Core Dump: 4-Year-Old-Approved iOS Apps for Santa’s Bag

Geek Culture

Following up on Jonathan’s post a few days back, I’ve got a handful of apps that were graciously provided to me by their developers recently and that I’m anxious to share with you. The apps below have all been tested by Decker, my four-year-old son — I’ll be providing some of his feedback as well as a bit of my own. So, here are five Decker-approved apps for your consideration.

Spider-Man: An Origin Story — $6.99

Spidey's Origin Story AppSpidey's Origin Story App

Decker is a huge fan of Spidey (he’s got a Spidey bike and a handful of toys), but I think I was actually more anxious to open Spider-Man: An Origin Story than he was. You see, it’s narrated by the man who co-created Spider-Man (among other heroes) — Stan Lee himself. Hearing Stan Lee read the tale of how Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man was fun for Decker but even more fun for me. His voice somehow just lends itself to storytelling.

I’m not here to discuss the pros and cons of this particular version of the origin tale (this is one of those where Spidey uses mechanical devices to sling his webs). It’s a tale told for a younger audience, and it’s the moral of the story that counts. And Decker sat beside me and didn’t budge as he listened to the tale being told and the lessons of taking responsibility for your actions.

As the tale is told, however, there are moments where a bit of personal interaction is required: spinning some power-up wheels to generate the electricity for the radiation machine using your fingers on the touch screen — or tapping on the screen at various locations to have Spidey swing from building to building. Decker loved it! There are six of these hands-on interactions scattered throughout the story as well as a spider hunt that requires the young reader to look for the slightly hidden spider emblems hidden in the art. Find them all and you get a unique (and quite honestly, to this dad, confusing) award. Maybe the humor is lost on me. But it doesn’t matter — Decker loved hunting for the six hidden icons.

The artwork is great, and the sound and animation really do give the story an edge of excitement. The changes in scenes (when you tap the screen) are smooth and in many instances quite eye-catching.

Spidey's Origin Story App Page 2Spidey's Origin Story App Page 2

As with most iPad storybooks, your young child can choose to have the story narrated by Stan Lee or you can choose no narration and read it to your child — or let them read it to you. The music can be disabled as well, but I never really found it annoying or overwhelming.Right now, English is the only supported language but it appears that additional languages are coming with placeholder icons for various flags.

Decker loved it… and actually asked for it to be read again (by Stan Lee, not dear old dad). Given his interest in Spider-Man, I have no doubt he’ll ask for this one again in the future. That’s a good thing, however, because this is a $6.99 app, a bit above the standard $0.99 to $2.99 apps I typically acquire for Decker. I’m not saying it’s not worth it, especially given Stan Lee’s narration, but there’s not a lot of replay value here — the icons seem to appear in the same locations and Decker let me do the hands-on activities during the second read.

All in all, I enjoyed it. Hearing Stan Lee read this well-known tale was fun, and it’s definitely got some great artwork, animation, and music. If you’ve got a Spidey-fan in your house and you think you can get multiple reads from this app, the price is well worth it.

A Day at the Circus — $2.99

Day at the Circus AppDay at the Circus App

Decker continues to enjoy one of Wombi’s earlier games, The Pirate’s Treasure, so when Wombi Productions asked if he’d like to look at A Day at the Circus, I jumped on it. This isn’t so much a story book as it is a series of interactive puzzles. It seems that everything on the screen has some hidden feature when you tap your finger, and I’ve quickly learned that Decker loves exploring these types of apps. He also enjoys the rhyming text that appears after a page’s puzzle has been solved, so this app has gotten some real mileage in our household.

There are jigsaw puzzles, seek-and-find, matching game, and much more. Most of them are not so complex as to frustrate a young child, and one in particular that I thought would frustrate Decker to no end actually turned out to be a big hit. It’s pictured here — the larger picture is broken into a 6×8 grid of squares and when you touch a square it rotates. The goal, obviously, is to recreate the image, but what’s great is that a single tap on a square rotates it to the proper orientation, so all the young child as to do is touch each square to fix the larger image. Easy for adults, yes, but my four year old really felt a sense of accomplishment when he managed to get all the boxes rotated properly.

Day at the Circus App image 2Day at the Circus App image 2

At the bottom of each screen is a left and right arrow, allowing your child to skip a puzzle if they do get frustrated or bored. They can move freely back and forth between fun activities that are all related to the circus. The sounds and animation are not annoying at all (you might think they would be) and I found Decker returning to previous pages and finding more hidden features. For example, on one page he could tap various spots to lighten up a darkened image. After he successfully tapped all the hidden areas, even more pages were revealed that were indicated by small round icons that appeared. Each of these in turn would take him to additional activities such as playing an instrument by tapping on the screen or rotating wheels on a screen to help a multi-segmented snake get from the top of the screen full of wheels to the bottom. (And as with all activities, there’s an obvious button near the bottom left corner to return to the previous page.)

Decker has returned to this app numerous times to look for additional hidden features, and I’m fairly certain he hasn’t found them all as the documentation states there are over 20 games hidden in the app and I believe he’s only found about 12 or so.

