Often, CNET Senior Editor Scott Stein and I have "daddy discussions" about our sons - they're both pretty close in age (3 and 2.5). Of course, this led to the inevitable, "Do you let your son use your iPad 2?" question. The answer, of course, is yes - although how much depends on who you are. Both of us have kids who already ask for the iPad by name.
This is our list of our kids' favorite iPad apps. We hope your kids will enjoy them as much as ours do.
In one sense, Bartleby's Book of Buttons is simple stuff: a picture book with eight or so pages of interactive buttons. Is it worth the price? I'd say yes when it was several dollars, and even more so now that it's free. Ask my kid, who took to this app immediately and wouldn't stop pressing all the buttons. A nice part of this book is its procedural element; kids need to learn how to press buttons, pull levers, and operate equipment to get to the next page. It's a mini-puzzle book, of sorts. A second volume's coming soon in June, and until then, it'll stay gratis.
Bartleby's Book of Buttons (free)
Disney's line of digital books for the iPad has puzzles, painting, sing-alongs, minigames, and voice recording, along with stories based on hit movies. Cleverly, Disney continues to offer the "Toy Story" book for free as a way to attract parents. It's worth trying, and you'll probably get hooked.
Parents have the option to read the story or use autoplay, which narrates along using character voices from the "Toy Story" movies.
Note: While the DDBs books support autoplay, not all highlight the words being spoken. I personally find this feature very important for developing reading skills. Fortunately, my son's favorite "Toy Story" series does.
Dr. Seuss's ABCs
Classic iPad usage scenario: kids' books cost a lot and tear easily. Dr. Seuss classics galore fill the App Store, and at a few bucks a pop, they're among the better values for toddler apps.
My son is a huge Dr. Seuss fan, and the nice part about these e-books is how low key they are, focusing on the beautiful Seussian artwork. You can choose to eliminate the sound effects and autoplay (as I do) or have it read and highlight words. All the books have fun audio surprises, but the ABC book is particularly fun.
Handy Manny Workshop brings four different activities to toddlers: a game where Handy Manny's tools are scattered around the shop and need to be located, a coloring book of images from the TV series that children can color any way they choose, a memory-matching game where matching duplicates is the goal, and a variety of animated puzzles.
Though my son plays all four games, I find him playing Match It and Find It the most. The interface is simple and easy enough for children to navigate by themselves, and the app's obviously a great choice for any child who already loves the show.
iStoryTime: Kung Fu Panda Holiday
iStoryTime is very similar to the Disney digital books, but offers characters from Dreamworks movies.
These books lack some of the features in Disney's e-books, but they're also not as pricey. The good news is that they also support autoplay.
The iPad's a great tool for some mess-free creativity. Kid Art is a cross between drawing and the fun, classic Colorforms kits.
Kids can draw or add stamp/sticker characters (kids, animals) to a variety of included backgrounds and themes. Afterward, you can save a snapshot of the drawing in your photo library or e-mail it to a relative.
Magic Piano HD
Smule is one of my personal favorite iOS developers--its musical apps push the boundaries between game and musical instrument, and are incredibly easy to pick up and play. Magic Piano was Smule's first iPad app, and it remains the best. The idea of a virtual touch piano isn't unique, but Magic Piano's selection of wacky stretching keyboards--circular, spiral, even a free-form black canvas--make for fun musical doodling. You can also play with other people in live duets, but for kids it's fun to let them play by themselves.
The iPhone version of Magic Piano is free, but the superior iPad version is far more finger-friendly.
Monkey Preschool Lunchbox
I first discovered Monkey Preschool Lunchbox on my Android phone. My son loved it, so I knew it was a no-brainer to get for the iPad.
The seven games have lessons about colors, letters, counting, sizes, shapes, differences, and matching. Plus, there's a cute monkey sidekick, music, and voice recordings.
After a couple of rounds, kids are rewarded with a sticker that they place on a whiteboard. My son not only filled the board with stickers, but also left Daddy with a low battery.
The Monster at the End of This Book
A classic '70s-era children's book has been lovingly updated on the iPad in app form, thanks to this Sesame Street effort. Everything from the artwork to the font feels like a throwback, yet this app is full of animations and even interactive bits that feel fresh.
Best of all, Grover's voice acting (he reads the whole book and guides kids through) is spot on. Parents will love it for the trip back in time, and kids will love it because, heck, Grover's wearing a hard hat.
Montessorium Intro to Letters
My son loves to count, name colors, and identify dozens of dinosaurs, but he hasn't learned letters yet. As a fun experiment, I downloaded Intro to Letters for him to play with.
Based on Montessori teaching methods, the app is simple: letters are pronounced by sound rather than spoken, and kids can trace their fingers around letters to make their shapes. The clean design captivated my son, and it made for a fun set of flashcards. Occasionally, a gentle quiz challenges kids to identify letters out of a lineup by the sounds they make.
National Geographic Ultimate Dinopedia
Kids like dinosaurs. It's that simple. National Geographic's app is expensive, relatively, and takes up a good chunk of your iPad's flash memory, but the digital book has dozens of dinosaurs, lots of text, and a voice that will read to young ones. This app skews to older kids, but at least it's an e-book that will grow with your child. One caveat: scenes of dinosaur violence may be something you want to review before sharing with your child. My kid loves it, but it's up to you to decide how you feel.
PBS Kids Video
I don't subscribe to cable. Instead, the small amount of TV we watch comes over the digital airwaves in crisp HD. PBS is our house staple, and my son loves Dinosaur Train, Sesame Street, and many of the station's other shows.
A lot of these shows are available for streaming on Netflix, but the free PBS Kids app gives non-Netflixers the joy of dozens of clips from these shows, easily presented for a kid to browse through. Sadly, the PBS Kids app doesn't offer full episodes of most shows, but for a free app it's a solid package of entertainment. At least, my son thinks so--he keeps asking for the app by name.
Pocket Pond HD
Another great example of a formerly paid app going free. Again, it's to promote a new version, but the original still works fine. It's not rocket science, but the beautiful rippling Koi pond surface and delicately swimming fish beneath are like a form of kid Zen. I don't own a fish tank in my small apartment, but this is the next best thing.
PopOut: The Tale Of Peter Rabbit
Joseph: High tech can still be old-fashioned at heart. Case in point, this is a pop-up book that brings a more traditional look and feel to the iPad, with classic visuals that will probably remind parents of their childhood books.
Besides the beautiful pop-up elements, kids can interact with objects in the book. As they touch them, they make unique sounds. Words are pronounced aloud when text is touched.
Below is a link for the free Lite version, as well as the full one.
The 3 Little Pigs
This timeless story is brought back to life in the form of an interactive pop-up book: turning the pages creates 3D effects, and when certain objects are touched they perform animations or make sounds.
With its impressive graphics and ambient sound, it's no surprise that my son gets so immersed in this book. I find myself touching the interactive objects, too; I guess that's a sign of a book beautifully done. For those who like to try before they buy, there's also a free Lite version.