25+ Apps for toddlers and kids with special needs
When we look for apps for Florence, we look for simple, clean and colourful games. She has trouble with her gross motor and fine motor skills, but intellectually, she doesn’t struggle. There are a lot of Apps out there for specific disabilities, which is wonderful, but it’s hard to find decent apps for toddlers that lack gross motor skills.
We look for educational games that teach her concepts, like waiting to tap the screen, or how to pronounce letters in the alphabet. We look for engaging apps that keep her attention. But most importantly, we look for apps that are EASY to use. By this I mean, one tap of a finger is all it takes to keep the game going. So many apps have little arrows that toddlers have to push to turn the page or “go.” Or, they are far too complicated, and require lots of movement. For Florence, who was diagnosed with SMA type 1 nearly two years ago, movement is very limited. We need one tap games. Needless to say I have scoured the App Store, wasted money on apps and deleted them, found free treasures, and a few App developers that have multiple games and books that work for us.
25+ Favourite Apps:
Inclusive Technology makes quite a few accessible apps. They are all switch activated too, so if your kiddo uses a switch, you can use these games too!
- Sensory Room (FREE): this is one of Flo’s favourites. If your child visits a children’s hospice for respite, or in therapy, perhaps you’ve heard of a sensory room, or Snoezelen Room. This is a simple app, where a little girl in a wheelchair travels through the sensory room. Each touch reveals a new experience one might have in the room. There’s music and laughter, and Florence loves to control it all on her own! Plus it’s free.
- Five Speckled Frogs or Five Sharks Swimming ($2.99 each): both of these games include a song, which is the best part. With simple taps to the screen, the catchy song goes from 1-5 singing about frogs or sharks in a pond. The other games need a bit more precision, but are nice to have nonetheless.
- Lost Little Penguin ($2.99): This app requires a bit more concentration, but Florence caught on pretty quickly. The penguin needs to get across different obstacles to get his fish. But the child needs to tap the screen at the right time, so penguin doesn’t get gobbled by a killer whale or polar bear. Sometimes she gets stuck, but I’m confident she will pick up on the concept of waiting to tap very soon.
- Splat the Clowns ($2.99) This one is a little trickier, like the Little Penguin app. The child has to wait until the appropriate time, when the clown moves in the bullseye, before tapping the screen. If they wait until it lights up green, then tap, they will watch the clown get pied in the face. There are three speeds, and we find Florence does best with the medium speed.
Night and Day Studios make user friendly apps for toddlers with or without special needs.
- Peekaboo Barn ($1.99) This is a fairly simple app. The child needs to tap the screen to go through the barn and meet the animals. The animals make noises and the narrator says the name of each animal. This is a great starter app, but I think older kids will grow out of it.
- Peekaboo Fridge ($1.99) Same concept as above, but this time the child goes through items in the fridge.
- Peekaboo Sesame Street ($1.99) Again, same concept but a little trickier. The door that opens to reveal Sesame Street characters and objects is a little high up, so we have to prop Flo’s arm on something so she can reach. Plus, Oscar the Grouch is found only in his trash can which is located to the far right of the screen, so she always gets stuck. Although it’s harder to use, it has more detail, and there’s more to see.
Fisher Price makes some great free apps that Florence adores. At first they were a little annoying, but I gradually came to realize they offer a lot more than some paid apps. Definitely check them out. They are super easy to use and keep little ones engaged. Florence never gets stuck on the apps listed.
- Laugh & Learn Where’s Puppy’s Nose? (FREE): From head to toe, explore puppy and kitty. One level is simple, the other a little more complicated, but as far as usability goes, it’s very simple.
- Laugh & Learn Learning Letters Puppy (FREE): Flip through numbers from 1-10, the alphabet, shapes and songs. This is Flo’s favourite Fisher Price app!
- Storybook Rhymes volumes 1, 2, 3 (FREE): Flip and sing through nursery rhyme songs. We use the Read and Sing option, as it’s more user friendly.
Treebetty offers a few similar apps with different animals. Florence is easily captivated by the illustrations in these apps. Although they are quite simple, I think the colors and illustrations are very vibrant. All of these apps are easy to use, with a simple touch of the finger the page flips on the Guided Tour. You can also pick individual animals on the You Pick option.
