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Join a curious little bug as he searches for his special talent in this debut picture book app from Jackie Littman ($2.99 iTunes). As the little bug explores the garden, he meets other bugs who show off their special talents. The ants show him how they tunnel underground, the bees fill honeycomb with honey, and snails can climb upside down. In the end, it's the spider who shows the little bug how to spin thread. Using his new talent, the little bug spins a cocoon and emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

There's a lot to love in this app, which has quickly become one of my favorites.

  1. The app is truly a work of art. Each page is highly interactive, with every element on the page responding to a tap with movement and sound. Created as a master thesis as part of a MFA program, everything in this app--illustrations, fonts, music--was made specifically for this app. Older children interested in designing apps or picture books might be interested in the blog the developer kept during the process.
  2. The Little Bug is suitable for a wide range of ages, and it has so much replay value. Young children will enjoy listening to the story, learning about bugs, or finding the hidden ladybug on each page. As your children grow so do opportunities to talk about each bug's special talent and the life cycle of a butterfly.
  3. Learning continues when the iPad is turned off. Because so many of these bugs can be seen in the summer, The Little Bug is the perfect book to read before heading outside to play or to go on a nature walk. Why not read the book app and then go for a walk to see how many bugs you can find? Then head to the library to learn more about the bugs you saw on your walk. Additionally, the developer has created free activity sheets to accompany the app. These sheets can be downloaded near the bottom of the developer's website.
  4. Kids really do like this app. I had the chance to use this app in a family storytime recently. The kids loved telling me when they found the hidden ladybug (and, believe me, they told me as loudly as they could.) The katydid surprised many of them, too, as most of the kids had never seen or heard of one previously. And it wasn't just the kids who enjoyed the app at that storytime. A number of parents wanted to know where they could download the app. 

If I have one quibble with the app, it's that the app doesn't highlight words as they're being read. However, with the entertaining yet educational storyline and gorgeous and interactive illustrations, the app is definitely one to add to your collection. 

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Love to make things? Love to use your tablet or smartphone? Check out some of these apps for all ages that encourage you to use your imagination!


Toca Builders - Create a whole new world by using six builders. If you can imagine it, you can build it. $.99-2.99. Available for Apple and Android devices.

Tap a Tune-Kids Music Maker - Write your own songs. As you play, the app records your voice, so feel free to sing along! Free. Available for Apple devices.

Our Book by Us - Every family has a story. Listen as SugarLoaf tells her story and then tell your own through drawings and text. Available for Apple and Android devices. Also available in Spanish as Nuestro Libro.


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Grandma Loves Bugs by Fairlady Media (iPad/iPhone $2.99) is a fun educational app that centers on bugs. Does your grandma run screaming from the spider in the tub? Not this grandma! She uses bugs in ten mini games to teach children about letters, counting, and about bugs themselves. Sometimes she gets so excited by your success that she does a little dance! Not all children are going to feel friendly towards creepy-crawlies, but this app is a safe, low-anxiety way of making a child feel comfortable with insects.

While most of the games are rather pedestrian (like matching the letters on the flowers to the letters the bugs are carrying) there are some nice surprises as well. One of the activities is using a magnifying glass to examine the picture of a bug. Children can maneuver the magnifying glass over different parts of the bug while Grandma explains what part they’re looking at. In the sequence of games are surprise videos of real bugs that Grandma teaches you about.

There is a lot of variety in the games, and ten games repeated with different variations begins to feel like a whole lot of different games. These games can be customized for the child’s level. Any of the games can be taken away at an adult’s discretion if a child becomes frustrated, or if it’s too easy. You can also chose to turn the music off--always an appreciated option.

And if this app fires a new appreciation for bugs in your little one, remember that the library has a whole lot of books to support their enthusiasm!

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Inventioneers by Filimundus AB (Free, iTunes/Android) offers elementary ages through adult the opportunity to learn physics by making your own inventions. The free download of Inventioneers offers one open “chapter.”  This one chapter is more than enough to tell you whether you’d like to make the one-time purchase of $1.99 to open five other chapters and the Create Your Own Invention section.  Each chapter is actually a setting in which you create inventions to solve problems.  There are 42 “pages” in each chapter, each page offering a progressively more difficult task. 