The Magic School Bus: Dinosaurs — $7.99

Magic School Bus DinosaursMagic School Bus Dinosaurs

Ms. Frizzle is at it again, taking her class on an exciting trip via The Magic School Bus. Decker absolutely enjoyed the first app in this series, The Magic School Bus: Oceans, and I had no doubt that he’d enjoy this one as well. As with the first app, The Magic School Bus: Dinosaurs is filled with so many interactive elements — they’re hidden everywhere! Tapping anywhere on the screen (such as on the image of a book, for example) will cause the title to be read or the name of the object to be pronounced. And on many pages are small icons that open up additional pages where more specific information is displayed.

On this trip, Ms. Frizzle is taking her class to a dinosaur dig. Decker does enjoy a good dinosaur picture or video, so he perked up as he and I followed along with the story. Words are highlighted in red as they are red, and I think I finally saw a lightbulb go off as Decker began to understand that the order of the words on the page followed the narration. I may not be explaining this correctly, but I think he’s finally starting to understand how letters are put together to form words and how words are organized to make sentences. (He quickly figured out that tapping a bit of text on screen would cause it to be read again — he’d even point out a few words that he knew when they were highlighted. I was one proud daddy.)

Magic School Bus Dinosaurs page 2Magic School Bus Dinosaurs page 2

I have to admit — I learned a lot just following along with Decker. We learned about the five types of dinosaur fossils and Decker enjoyed using the hammer and brush to clear away rock and sand to view some hidden dinosaur bones. He also learned how to identify reptiles as well as mammals.

This is not a bedtime app, by the way. You can expect your child to spend quite some time tapping on all the extras and the hands-on activities. The story itself can take about 20 minutes to finish if you don’t tap on any of the extras, so we’ve avoided this one at bedtime for obvious reasons. There are sixteen dinosaurs cards, for example, that can be found by digging at various sites during the story. You chisel away at the rock, find a bone, brush it off… and do it a few more times until you’ve found enough bones to identify the type of dinosaur and obtain its card.

There’s also a Tetris-like game where you have to select dinosaurs found on specific continents to make them disappear — Decker’s not quite ready for it yet, but I think he’s starting to understand the rules a bit. Thankfully, he still starts up this game at least once a week during his iPad time. At $7.99, you’ll likely find that this app has a high replay value and will entertain your young dinosaur fan for many many hours.

Patchy the Patchdoll — $1.99

Patchy App Patchy App

What I found interesting about this little app is how much my younger son (age 1.5) enjoys it. Decker sat with me during one read, but that was it — no real interest in having it read to him again. But Sawyer… man, that kid couldn’t get enough.

Patchy is a very cute story about Patchy the Patchdoll — narrated by a young child, the simple animation and basic colors seemed to really grab Sawyer’s attention even though he really doesn’t have the vocabulary to follow the story. I think he just enjoyed the simple animation that didn’t overwhelm him — a few moving elements per page kept his interest and the light music played in the background seemed to be a perfect fit for his age group.

Patchy App image 2Patchy App image 2

Every few pages a small pail and shovel icon will appear — tap it and you’ll be taken to some sort of activity such as a print-out of Patchy that can be cut out and colored (you send it to yourself via email if you don’t have AirPrint capability) or a music instrument matching game. The games are not very advanced, and Decker had no interest in them whatsoever, but Sawyer wanted to touch the screen constantly.

This is most definitely a nighttime story for Sawyer — the entire story takes less than 3 minutes if you don’t jump away to the outside activities, and the music actually seems to calm him down when he sits on my lap. It remains to be seen if Sawyer will continue to be entertained by this little story app, but for now if he sees me with my iPad, he starts pointing and I know exactly what he wants to hear.

Monkey and the Crocodile — $0.99

Monkey and Crocodile appMonkey and Crocodile app

Monkey and the Crocodile is a very interesting app — it’s a traditional folktale from India retold as an interactive storybook app. One of the first things I noticed after opening it was a button that allowed it to be narrated in Hindi. That’s a nice touch even though Decker doesn’t speak the language — he still wanted to hear it, so we listened to a few pages together and talked about Spanish (he’s learning it) and Hindi and what makes them different.

The story takes less than five minutes to complete, so it’s perfect as a nighttime story. There are some interactive elements that consist of tapping various animals to to hear how they sound or learn something about them, but Decker preferred just to listen to the tale of a crocodile trying to trick the monkey… and being tricked in return. There is a moral to the story that I believe Decker understands at its most basic level, but I think Decker just likes to see the crocodile get tricked as he asked me to replay that part a couple of times. His laugh told me that he understood what happened… I loved it.

Monkey and Crocodile image 2Monkey and Crocodile image 2

The story can be read to your child with or without narration,but the app has one additional feature that I’ve not yet encountered — there’s a Sleep Time version that is pure narration without any on-screen visuals. I tried it with Decker and he did let me play the narration only as he listened to the now familiar story. I didn’t think he’d sit still without the visuals, but I was surprised to find he enjoyed the tale simply being told to him.

It’s a very simple app, but its $0.99 price makes it a nice value for a bedtime story. (I did try it with Sawyer, but he wasn’t able to focus as he did with the Patchy story.)


Like Jonathan, I get my fair share of emails from developers asking if I’d like to take a look at their latest apps. Finding apps for my children can often be challenging, so when I do manage to find an app that my children like, I don’t mind sharing that with others. Not every app interests my two boys, but that doesn’t mean those apps are of poor quality. Instead, I’d simply prefer to share those apps that make Decker and/or Sawyer’s eyes light up — that grab their attention. Your child will most definitely have his or her own interests that make them sit up and pay attention. And when they do, I’d love to hear about it.

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