finally, mazes are wonderful, and so are dot-to-dots that require drag-and-drop play.

Have a really young child, or a child who struggles to keep their fingers in a mature grasp pattern without any force? Then apps that require just a tap are fine. I set the angle of my tablet at various heights (my case allows this) to prompt more wrist extension (where the back of the hand is angled a bit toward the shoulder, not down to the floor). When a child’s wrist is slightly extended, the mechanics of the hand encourage a fingertip grasp without an adult prompting them.

Try drag-and drop play with a stylus on your tablet today, and see if your child’s grasp strength starts improving right away!

Peekaboo Apps: Fun Learning Choices for the Toddler Techies

One of the best app designers for very young children (for whom short periods of screen time with an interactive adult is always the way to go) are the folks who make the Peekaboo series.  They have created a handful of apps (Peekaboo barn, vehicles, fridge, ocean) that use sharp but simple graphics, sound effects that entertain but do not overwhelm, and these apps can be used by very young children or developmentally delayed children with ease.  You can select a continuous shuffle, or have the app end when your child has viewed all the pages.  I have not downloaded the zoo app, but I just might have to do so.  The others are that good!

Each app is designed slightly differently, and I review them below based the level of physical ability needed to activate the screen and the interactive demands of the game.

Peekaboo Vehicles is a strong winner for boys who love cars but have difficulty with accurate hand control (or for very young gear heads).  Your child sees a cloudy screen and hears the quiet roar of a vehicle.  Tapping once will reveal the hidden vehicle, and another tap with drive it away, bringing back the clouds.  That’s it, nothing more.  Sometimes you don’t need more activity on the screen to stimulate learning.  You can talk about the picture, name all the items and colors, and stimulate language by pairing the reveal and the send-off with target words such as “open, go, bye”,etc.  You can chose an American or a UK pronunciation.  The sound effects are simple and familiar to most children, and the visual complexity is moderately stimulating.  The focus is on the vehicle.

Peekaboo Barn and Peekaboo Fridge show either a red barn or a kitchen, and your child hears the animal or the animated food make a noise to entice them to open the centrally placed doors.  Peekaboo Fridge shakes the fridge door slightly, for a nice visual cue.  Touching the screen outside of the target will not activate the screen, leading the child to aim carefully and reducing random tapping. When the door(s) open, you see the animal and hear his bark/moo/oink, or see the food with a funny little sound. The app allows a few seconds for the child to identify the item, then speaks the name of the animal or food.  Tapping the screen again will close the door.  A new sound/movement will entice your child to tap again.  The barn animals make realistic sounds, but some children with auditory sensitivity have been startled unless the sound level is low.  Peekaboo Fridge sounds are  very subtle and quiet.  Again, plenty of opportunities to promote language with familiar animals and foods. The graphics are simple and colorful, making it easy for a young child to identify familiar details such as the sun or the clock. Your child cannot close the doors until the app has said the name of the animal or food, which again avoids the overstimulation that occurs when a young child wildly taps the screen without control or focus.  During the holiday season, the animals in Peekaboo Barn are wearing colorful hats and the barn has holiday lights and snow.

Peekaboo Ocean is more complex, but also more entertaining.  An object is just peeking above the waves, and only a direct tap on that object will reveal it.  All of the target items have an interactive component, so touch the full object when it appears.  The jellyfish are the least active (if you have met one, then you know that is a good thing!) and the mermaid actually speaks.  It is adorable when the child speaks back to her!   Not all of the other animals and objects in each screen will respond.  The expanding sea star and the spinning octopus and her brood are a delight to young children.  Most (but not all) sound effects are subtle but engaging.  Children with sensory processing issues or ASD can be startled by sounds that are not familiar, such as the submarine horn or the whale.  They may prefer to have the sound muted.  Your child progresses to the next page by tapping the arrow at the top right hand corner of the screen.  It is not very obvious to the youngest children, so an adult may need to advance it.  This can be an advantage if you would like to keep a child focused and interactive for longer periods.

Enjoy the look on your child’s face as they navigate the land of peekaboo!

Toddler Apps That Make Tiny Hands and Tiny Minds Work Together!

One of my favorite app designers are the folks at Tiny Hands.  They have a suite (but you can buy apps separately and get free mini trials) of apps for the 2-5 set that are progressive in challenge but consistently high in fun.

Since I am always looking for positive (read: active) tablet use, I like the way these apps require matching, categorization, counting or visual-percpetual skills to be rewarded at the end with a cute character suspended on pop-able balloons.  The graphics are very simple, and an over-excited toddler cannot tap themselves through.  They have to think.  Themes reflect topics that toddlers can recognize and nothing controversial.  There are no warring ninjas or exploding bombs.  But there are plenty of animals, vehicles, and even some music.  Levels of play are indicated, but the child is not restricted from trying higher levels.

As an occupational therapist, I love using the app crayon or the app stylus for these games.  The drag-and-drop function builds hand strength and control without a child realizing that they are doing so.  It is just so much fun.

Tiny hands gets tiny minds working too!

LEGO Apps That Your Child Really Wants to Play

Toddlers and preschoolers love tablets.  Wouldn’t it be terrific if parents could download apps that actually developed skills instead of just kept children happy?

The LEGO Duplo apps series for toddlers will enchant kids and their parents.  Occupational therapists like them because they develop perceptual and ocular control skills, as well as muscle strengthening when a child uses a stylus to accurately drag and drop objects in all planes of motion on the screen.  The five apps (train, zoo, circus, food, and ice cream) are simple enough for a 2.5 year old to navigate independently, and creative enough to keep playing without boredom on a cross-country flight.  A child moves objects around the screen or taps on them to build and drive a train, visit a zoo and deliver a present to a lion, serve food, or run a circus.  Children can make choices that result in a wide variety of outcomes that extend play and produce a sense of mastery.  Younger toddlers cannot wildly tap or move items accidentally, thus improving their focus and preventing meltdowns.  The apps are available for both the Apple and Android platforms.

My favorite of the five apps is the train, due to it’s entertaining sound effects and the wide appeal of trains for both boys and girls at this age.  But they are all fun and engaging for both children and parents.  Oh, did I mention that they are free?