You build inventions, taking forces like gravity into account, to accomplish tasks.  To start with, the app lets you work on simple problems, only giving you the props you need to make your inventions.  Sort of like handing you all the pieces to a slingshot, telling you that a rock needs to hit a can and letting you figure out how to put the pieces together to accomplish the task.  At first, you aren’t quite sure what to do.  Then, through experimentation, you figure it out and success lures you on.  While the chapters give you a task to accomplish, the Create section allows you to imagine your own task, sparking even greater creativity.

This app isn’t for preschoolers.  It would be appropriate for parents and elementary kids to sit down together and work through the problems (if the parent could resist taking over!)  The app has the potential to spark all kinds of conversations and Rube Goldberg machines.  The vast number of possibilities and the educational aspects make the expansion of this free app worth the in-app purchase price.

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Kalley’s Machine Plus Cats ($2.99 iPad/iPhone) is a fun little story with great graphics and interactivity.

A little girl named Kalley has invented a marvelous machine. On each screen, she shows her father different parts of the machine, each one interactive. You can pull the levers, push the buttons, use the puffer and the smasher, paint things different colors (and combine primary colors to create secondary colors), and sort things into different bins. Kalley’s father thinks all of this is wonderful, but he’s baffled by the point of all this machinery. The little girl finally explains that this machine makes food so that her father won’t have to go to work, but can stay home with her. Sadly, her father explains to her that he works for more than just the ability to purchase food. In reply, Kalley proclaims that she’ll just make machines to do those things too!

The good:

·        The interactivity is pretty fabulous. There’s enough stuff here to keep kids playing with it for a long time, and it’s sneakily educational.

·        Background music and narration are optional.


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Love Curious George? Well, he's at it again. Only this time, you get to help him! The Man in the Yellow Hat provides instructions that make it easy for children to navigate through Draw with Curious George by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (iTunes $0.99). The app contains four sections:

  1. Color and Draw – Pick any picture to start coloring, or chose a blank piece of paper. Use your finger to color in the picture using a color wheel. For kids who hate going outside the lines, one choice ensures that all your colors will stay inside. You may also choose to decorate with stamps and stickers, or change the background. Don’t forget to try the cool mirror painting option!
  2. Connect the Dots – Curious George cheers you on as you follow the numbers to connect the dots. A green line shows that you’re going to the right place, a red line which won’t connect shows you when you’re off. Once you connect the numbers, the picture appears and all the same options as Color and Draw display. As you complete Connect the Dots pages, new and harder pages unlock.
  3. Tracing – Virtually the same as connect the dots; tracing substitutes for connecting the dots.
  4. Art Gallery – All of the first three options offer the ability to take a snapshot of the art which is then stored in the art gallery. Up to thirty images may be stored.

At any point in the first three options, Curious George might accidentally splash paint on your artwork. You can let the Man in the Yellow Hat clean it up for you or you can wipe it all away with your finger.

The app also allows you to set up three people to whom your child may email photos of their artwork. The Help and Information sections provide more information about the app. There are no in-app purchases.


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Disco Fingers - With the tap of your finger, pick a sound and pitch to create original songs. The app does include in-app purchases but is still a lot of fun without any. Free. Available for Apple devices.

Fish Chase, a Reading and Playing Story - Oh no! A goldfish has escaped! Read the book to follow the goldfish's adventure and retrace his steps. Free. Available for Apple devices.

Hat Monkey - Created by Chris Haughton, Hat Monkey needs help performing everyday tasks, like turning pages or opening doors. Kids will also have a chance to talk with Hat Monkey. $2.99. Available for Apple devices.

Dino-Store - What would happen if you went to the grocery store to buy eggs and came home with baby dinosaurs instead? (Warning: Laughs abound in this app!) Free. Available for Apple devices.