- Peek-a-Zoo: Toddler Peekaboo at the Zoo ($2.99) Simple flip through pages, vocalizing the animal’s name and sound, including a lion and a peacock.
- Peek-a-zoo Train: Toddler Peekaboo on the Rails ($2.99) This time your child can flip through animals on their way to the circus, including flamingoes and camels.
- Peek-a-zoo: Toddler Peekaboo in an underwater aquarium ($2.99) Similar to the zoo version, but with beautiful underwater creatures, including clown fish, jellyfish and whales.
- Peek-a-zoo moo: Toddler Peekaboo with Farm Animals ($2.99) This version is lovely because all of the animals are typical farm animals, which are recognizable for little ones, including a dog, pig and cow.
- Egg Head: Baby touch and hear ($2.99) Every page shows an egg that bounces and then hatches into an animal face. Simple and cute, with animal names and noises, including an owl, a ladybug and a moose.
Oceanhouse Media has a huge line of accessible books. Florence loves so many of them. There are familiar books, like the Dr. Suess collection, Bearnstein Bears and Little Critter, plus many others. All of these books allow the parent or grandparent to record their voice reading the story, plus have an Auto Play feature which allows the child to interact with the book, but also doesn’t require manual flipping of the pages. If the child touches an area on the screen, like “baby” or “puppy”, the book will respond. The books also feature background music and noises in addition to your recorded voice. Florence loves the Little Critter books! We have many of these books, but I picked our favourites for this post.
- Just Me and My Mom-by Little Critter ($1.99 but often these are on sale or free, which is currently the case for this book) Most of these books are shorter, but a little less wacky or monotonous, like some of the Bearnstein Bear or Dr. Suess books, plus they are cheaper.
- Dr. Suess’s ABC ($3.99) This one makes Florence giggle. It’s identical to the ABC book you can pick up at the bookstore.
- I Love You Too-by Ziggy Marley ($3.99) This one includes a fun, family song by Ziggy Marley, as well as all the other features of Oceanhouse books. This is a big hit in our house.
- Chris P. Bacon: My Life So Far ($3.99) A wonderful true story about a baby pig with special needs! He was born without back legs, and a vet took him in and made a little wheelchair for his hind legs. Apparently he’s quite the You Tube hit.
Sesame Street makes some wonderful, affordable and easy to use books for the iPad. All the books are narrated wonderfully by Sesame Street human characters, but parents can also record their own voices too. Our favourites are:
- Grover’s Farm ($1.99), Elmo’s Birthday ($1.99), Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventure: What’s Cooking ($1.99), Sesame Street: The Fix-it Shop ($1.99)
Talking ABC ($2.99) is a lovely clay art animation alphabet app with many features. Using Auto Play, the catchy alphabet song goes through the alphabet (A, A, A Alligator, B, B, B, Bear!), and when it’s finished, your child can easily flip through the letters. If they manage to flip then tap the letter, it will morph into an animal. Then, if you or your child says something, the animal will repeat it in a funny voice (think helium balloons!)
Interactive Alphabet ($3.99) A big hit with Florence, this app features music, interactions and education. Each letter has an object, (C is for Cake), and on Baby Mode, your child simply taps to interact (ie: you can tap the cake three times to light up all the candles and then blow them out, followed by a splash of confetti and cheering.) Then the page moves on without the need for flipping the page. Plus this app features the letter sounds, which Florence is actually catching onto and will repeat! One of our first apps, and one of the best.
ReacTickles Magic (FREE) is a beautiful and quiet app. There is no music, so it’s nice for calm, quiet time. There are numerous settings, with three different modes each, which means a lot of play time. The design has involved children on the autism spectrum. It involves shapes, repetition, colours and patterns. Your child simply touches the screen and a shape will appear. Depending on the mode, your child can accomplish different things. For example, if you choose Orbit on mode 1, a different tap will reveal different shapes. Orbit on Mode 2, a different tap will show a miniature shape, like a heart, and each tap will reveal more of the shape, like a circle. Eventually the circle will be made up of tiny hearts. This is an incredible free app.
There are thousands of apps out there, and we’ve wasted money on a good handful. If you’re looking for new ones that will be accessible for your little one with special needs, always read the app description and look for baby mode, simple tap interaction, switch activated.
Do you know of any other apps for children with gross motor delays?