A look at the inventive apps that exploit the iPad's child-friendly user-interface.
Apps for children not only entertain but educate
Resist it if you will, but the iPad is changing the way our children learn. Anyone who has witnessed an 11-month-old swipe on a touch-screen (as I did the other day) knows that technology is an inevitable - and integral - part of their future.
"What's wrong with a good book and some Fuzzy Felt?" some parents will groan at the thought of their three-year-old being glued to a screen. But in the right hands, technology can be an inspiring thing.
It's not all about games (although there is a place for those, too). If you could have made Alice grow and shrink on the page during her adventures in Wonderland (Alice for the iPad, Dh35) wouldn't you have wanted to? I know learning my letters would have been a lot more fun if two jubilant animated pencils had cheered me on when I finally got my "s" right (abc PocketPhonics, Dh12). And sketchpads? Please. The iPad's large touch-screen was made for doodling, and can save all your masterpieces for posterity (Chalkboard Pro, Dh4).
We have selected 10 of the best apps for the up to five age range. All you have to do is lure your children off it so you can check your email. Or, ahem, play Monopoly.
Wheels on the Bus HD (Dh9, iTunes)
This whimsical version of the song is brilliantly interactive, allowing you to "swish" the windscreen wipers and "pop" the fishes' bubbles. Best of all are the music and language options. Fancy hearing the song in Gibberish? Or even recording yourself singing it? Car journeys need never be tedious again.
Peekaboo: Ladybird Baby Touch (Dh12, iTunes)
Who doesn't love a game of Peekaboo? Perfect for the very small, there are four "environments", each of which allows you to explore different pictures, words and sounds. The colours are lovely and vibrant, and there are lots of interactive options to maintain the interest of little ones.
Toddler Counting (Dh4, iTunes)
Repetition, they say, is fundamental to learning; which is what makes this counting practice game so good. Up come some pizzas. You count them, with the machine. If you get it right you get applause. Same with the cows. And the fruit. This is a great way to familiarise preschoolers with numbers.
Magic Piano HD (Dh4 iTunes)
Almost as fun for parents as it is for children, this slightly surreal circular keyboard means you can deliver satisfying flourishes of sound, or play individual notes. The really fun bit, though, is the songbook, which, with a little guidance, has you playing Moonlight Sonata like a pro. Extra features allow you to listen to other players around the world, or even - and this is really mind-boggling - play a duet with someone in, say, Buenos Aires.
Drawing Pad (Dh9, iTunes)
With limitless options for paper, pencil and even glittery pens, babies and children can scribble ad infinitum on this user-friendly drawing app. Such is the suitability of the iPad to artwork that you soon forget you're not drawing for real. The technological advantage of this sketchpad, though, means you can pull up photographs from your albums and sketch on top of them. Mean old cousin Roger can finally get the treatment he deserves.
My Very First App (Dh9, iTunes)
Eric Carle of The Very Hungry Caterpillar fame is responsible for the lovely collage artwork in this simple but charming app that includes colour, word and memory games. Three levels of difficulty make it suitable for very young children as well as their older siblings.
Abc PocketPhonics (Dh12, iTunes)
Young children can practise writing letters and making the correct sounds before moving on to more complex word games - all to some delightfully jaunty music. And did we mention the cheering writing utensils? Just enough flattery to keep them at it for hours.
Animal Blocks (Dh9, iTunes)
Drag the correct letter blocks on to the board to make the word in this nicely illustrated spelling app. The letters all feature a corresponding animal, while moving the blocks encourages the development of fine motor skills. It all sounds a bit dry, but when you can alternate your backdrop between some fluffy clouds and the Milky Way it feels anything but.
Elmo's Monster Maker (Dh15, iTunes)
With the help of everyone's favourite muppet, you can create your own monster using a number of different body and face options. Once that's done, you can make him do any number of things, including laugh by tickling him under the arms, or fall over. OK so it's not going to turn them into Einstein, but even toddlers need some downtime, right?
Nighty Night! (Dh4, iTunes)
Part story and part game, this beautifully animated bedtime scene allows you to move through the house turning out all the lights and putting the animals to bed. Created by the Oscar-nominated animator Heidi Wittlinger, this is a lovely way to help children wind down in the evening.
Alice for the iPad
The illustrations in this 52-page abridged version of Lewis Carroll’s classic are astounding and well worth the expense. Interactive features include lizards that leap and a Mad Hatter’s head that wobbles when you shake the device.
Toy Story Read-Along (free, iTunes)
Few can criticise the iPad as a learning tool when it comes to books like this one. Let the narrator read the story to you, or you can record yourself reading it. Either way, it has tons of interactive features including games, characters’ voices, film clips and colouring pages.
Spot Goes to School (Dh17, iTunes)
Join the famous little yellow dog on his first day at school. Instead of lifting a flap, hidden pictures are revealed when you touch the screen. There’s even a game to tidy up Spot’s table, which you mess up first by shaking the iPad.
The Cat in the Hat
Read this classic story or have it read to you. If the latter, then words are highlighted to increase word recognition. Geisel’s imaginative illustrations look fabulous and there are even some background sound effects to add to the fun.
Miss Spider’s Tea Party (Dh17, iTunes)
For the marvellous illustrations, animation and music in this cleverly conceived story it seems cheap at the price. A treat for parents and children.