The best iPhone apps for kids.

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Dec. 11 2009 4:40 PM

iPhone Time

Your list of the best apps for kids.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

Last week, I asked for recommendations for iPhone apps that amuse children. You responded—in droves. The iPhone has become the Swiss Army knife of mobile parenting. It soothes jumpy kids waiting in doctor's offices and marooned in car seats. It helps children who are dyslexic, dyspraxic, or just plain bored-at-home. It gives parents time to unload the dishwasher and "get 10 minutes of peace, maybe." Which is all you need, sometimes.

Babies as young as 9 months are able to press the home button, then press the "orange button," and watch videos. In general, kids appear to be careful iPhone guardians and will eventually relinquish it and move on to other activities. As one husband wrote: "My daughter was just 2.7 when I got my iPhone, and even then I found it was safer to give it to her than to my wife, who is a Facebook addict."

I also heard from many app developers. I wish you well on your journey to the top of the iTunes charts, and I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to try all of your creations. The apps in this article are those mentioned by parents. Let's go to your responses, starting with guilt and moving toward virtue.

iGunlitewhat better way for a toddler to blow off steam than with a realistic gun simulation app? Adults seem to like it too.

Fart for Free advertises itself as "the one and only fart soundboard you need." The uses for the app include "Entertain your little brother" and "Reminisce on past farts." My time with a 4-year-old suggests that they do not need encouragement to explore issues related to farting, but I can see how this app may be good for a laugh. Plus, it's interactive—setting up fake farts around Mom and so on. Much better than Pee Monkey, which I found disturbing, especially when the monkey pees in rainbow colors.

Pocket God is a game in which you throw pygmies into volcanoes and otherwise mess with them. It's pointless and fun—not unlike burning ants with a magnifying glass. Another highly touted game was Ragdoll Blaster, praised for its "problem-solving" aspects and accurate physics. Other vaguely educational games that received lots of votes were Doodle Jump, Geared, Boxed In, and JellyCar. The whole gaming question brings up a side issue of the competition between Mom's phone vs. Dad's phone. An iPhone mom writes: "I have all educational apps, my husband has Pocket God. Guess which phone my boys (6 and 4) prefer?"

SpinArt is the app version of the school fair staple. The electronic version does not include goth sixth-graders who collect tickets at the spinner and encourage you to squeeze more black on your creation. I've never understood the appeal of spin art but it amuses many throughout the world. The latest update includes glitter.

Sesame Street podcasts, while technically not an app, are a trusted tool in many an iPhone arsenal. They are educational and five to 10 minutes long, thus offering a natural endpoint to wrest the phone back from your little one.

Ocarina was a big surprise. This is the app that turns your phone into what is essentially a pan flute. You blow into the microphone to make sounds. The world has enough pan flutists, I think. But you insisted on the calming power of Ocarina, so I gave it a try on my 4-year-old. I can't even get that kid near a recorder but, lo and behold, he loved fooling around with the iFlute. One issue: He shoved the phone into his mouth like a real instrument, so there's a definite saliva-frying-the-motherboard danger here.

There were lots of painting/coloring apps that people liked, but Brushes received the most accolades. It was used to create a New Yorker cover! The app does require a modicum of dexterity though. For younger children, Colorama was praised as the most intuitive and frustration-free.

More Toast! is a little slice of genius. You make toast and put toppings on it. End of story. More Pizza! is also terrific. More Cowbell! is probably a bridge too far.

Bloom is a "generative music" app created by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers. When you touch the screen, the app draws expanding circles and plays Music for Airports­-type music. It will also play just by itself, which helps. The other app that falls into this "pleasantly distracting" category is trusty Koi Pond.

OccupyBaby was readers' preferred animal sounds and exploration app along Peekaboo Barn, which I mentioned in my last article.

With the gentle prodding of a parent, Toddler Flashcards helps teach shapes, colors, the alphabet, and so on. The app gets bonus virtue points for sounding words in French and Spanish. It's also preternaturally pleasing to swipe from one flashcard to the next.

Shape Builder is an example of a classic toy—silhouette puzzles—that I've had little success with in the real world, yet my son loves on the iPhone. In the real world, the wooden pieces typically get lost or launched across the room at some point. After playing with the iPhone edition, my son tried to show me a completed puzzle while I was in the shower. This is the app that was recommended by Slatereaders most often.

White Noise: What greater gift to the iPhone Mom than a toddler soothed to sleep by ocean sounds? White Noise tops the virtue scale because we all need more sleep. Think of the brain development going on in the crib while you tuck into a new game of Solitaire.

The dedicated iPhone parent will note that my list is incomplete. I did not delve into the math games, storybook apps, letter-writing apps, or the Balloonimals juggernaut—all staples of iPhone life. If you want more, take a look at www.bestkidsapps.com, an app review site written by two moms/bloggers/journalists.

P.S. Two words for all of the iPhone Dads out there: Dragon's Lair.

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