Even the 99 cent-ers are generally solid and when you compare the cost of App games to Console (Wii) or Handhelds(DSi), they really are frugal. Factor in that one App purchase can generally be shared across all devices that share an account (with Apple anyhow), and even a $4.99 Lego Harry Potter game ends up costing only a buck or so per device. Compare that to the $20+ price tag on DS and it doesn't take long for your tablet or iPod to pay for itself (so to speak).
But I don't want to talk Angry Birds, Cut the Rope or SpyMouse (all "Pay For" favourites in our house). I want to talk free and I want to talk, at least somewhat, educational.
I think Rover might just be an essential app for iPad parenting. All those great kids websites we've talked about generally only work on a desktop/laptop running Flash. Apple stuff? It doesn't play nicely with Flash. Enter Rover. This app lets you visit Flash websites on your iOS device and play games there. PBSkids, TVO, CoolMath Games are all back in play!
A note: The app is "hosted" in the USA, so whenever you run it, the websites you visit will think you live in the US. Plus - you can watch all the videos on the PBS website. Minus - you can't watch any videos on the TVO website.
Motion Math series (Hungry Fish, Wings, Zoom)
We've only tried the "Wings" version so far, but all of them look promising and all are Free (there are Pro versions that you can pay for, but our kids seem happy with the Free so far).
As a Math teacher, I am pretty impressed with the variety of graphics and "manipulatives" the app uses to represent mathematical concepts. The kids seem impressed with the things you can earn to upgrade your bird. Win-Win, I say.
This is another app that starts off Free and you can pay to upgrade. I actually believe the Free version offers way more functionality than most free versions out there - our kids played for months on it before using their allowance to buy more characters.
Basically, Toontastic is an animation app that lets you control animated puppets with hand gestures and speak dialogue while recording. When done, you add music, piece scenes together and can even add your own characters/settings. You honestly won't believe how feature rich this app is, all for free. It even teaches dramatic plotline construction.
The only thing I am not crazy about is the built-in ToonTube - kids around the world sharing their cartoons. Sounds great in principle, but the screening of the cartoons is only as good as the parents who check them. Our kids generally ignore this feature anyhow, as making your own cartoon is better than watching someone else's.
Electric Company Wordball
A new one for us, but since our kids dig the Electric Company so much, I wanted to include it. The show, with its cool songs about "Silent E" and "Bossy R" basically taught our son to read, so the educational pedigree is strong. This app has you tossing letters to spell words and watch videos/ listen to songs from the show.
If you haven't checked out the new Electric Company, they also have a free podcast series, which is basically a "Best Of" from the TV show. Silent E is a Ninja!
SolarWalk (limited time - Free) and StarWalk ($)
OK, not normally free, but still amazing. At the time of publishing this post, Solar Walk was offered for free - I hope it still is now for you. These apps make you feel like all the tablet hype is actually warranted - zooming around the solar system or constellations in the sky, you feel like the piece of technology in your hands is something from Minority Report. Or the Jetsons.
And you'll learn stuff! Jump into the Appstore right now, and if Solar Walk is still free, snap it up. Even if your child is still too young to fully enjoy it, you will enjoy it for him or her.
Any Lego App, branded Apps for Movies (Lorax, Ice Age, Hotel Transylvania)
Sure, they'll likely make your kids want to buy Lego (or whatever branded toy you get an App for) or see the Movie in question, but if you go into these Apps with your eyes open, you'll often be pleasantly surprised.
The Ice Age Village app, for example, is one that our daughter comes back to again and again to play and build up her virtual town. It has actually given us more entertainment hours than all the Ice Age movies combined, all for free.
And if you do what to buy Angry Birds or Cut the Rope - buy the iPod/iPhone versions. Typically only $.99 (versus $2.99 for iPad), these are the same apps and you can scale them to fit your tablet screen. Not "HD", but for flicking little birds at green pigs, do you really care?
Looking for more Smart Kids games for your computer?
Check out our list of Free, Smart, Safe Online Kids Games
Or maybe some great free apps for parents?
So, that is the rundown of smart, free kids apps. Did we miss your favourite? If so, please comment and let us know. We are always on the lookout...