Let me start off by saying that I am not a fan of screen time for infants and toddlers. Although children’s television and apps did not exist when Maria Montessori was developing her theory of education, I am sure that they are the furthest thing from what she was advocating. Montessori is all about physical movement as a form of learning by doing — with 3D, real life objects. TV and apps just can’t give the child the same experience as working with real materials. In my classroom, I would NEVER give the infants or toddlers apps to play with instead of real work.
That being said, I’m not in the classroom right now. I’m a mom, and mom’s needs matter, too! I just went on a road trip with L, (see How to Survive a Road Trip with a Toddler), and I needed something to pull out in case nothing else was working as we were speeding down the highway. So I downloaded some apps for toddlers. I tested out many different apps before I settled on these, and they’re about as Montessori as an iPad app could be.
This trip was L’s first experience playing games on the iPad, so I had to give her a little tutorial before we left. I opened each app and showed her how to use them, since dragging objects across a screen was completely foreign to her. She caught on quickly, and she didn’t have to ask for help with any of the following apps while we were driving (L turned 2 at the end of February, for your reference).
Smart Baby Shapes Lite
This is one of my favorite apps, and probably the most Montessori. There are three different sections. In the first, you have to match the correct circle to its hole based on color. In the next section, you have to match the correct shape to its hole based on size. In the final section, you have to match the correct shape to its hole based on shape. It’s basically a digital shape sorter. The music is tolerable (for parents!), and there aren’t any pop up ads. Bonus: it’s a free app!
Toddler Flashcards HD
This app isn’t really a game, but it still proved entertaining for L. I heard her using it several times on our trip, but it also wasn’t irritating for the driver (me!). This app simply has a screen full of illustrations (animals and vehicles in the free version, which is what I got). When you click on one of the illustrations, it opens a flash card with a photograph of the animal. A voice speaks the name of the object, you hear the sound the object makes, and it says “object name” at the bottom.
Princess Lila’s Preschool Learning Games
L loves princesses, so I knew I needed to find a great princess app for her. This one is cute AND educational. It says “Preschool,” but it was easy enough for L to do most of the games. There is a free version with several of the functions available, but I paid $4.99 for the full version. This app includes games for counting, sorting objects, matching shapes, matching letters, and many others. The one game that I did NOT like is the Labyrinth game — the princess stands in the corner while you have to move the knight in shining armor to go save her. For real. THAT is not a lesson I want my daughter to learn. Luckily she couldn’t figure out how to make the knight move, and I didn’t show her.
Animals for Toddlers
This app was a bit young for L (if apps can BE young for a 2-year-old?!), but I did hear her using it a couple of times. The free version just has a scene of a farm, and when you click on each animal you can hear the sound it makes. Simple, yet apparently satisfying. It did get a tiny bit annoying, but only because L liked to click on the same animal as quickly as she could to make the same sound over and over…
I think I probably enjoyed this app more than L did, so it might be better suited to older toddlers. It’s basically just drawing, but it looks like you’re drawing with lights. You can also press the movie button to watch your drawing appear again. Free!
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Play at Home with Daniel
I bought these next three apps as a bundle for $6.99, and they were definitely the ones L used the most during our trip. I finally gave in and let L watch TV once in a while right before she turned 2. I chose Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood for a few reasons:
- It was the LEAST annoying children’s show I could find. I seriously cannot deal with Elmo’s screaming.
- I have fond memories of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood from when I was a kid.
- Although it is not really academically educational, it does focus on one of the most important parts of the Montessori classroom — grace and courtesy. It is a great show for talking about emotions and how to treat other people. We even sing the little jingles around the house when they apply to situations with L!
So, I knew these apps would be a hit for L. This first one has five different activities: In the first, you can make believe you’re a doctor and see what all of the different tools do to Daniel. In the next, you can play different instruments based on Daniel Tiger’s mood. In another, you can explore Daniel’s room and help him fall asleep. In the fourth activity, you can arrange stickers of all the characters on five different scenes from the show. In the final activity, you can explore Daniel Tiger’s bathroom.
Explore Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
This app would probably be best for an older toddler, but L still managed to enjoy herself. It’s basically a virtual neighborhood that you can explore — all of the shops from the show are there, and you can touch all of the objects that are usually in the background of the show.
Daniel Tiger’s Day & Night
This was probably L’s favorite Daniel Tiger app. It involves sequencing and teaches (the idea of) self-care skills, as you first start the day with Daniel and then have to go down through the list of things he has to do to get ready in the morning. You then do the same thing at night, although some of the tasks are slightly different. L loved giving Daniel a bath and brushing his teeth. The goodnight song that the mom sings is pretty annoying if you have to hear it more than once (as I did!). I had it stuck in my head when I was trying to sleep at the hotel the first night.
In our house, we’ve decided that playing on the iPad is only allowed on road trips. We are going on another road trip in June and again in July, so I’m glad that I spent money on some of these apps (while others were free) since we’ll be getting a lot of use out of them.
Do you have any other great educational apps for toddlers that your kids love?