5 amazing smartphone apps for kids

 

With over half a million apps in the iTunes Store and Android marketplace, it is hard to find the best kid apps worth downloading.

Here is a look at five apps that are unique and special. Some are popular, but others you may never have heard of. Some are free. All are worth downloading.

Painting with Time

— Red Hill Studios, best for ages 5-up, Free, iPad. 4 stars (out of 4)

This fascinating app lets kids explore how things change over time. Kids choose from tubes of paint that represent different intervals of time. For a landscape photo, the tubes are labeled fall, winter, spring, and summer. After selecting a tube of time, kids run their finger over the photo to magically transform it into the selected season. For a photo of a man growing a beard, the tubes represent the starting time, 10 days, 20 days and 30 days. You can also see a woman age, a glacier retreat and the tide come in. Funded in part from a grant from the National Science Foundation, this if the first in a series of apps that lets you learn by "painting" with time.

Hogworld: Gnarts Adventure

— Snow Castle, best for ages 4-8, $4.99, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, Mac App. 4 stars (out of 4)

Combining an animated movie-like experience with interactive book app elements, kids listen, play, and watch as this magical story about a brave little hog-bunny named Gnart unfolds. Gnart has a tusk-ache, and he needs to travel quickly across the woods to the dentist so that he can make it back to his friend's surprise birthday party. The trip across the dark wood seems a little scary to Gnart, but his friend Bibi the bee goes with him. It turns out to be filled with adventure, including falling down a well, riding a mine cart and swimming across a bog on the back of a frog. With stunning 3D visuals, a varied soundtrack, great voice acting and interactions that are seamlessly incorporated into the story, kids will be transported into another world. It is one of the most sophisticated yet accessible book apps published so far.

Cinderella - Nosy Crow Animated Picture Book

Nosy Crow, best for ages 4-8, $7.99, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. 4 stars (out of 4)

This modern rendition of the classic fairytale demonstrates just how far children's book apps have evolved. While this app can read the story out loud or kids can choose to read it themselves, it is the playfulness within the story that makes it delightful. Kids help Cinderella clean the kitchen and dress the stepsisters for the ball, they open the confetti-filled invitation from the king and assist the fairy godmother in creating the pumpkin carriage. But it is the special bells and whistles that set this book app apart, including having your child's image appear inside all mirrors hanging on the walls (if read on an iPad 2). By tapping on the characters, they talk to you, move the story along and suggest other things for you to explore. Reading this fairytale is a charming experience filled with wonder.

Out-A-Bout

— Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College, best for ages 3-5, $1.99, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. 3.5 stars (out of 4)

This unique app encourages physical play while also teaching early reading skills. It creates a fun parent-child interaction because it asks the parent to take photos of the child doing active things like jumping three times while pointing at the sky or pretending to be a gorilla swinging from a tree branch. After snapping 14 photos of kids doing silly things, the app places the photos inside a pre-developed story about your child befriending a monkey. Some of the photos contain superimposed art images like the one where your child appears to be cradling the cartoony monkey in his arms. The app also allows kids to record their name, and uses this recording while reading the story out loud and highlighting words. You can even e-mail the photo storybook to yourself, grandparents or friends.

Auryn - Van Gogh and the Sunflowers

— Auryn Inc., best for ages 6-11, 99 cents, iPad. 4 stars (out of 4)

Drawing from actual events in Van Gogh's life, Laurence Anholt's book weaves a story about how a little boy named Camille befriends the artist. Camille and his family appeared in paintings created by Van Gogh. This interactive story reveals how, although Van Gogh painted vibrant paintings of the village people and its surroundings, the townspeople of Camille's village thought the painter was odd and ostracized him. But Camille and his family accepted Van Gogh and saw the genius of his work. The book contains 19 puzzles which kids play to bring the characters within the book to life. By tapping illustrations of characters, kids can activate a mode that lets them see the gears and mechanisms that would make the character move. By tapping again on the character, the mechanisms spring apart so that kids can connect them once again. When they do, the character will now appear to animate in the story. Kids can also use simple art tools to repaint the characters so that they appear on the pages how they would like them to look. With soothing background music and the ability to be transported to a museum for closer inspection of Van Gogh's work, this is a great way for kids to learn about this artist and 10 of his famous paintings.