My four-almost-five-year-old son is an iPhone fiend. He has already mastered the interface, as is the duty of each new generation. By the time he’s an adult, computers will take the form of tiny chips inside our brains. In order to use them, we will simply have to think about doing so. I will, of course, call my son constantly, complaining that mine’s broken and that I don’t understand this stupid technology. If my son grows up to do anything remotely tech-related, I’ll also refer my friends to him when they’re having trouble working their newfangled mind-computers. I know he will love that.
But I digress. (Hey, you try sleeping in one-and-a-half-hour chunks for eight months, and then we’ll see how linear your train of thought is.) My son now has a shortlist of iPhone apps he loves. Here are his top five. In keeping with this site’s econo mentality, all are free.
1. Doodle Buddy. This drawing and painting app has been a favorite of my son’s for pert near two years (apparently, sleeplessness also makes me talk like an Appalachian mountain woman). It features paintbrushes of various thicknesses, chalk, and a cool smudging effect. There are also stamps with amusing sound effects. (My favorite? The poop, of course.) You shake the phone to erase the drawing and return to a blank canvas. The app also lets you use a photo from your iPhone gallery as a background for your drawing. Rather than draw rude things on people’s faces, as I would do, my angelic child (!) likes to make a solid layer of color over the top of the photo and then slowly erase it while he has you guess who’s underneath. Way to be far more mature than I’ll ever be, kid.
2. TiKL. Want to see a little boy laugh hysterically? Turn your iPhone into a walkie-talkie. Obviously, you need two iPhones for this to work. My husband and I both installed TiKL, and one of us went into another room, while the other one stayed with my son and sent messages back and forth. He’s still too young to care what “10-4, buddy, come on back,” means, but he finds TiKL completely enthralling nonetheless. (It also works way better than those lame phone things you shout into on the jungle gym at the park. They suck, amirite?)
3. Flow Free. My husband discovered this simple-looking connect-the-dots puzzle game, and was playing it one day when my son asked him what he was doing. My son got the hang of it quickly (angelic and a genius!), and it soon became a playtime activity he and Dad did together. You connect matching colors with pipes, avoiding crossing or overlapping them. The puzzles become more complicated as you level up. The Time Trial mode stresses my son out rather than motivating him, but some kids, especially older ones, might get a kick out of playing against the clock.
4. Pick-up Sticks. My son is getting really speedy at this classic game. You can choose to play against the clock or play in Casual mode, which involves wearing Gap khakis and slinging a pastel sweater around your shoulders. (I’m sorry. I think I have a fever.) It also features awesome Ben Folds Five-ish piano music in the background.
5. Talking John. This twisted little app seems to have no educational value, but look closer: it’s actually teaching your child about the superbugs we’ve created by not finishing our full courses of antibiotics. “John” is actually the collective name of several malevolent bacteria floating in the bloodstream. Push the syringe button on the left, and a yellow substance floods the screen. The bacteria howl with laughter at your futile attempts to rid them of their power. But wait – if you give them a pill, they frown, gulp and disappear. They also do this if you tap on them. If you give them a doughnut, they multiply. Oh, forget it: this makes no sense at all. Also, like your child, the bacteria repeat your words back to you in shrill mockery. I actually hate this app.
I did an informal survey of my Facebook friends to see what their kids love playing, and compiled a list of apps to download next, including some slightly more expensive options. I’ll keep you posted.