A few friends have recently asked me for iPhone app recommendations for kids. My friend Annemarie took suggestions from me and others, and wrote up a fantastic list of iPhone apps for kids and parents on yoyomama. I shared my own list of 12 iPhone apps for toddlers and young kids, and suggested a few more to a Facebook friend who asked for ideas: Spider, Touch Physics, Pee Monkey and Rolando.
But now there’s a definitive source for finding kid apps for iPads, iPhones and other mobile devices: the mobile app reviews on Common Sense Media. I mentioned Common Sense Media in a recent blog post for Oprah.com, but that only scratched the surface of this fantastic online resource.
Common Sense provides media guidance and reviews, and lets you find the best games, movies and TV shows for your kids. They have smart, practical articles on topics like how to help your kids deal with scary movies, how to introduce young kids to virtual worlds, and what parents need to know about Facebook. I love how they balance a health skepticism about media culture, advertising and commercialism with appreciation for the educational, communication and entertainment value of media and networks.
But what has earned Common Sense Media a place in my browser bar — it’s literally the only content site I keep in my collection of most-used bookmarks — is its incredibly useful collection of reviews. When you create a profile on the Common Sense site, you specify the ages of your kids; the next time you visit, Common Sense shows you the top-rated movies, DVDs, TV shows, music, games and web sites for kids in that age group.
When we have a family movie night, we start by going to the Common Sense web site to find the latest recommendations on DVDs for our kids. When the kids beg for a new Wii game, we start by checking out its review on Common Sense.
And now, thanks to the new collection of mobile app reviews, Common Sense will shape what’s on our iPhone and iPads. You can find lists of the best preschool apps, the best music apps for kids, and the best apps for kids ages 5-8. App reviews rate each title based on factor like educational value and ease-of-play, and flags any concerns around things like violence, consumerism or foul language. The summary reviews cover “what parents need to know”, and catch subtle but important issues — for example, I was impressed to see that the review of Balloonimals flagged the dangers of kids blowing spit into an iPhone (I voided one warranty that way myself.)
You can’t sort apps by platform (as you can in Common Sense’s collection of game reviews) but each app review contains a prominent list of platforms supported. You also need to calibrate their age recommendations to your own kids’ sensitivity and skill level; for example, Labyrinth is listed as a game for kids 8 and up, but it’s one of my 4-year-old’s favorites, and there is no violence or content that is inappropriate for his age range — it’s just a challenging game in terms of eye-hand coordination.
If there’s one thing I’d put on a wish list for Common Sense, it would be to get more guidance on how to consume media as a family. The age-specific reviews are great, but we are typically looking for games and movies that are appropriate for both a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old; that crosses over between different age groups on the Common Sense site. I’d love to see a tool that would let me filter recommendations to see titles that are recommended for (and enjoyed by) both age groups.
And in both game reviews and mobile apps, I’d like to see lists of recommendations for best multiplayer games or apps, particularly those that can be fun for kids of different ages and skill levels, or for kids to play with their parents. One thing we really love about the iPad is that it’s actually a shareable device; the kids can play Marble Mixer or Mirror’s Edge (my nominee for best game ever) on a single iPad. We like this because it encourages the kids to interact rather than withdraw into the screen, and because it leaves the other iPad free for mom and dad to play Scrabble.