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Sago Mini Monsters by Sago Sago (iPad/Android) is a wonderful little app for kids.  There are no in-app purchases, although there is a link to Sago Sago’s newest creation on the home page.

The app starts with a monster shape rising out of the slime pit at the bottom of the screen.  Color dots appear on the bottom that you can use to color your monster however you wish.  Once you’re done coloring, tap the check mark at the top of the page and horns, eyes, and a mouth appear on your monster.  If you wish, you can pull these things off and new ones will appear to take their place. Now he’s animated and ready to eat!

Food appears in the slime.  You lift it out and feed it to him.  Your monster will love this!  But, as he eats, his teeth become increasingly dirty.  Yuck!  When he’s done eating, it’s time to brush his teeth.  Brush until his teeth are nice and white again.

Once his teeth are clean, accouterments like hats, mustaches, worms and stars appear in the slime.  These can be put onto your monster, moved around, and taken off.  He happily puts up with this whole procedure, making little noises the entire time.  Once you’re done, press the check mark again and a new monster shape appears to play with.

Preschoolers love this app, and the subtle reinforcement of the need for brushing teeth doesn't hurt, either.  Even better, while they are playing they are learning the motor skills and control needed to write with their fingers as they have to color and move objects around.  The fine motor skills needed for brushing the monster’s teeth are worthwhile in themselves.

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Remember building with blocks? The best part of all was knocking them down, right? There was nothing quite as satisfying as the crash and scatter of those colorful blocks. Well, there’s an app that is almost as satisfying: BridgeBasher by Jundroo LLC, which combines construction, physics, scientific testing, and the pleasure of destruction (iPhone/iPad: $0.99/Android: Free).

To begin, the app shows a picture of a span across a chasm with a grid of dots over it. Lazy clouds float past. Your job is to draw from dot to dot to create a bridge across the chasm. Sounds ridiculously simple, doesn’t it? Well, it is. But the fun is just beginning.

After you’ve created your bridge, you naturally have to test it. You have three testing options: balls, words, and joint weights. If you choose balls, you’ll be adding weighty balls to the bridge until the bridge crashes. Next, try the words. These words describing the weight that they are imitating (Light, Not So Light, Kinda Heavy, etc) rattle across the bridge like a train. The bridge flexes and bounces while changes in color demonstrate the stresses on the bridge and show you the weaknesses in your construction until the whole thing dramatically gives way. Next, use a touch to add weights to the joints of the bridge. This will also lead to eventual collapse. Once you’re done with each test, the app gives you a score and a (sometimes snarky) comment about the strength of your bridge. Build your bridge strong enough and the app will tell you to quit wasting time and go do something productive!

After each test, you may go back in and edit your bridge, strengthening or changing it. BridgeBasher also offers the option of sharing your bridges with friends so they can destroy them, too. A small button at the top middle of the screen gives you the cost of the bridge as you’re building it, adding a great financial awareness component to the app. 

Preschoolers will enjoy this app with a grown-up, and it’s great for elementary kids through adult.

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Finger painting is a tremendous amount of fun. But let’s face it. It’s messy. Some kids hate getting their fingers dirty, and most adults hate cleaning up. Now the Finger Paint with Sounds app (iPad/Android) by Inclusive Technology Ltd. not only allows kids to finger paint without getting dirty, but also throws in the fun of music or sound effects.

The app provides clear directions for use; choices for no sound, music, or sound effects; multi-touch and single touch options, and contains no in-app purchases. 

The blank screen has seven half-circles of color on the edges. Touch one of these and every touch on the screen after that is that color and has that individual sound until you touch another color. A double tap in the corner allows you to exit the screen or clear it. It’s that simple! Preschoolers adore this app, and the single touch selection lets them practice the fine motor skills they need for writing in kindergarten. It’s an Early Literacy Skills builder cleverly disguised as a lot of fun. Shhhhh—don’t tell! 

