By: Lisa Johnson

Coming home from the Mobile 2012 conference in Phoenix, I met a father of two girls in line for the San Antonio flight. Both girls were passing the time with mobile devices. The elder one was voraciously reading Archie comics on an iPhone and the youngest was thumbing through photos from the photo gallery on the iPad. Being a bit of a chatty Kathy, I struck up a conversation about mobile devices and apps. The father had mentioned that it was quite difficult to locate good apps for his girls… and that he exclusively used the app store for his searches.

I quickly started rattling off a few apps such as Puppet Pals, Sock Puppets, Toca Boca, and Lil Kitten Shopping Cart. By his surprised and intrigued expression, I quickly deduced that he had never heard of any of these gems. Short of jotting a list down on the corner of a boarding pass, I realized it might just be quicker and more useful to email him a list.

While mobile devices are becoming more and more prevalent in schools and at home, ways to locate sound educational, purposeful, and economical apps has been a bit convoluted to say the least.

After our appy conversation, I deduced that a list of the top 11 FREE apps every parent of children should download the very day they open their brand new shiny iPad might be a useful resource to share. While most of these apps are product-based in nature, they are all very intuitive and engaging and easily support creativity and interest. (The three with an asterisk would be most appropriate for preschool/primary students.)

  1. Puppet Pals/Sock Puppets/Toontastic: This is really a 3 for 1 as all of the apps are free and essentially produce similar results.
    1. Puppet Pals allows children to create puppet shows with a default pack of characters. (My son still watches puppet shows that he and I created together months ago and saved within the app.) I will say that the Director’s Pass for all of the character packs and the ability to add your own characters and backgrounds is well worth the $2.99 price tag.
    2. Sock Puppets allows children to create puppet shows that are limited to 30 seconds with multiple sock puppets and backgrounds.
    3. Toontastic allows children to create multi-scene stories with toons that include mood music and plot.
  2. ScreenChomp enables children to tell/draw a story or explain anything in their world and create a video product.
  3. Videolicious is a very cool and intuitive app that creates a professional looking video with narration, photo, music, and video. Perfect for a recap of a trip or vacation!
  4. Doodle Buddy is a fantastic drawing app that includes stamps, stencils, and backgrounds and can be used to create poetry or simply doodle.
  5. ABC Magnetic Lite* is literally a magnetic alphabet. It does include additional packs for purchase but my two boys have had a jolly ol good time spelling words with the free version.
  6. Albums FX Lite/iPen FREE: This is another 2 for 1 situation. Both apps allow children to create a book which can be exported as a PDF or as separate images.
    1. Albums FX Lite only allows one book to be created at a time but the full version allows for unlimited book creations. Books can include text, audio, video, images, clipart, and animations.
    2. iPen FREE is similar to Albims FX Lite but is limited to text, images, and drawing.
  7. Video Star/Vidrhythm: While both of the apps could be assigned educational value, they could simply be an engaging and entertaining way to pass time.
    1. Video Star allows children to create their own music videos with the music on their iPod/iPhone/iPad.
    2. VidRhythm includes multiple templates to create amusing 80’s like music videos.
  8. Songify will create a song from anything you speak.
  9. StoryLines for Schools is a great way to be engaged on vacations or road trips. It is similar to the telephone game and offers a varying multi-player features.
  10. My PlayHome Lite* is a fully interactive doll house. Only the two rooms are available in the lite version – the paid version was well worth the $3.99 upgrade.
  11. Lil Kitten Shopping Cart* is a delightful shopping cart game where children help a cat locate items on a shopping list in a grocery store.

My PlayHome Lite Interactive Dollhouse

FREE apps aside… I will say that my two preschool boys have their favorite paid apps as well:

  1. Anything by Toca Boca! My son repeatedly watched the Youtube video for Toca House before the app was available and out of all of the apps we own, these get played the most often.
  2. The Monster at the End of the Book is a wonderful interactive version of the beloved original.
  3. Roxie’s Doors is a story book that prompts children to locate a list of objects in each interactive room.
  4. Spot the Mistake is a story book that includes a “what’s wrong with this picture” in each scene.

Roxie's Doors Interactive Storybook

Seeing a true need for a way to easily access FREE educational apps that were appropriate for an age group or content area, I recently created the TechChef4u app which is essentially an educational sortable app store of 500+ FREE apps suitable for children and students. The TechChef4u app is now currently available for FREE in the iTunes app store!

TechChef4u FREE App Database


What are your MUST HAVE FREE educational apps for the iPad?

  1. These are great suggestions! I’m a huge fan of Roxie Munro’s apps and am always looking for more apps for my kids and myself. My 5 and 10 year-olds and I love Drop7, chuzzle, Bejeweled Blitz, Snoopy’s Street Fair, and any game by Donut Games that offers a free Lite version.
    Thanks for compiling and sharing. We’re off to check out The Monster at the End of This Book — a bedtime favorite at our house.

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