The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Having a kid aged zero to five means constantly having to come up with entertaining diversions. Fortunately, even this early, the iPad is absolutely brimming with those. If you have a small kid, the iPad bandwagon beckons.

There's no trick to it, no Jobsian black magic: Touchscreens were made for little kids, and the bigger the touchscreen, the better. Sure the touchscreens get smudged and salivated upon, but it's nothing that oleophobic coating can't handle with a little help from Mr. Sleeve. iPads do break however, so I encourage you (with all my heart) to buy the $39 iPad Case, or something like it—it's eased quite a few blows to our iPad, and it makes the device itself easier to grip and to keep clean, too.

Some of my favorite kid-friendly apps are just "HD" versions of iPhone apps, and that is all they need to be. Others are new apps created specifically for the iPad's more spacious screen. What's great is the quality and diversity of apps available already, with more popping up each day. Here are the best of the bunch, a month after the iPad showed its glossy face:

Drawing and Coloring

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Drawing Pad ($2)
I love this app, with its long multicolored gamut of crayons, its equally ambitious assortments of pencils and brushes, its big fat erasers. Oh, and its stickers. You can't have a kids app without stickers these days. But Drawing Pad keeps them classy—they float like Photoshop layers that you can delete if you don't like them. [iPad only - iTunes link]

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Color & Draw ($2)
Coloring books have been around since the Crayola Brothers discovered an alternative use for candle wax.* But if the kid is in a car or on the potty, you'll need a virtualized version. This is it. Hopefully new versions will have added pages, but for little kids, this should suffice. [iPad only - iTunes link]

*Note: This is an unverified fact, one that I, in fact, made up just now.

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Kid Art ($1)
I like Kid Art because kids can decide between undersea, school and outdoor themes, and that it plays ridiculous polka music while the kid is trying to decide. They can use freehand or stickers, and if they turn out a masterpiece, it's a one-click snapshot to save it. [iPad only (but version available for iPhone) - iTunes link]

Letters and Numbers

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Fish School ($1)
Fish School is an unexpected new direction for the Duck Duck Moose developer, maker of my all-time favorite iPhone diversions for kids: Old MacDonald, Wheels on the Bus and Itsy Bitsy Spider. Instead of a single song and activity, Fish School entails many different activities, from naming numbers and letters to guessing colors and playing memory matching games. It does keep consistent in two ways: It's lots of fun, and amazingly musical. [iPad only (but version available for iPhone) - iTunes link]

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Toddler Counting ($1)
There's a bunch of cows, and you count them with your finger. The program counts with you, and then applauds when you're done. Then there are a bunch of strawberries. You count those. Applause. Sound boring? Not to a 2-year-old. That positive reinforcement puts a huge smile on their face every single time. [Works on iPad and iPhone - iTunes link]

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

5-in-1 Kids Pack HD ($1)
Memory matching games of all kinds—pick the size of the grid, whether you want to match pictures, numbers or letters, whether you want it timed or not. It's great for kids ages 4 to 6, who are finally getting the hang of memory and critical thinking. iPad only (but version available for iPhone) - iTunes link]

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

AlphaBaby ($1)
This might be the absolute simplest of the bunch: Touch the screen and a letter (or number, or shape) appears, touch it again, a new one appears. At any given time there can be up to six, and you can scale them big or small, and fling them around the rectangle with some neat bouncy physics. A voice says the name of the letter, number or shape out loud when its touched. Honestly, I'd think it wasn't such a big deal, but my kid thinks it's great. [Works on iPad and iPhone - iTunes link]

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Letters A to Z ($1)
A slightly different take on the alphabet, this one is more traditional, more artistic—a nice complement to the zanier AlphaBaby. [iPad only (but version available for iPhone) - iTunes link]

Animals, Sounds and Music

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Animal Fun (free)
A nice long list of animals, complete with photos and accompanying sounds. If it weren't free, I'd have skipped it, because they didn't even bother to use higher-rez photos when they blew it up from the iPhone version. But the more I thought about it, the harder it was to part with any index that includes quetzals and orcas among the zebras and elephants. [Works on iPad and iPhone - iTunes link]

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

I Hear Ewe (free)
A free app of surprisingly high quality—and no apparent promotional angling—this one's got 24 animal cards, and another page of 12 vehicles, each identified in a clear voice before you hear its reasonably authentic sound. I only cast doubt on the supposed sound a fish makes—a steady stream of bubbles. Eventually your kid will grow up to realize the truth, that fish are quiet. Too quiet. [Works on iPad and iPhone - iTunes link]

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Sound Touch ($2)
A more ambitious panel of cool pictures and sounds, this is worth it because it includes musical instruments, and because each item has four photos attached to it, so even if your kid hits the same thing over and over (as kids often do), the app switches things up nicely. Skip the "lite" version—it's basically just a nagging ad to get you to spend $2. [Works on iPad and iPhone - iTunes link]

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Smule Magic Piano ($1)
Smule is a favorite publisher of weird musical apps for the iPhone, but the Magic Piano breaks new ground, being not just supersized for iPad, but more accessible to young kids. But not just young kids: The coolest feature is a Guitar Hero-style rhythm game you play with classical tunes like Beethoven's Für Elise. [iPad only - iTunes link]

Reading Time

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Toy Story, Toy Story 2, The Princess and the Frog Read Along (Toy Story, free; others titles, $9)
Disney knows you're going to balk at the $9 sticker price on their interactive ebooks, so—like a good crack dealer—they give you the first one for free. They're really great looking, with interactive coloring books, puzzles and singalongs in addition to full readings of the stories spliced with movie clips. And as someone who's been a little irritated by the poor quality of Pixar's storybook adaptations in general, I was happy to see that this team is doing a nice job keeping a coherent story going without staying so faithful to the script that your kid gets lost in pointless detail. Try Toy Story first—if you like it, go for the others. [iPad only - Toy Story link]

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Miss Spider's Tea Party ($10)
This is the most expensive app on my list, but man, it's really good. A different title by the same artist, Miss Spider's New Car, is one of the only books in my kid's library that I look forward to reading, because it's so insanely conceived and psychedically illustrated. These folks are genius, and when you take that and layer in impressive animation, music and narration, it's just got to cost some money. This is apparently the first of many Miss Spider iPad apps, which is good for my kid, bad for my credit card. [iPad only - iTunes link]

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Dr. Seuss's The Cat In The Hat and The Lorax ($3, $4)
Great prices for great Geisel greatness, these books are even better because they run on both iPad and iPhone, for maximum parental support. Lord love a Lorax! [Works on iPad and iPhone - iTunes links for Cat and Lorax]

The Best iPad Apps for Babies, Toddlers and Sanity-Loving Parents

Alice ($9)
Oh Alice, when will we ever tire of you? I was tempted to leave this one off the list because Rosa already did a nice writeup on it, and because it's really meant for older kids. But my two-year-old is absolutely smitten by the artwork, and by the leapin' lizard on page 17, so you should consider it if you're on a splurge. [iPad only - iTunes link]

Since my expertise stems from interactions with my precocious two-year-old daughter, I've capped this list off at around five years of age. If you want to share some great apps for slightly older children, feel free to email me or, better yet, post a screenshot and description in the comments below.