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Children love to use their imagination to create made-up worlds and tell stories about that world. Whether they're saving the city from an evil villain or picking out a new pet puppy, children are actually developing a key early literacy skill while telling these stories. Toys or apps that encourage open-ended play and storytelling are a great way to develop these narrative skills. 

App developers such as Sago Sago and Toca Boca have earned accolades by developing their free-play apps, but with the release of Hoopa City, TribePlay seeks to join their ranks, especially since the app is available at iTunes ($2.99), Google Play (free with IAP), and Amazon ($2.99).

To start, you'll complete a brief, wordless tutorial, showing you how to build your city with just a few taps. After that, it's up to you. Build a sprawling city, beach resort, suburban neighborhood, or don't plan at all!

To build something, you'll choose one of seven elements and then tap a square. Elements can be combined to create more than 50 objects for your city. One of the best parts about the app is that it doesn't tell you which elements to combine. You'll have to use trial and error to see what you can build. (Don't worry, though. If you forget how to build something, the app provides a cheat sheet, but not until after you've discovered it on your own.)


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Trucks HD by Duck Duck Moose (iTunes) $1.99

Trucks has five fun activities including a car wash, first you get your car nice and muddy, and construction vehicles.  Ages 3 and up.

Toca Cars by Toca Boca  (iTunes, Google Play) $2.99

Pick a character and drive around the course or build your own course.  As with all Toca creations there is tons of silliness!  Ages 3 and up.


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One of the ways to help kids get ready to learn to read is by letting them practice writing.  Holding a crayon, coloring, painting—all these activities help children develop the fine motor skills they will need to pick up a pencil in kindergarten and begin writing.  Well, there’s a fun app that helps with these fine motor skills, too.  It’s called Dipdap and is available for iPad ($2.99), Android  ($1.99), and Kindle Fire ($1.99).  Dipdap is a little critter who interacts with your child’s animated drawings.

There are two sections to Dipdap:  

  1.  There are 16 adventures available for play.  Your child can chose to play the adventure without interacting, or chose to interact by drawing. Dipdap wordlessly presents a scenario to the child, like trying to reach the stars.  Then, the dashed outline of a rocket is presented.  The child traces the rocket outline, and can chose colors or any other add-ins he would like to draw.  Then, Dipdap climbs into the drawn rocket and shoots off into space, bouncing off of stars as he goes.  It’s pretty heady stuff for a cartoon character to jump into something you’ve drawn!
  2. There is also a drawing sketchpad in which the child can draw anything they would like.  Dipdap sits at the bottom of the page and watches the drawing, actively moving his eyes to whatever part of the screen is being touched.  He doesn’t interact with the drawing besides watching it, but the drawing can be “photographed” and saved to the pictures section of the tablet.

      There are no in-app purchases, and there are parental controls that allow you to change the music, sounds, and guides.  Dipdap is so much fun that you might even be tempted to play yourself!

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Toca Kitchen Monsters (iTunes, Google Play)


Choose a monster and feed it tasty treats out of the refrigerator!  This app has two monsters, eight foods, and five kitchen devices to provide tons of silly kitchen fun.  Ages 3 and up.


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New backpack, new sneakers, new pencils—it’s back to school time! With all the wonderful newness of a school year beginning, there often comes the awful age-old problem that stumps parents: how do I protect my child from bullies? Or worse, what do I do if my child is the bully? experts at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have put their heads together to find a way to help and have come up with a new app to help parents find their way through this minefield. The KnowBullying app is available for free on both iPad/iPhone and Android.

The app features:

  • Conversation starters to help parents open and maintain lines of communication with their children.
  • Tips for preventing bullying, designed for use with different age groups.
  • Warning signs to help parents recognize when a child might be bullying others or being bullied themselves.
  • Going to be driving to a soccer game? The app lets you set reminders to use those conversation starters in the car on the way.  You may also set reminders for different children.
  • Suggestions for handling bullying once it occurs, and working with educators to successfully resolve problem situations.

The app is simple and straightforward with an easily navigable list of resources. Fortunately for parents with school age children, there’s a ton of helpful information here—enough to fill that brand new backpack!

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As far as children are concerned, dinosaurs are right up there with pony rides, no bedtime, and unlimited ice cream.  And what could be better than an app that shows these amazing creatures in action?  Not much.  The app BBC Earth: Walking with the Dinosaurs makes them come to life and children go nuts.

The home page of the app offers three different options: Features, Dinosaur Hunters, and Dinosaurs.


Features provides:

  • Different screens with general information about dinosaurs and their environment
  • Information about different periods (Jurassic, etc.)
  • Famous discovery sites
  • How fossils are formed and excavated
  • Divisions of dinosaurs



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That's right! There's more! Here's our last batch of awesome science apps for this summer.

Ages 2-5:


Lipa Frog Help the frog find his lost crown by catching the correct number of bugs. Free. Available for Apple and Android devices.

Patterns by EdNinja - Can you predict which object comes next? As children progress through the app, the difficulty of the questions will change too, so there will always be something new to play. $.99. Available for Apple devices.


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Toca Robot Lab

Toca Robot Lab is a great app for technically minded kids (or anyone who thinks robots are way cool!)  The way the app works is that you build a robot using one of three pieces each for legs, torso, head, and arms.  Then, you test the robot by flying it around the lab collecting stars until a conveyer takes it away to be approved.

The app has great sound effects—screwing and welding noises when the parts are being attached, sputtering flying noises when the robots fly, and satisfying clanks when it gets taken off on the conveyor belt.  The background music is non-intrusive and doesn’t make you want to stab an ice pick in your ear, so that’s a big plus.

There weren’t any glitches during use.  There were enough obstacles in the lab to make flying interesting, and children caught on to what they needed to do to make the robot fly around obstacles very quickly.  The robot parts had enough “wear” on them to make them look like recycled bits, and were satisfyingly interesting to look at, with things that looked like old computer screens, astronaut helmets, pinwheels, old hoses, etc.

There are some free robot lab apps out there, but the in-app purchases can quickly become irritating. Toca Robot Lab was well worth the price at $2.99.

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There are so many good science apps that we just had to share some more with you! 


Ages 2-5:


I Love Mountains - Do you know where the tallest mountain on Earth is located? How about the tallest mountain in the galaxy? Discover these and other amazing facts about mountains in this simple yet factual book app. Free. Available for Apple devices.


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Start your summer off with a bang! The following apps are great ways to explore the surrounding world and to continue building science knowledge throughout the summer. Work together as a family or individually for some great science fun.

Ages 2-5:


Lipa KnightA scary ogre has kidnapped the princess! Use your prediction skills to help the knight build bridges in order to reach the princess. Free. Available for Apple devices.

Piiig LabsComplete 10 interactive science experiments in a mess-free environment. Make a radio or exploding volcano and then learn about the science behind each activity. $2.99. Available for Apple devices.


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Take a walk in any of Henrico County's local parks and you might find (or hear) some frogs hanging out near the water. What better way to celebrate the transition between spring and summer than hopping into your local library to check out some of these great books and activities.


Picture Books:

Jump! by Scott M. Fischer - In addition to the rhyming text, Jump! is perfect for antsy toddlers and preschoolers who love to jump. Rather than have children sit for the story, encourage them to act out the plot. They'll jump a lot and have a lot of fun in the process!

Ribbit! by Rodrigo Folguiera - A family of frogs discovers an unexpected visitor one morning when they find a pig in their pond. Lots of animals are introduced as the frogs try to decide what to do with this little pink pig, making this book a wonderful way to practice animal sounds with younger children and talk about friendship with older ones. And, of course, everyone can have fun saying "ribbit!"


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These are some great apps to help preschool children (ages 3-5) get ready to read and write.






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Still hoping for more snow? 

Have fun with these great iPad apps.  All the fun, none of the cold!

Make a Scene: Polar Adventure $2.99

Make a variety of pictures using polar animals and backgrounds.  Includes realistic animal sounds. Ages 2 and up.