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Recommended Free Apps & Podcasts for Kids

Like many libraries around the country, we got the news last week that we will remain closed throughout the month of April. Since we now have a better timeline, we are able to move forward with virtual content more easily–including a ReadSquared online stay at home learning program highlighting free resources like books, apps, and podcasts.

We don’t have any prizes, just virtual badges that kids and families can earn by completing activities at home. Some are directly related to books, some connect to the library, and others just provide ideas for new ways to explore your home or the (limited) world around you.

One of the “missions” I worked on involved exploring technology. I created curated lists of apps and podcasts that families can experience at home.

After much finagling, I was very proud of myself for managing to create a list of recommended free apps that work on both iOS and Android devices. All free app suggestions are listed below and can be downloaded or shared as PDFs here:

Recommended Free Apps, Ages 2-5

Play and Learn Science by PBS Kids

Caregivers and children work together to explore scientific concepts and to develop problem solving skills. Explore water, weather, physics, light, and more. Android, iOS, Amazon

Little Chickies (Los Politos) by Encantos Media Studios, PBC

Interact with the traditional Spanish lullaby “Los Politos” through a story, art projects, music activities, digital scrapbooks, and more. Available in eight languages. Android, iOS

Fish School by Duck Duck Moose, LLC

Practice letters, numbers, shapes, and colors through fun games with colorful fish and friendly sea creatures. 
Android, iOS, Amazon

GoNoodle—Kids Videos  by GoNoodle

Filled with short videos that teach music, movement, patterns, dance, yoga, and mindfulness. Suggested to watch and dance along as a family.
Android, iOS, Amazon

Animal Sounds for Baby (Laugh & Learn Animal Sounds)by Fisher Price Inc.

Babies and toddlers can practice identifying animals and their sounds with engaging, brightly-colored illustrations and vibrant sound effects.
Android, iOS, Amazon

The Cat in the Hat Builds That by PBS Kids

Explore STEM concepts through mini-games and activities. Includes a variety of downloadable materials and ideas for caregiver and child interaction. Android, iOS, Amazon

Khan Academy Kids by Khan Academy

Explore thousands of educational activities, books, songs, and games teaching reading, language, writing, math, social-emotional development, and more. Android, iOS, Amazon

PBS Parents Play & Learn by PBS Kids

Discover games for parents and kids to play together in familiar locations, like the garden, the kitchen, the bathroom, and more.
Android, iOS, Amazon

Itsy Bitsy Spider by Duck Duck Moose, LLC

Sing along to various versions of the classic children’s song “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Includes free-play activities related to on-screen characters.
Android, iOS, Amazon

Artie’s World by Minilab Ltd

Follow Artie around the world. Create presents for Artie’s friends by tracing basic shapes on the screen. Watch your drawings come to life!
Android, iOS, Amazon

Baby Games—Piano, Baby Phone, First Words by RV AppStudios

Toddlers can engage with simple sound effects and pretend play with virtual musical instruments and simple nursery rhymes.
Android, iOS, Amazon

Pokémon Playhouse by The Pokémon Company International

Engage in this open-ended play app by interacting with Pokémon characters, listening to stories, solving puzzles, and more. 
Android, iOS, Amazon

Elmo Loves 123s by Sesame Street

Trace each number (1-20) and explore with Elmo and Abby through puzzles, games, coloring, and videos. Free version only includes numbers 1-3. Android, iOS, Amazon Cost: Free (Lite) $4.99 (Full)

Endless Alphabet by Originator Inc.

Learn new vocabulary words and practice identifying letters in this interactive puzzle game. Free version only includes seven words. Android, iOS, Amazon | Cost: Free (Lite) , $8.99 (full)

Recommended Free Apps, Ages 6-8

Molly of Denali by PBS Kids

Explore the Native Alaskan village of Qyah with Molly using diagrams, pictures, field guides, and maps. Solve problems, play games, and accomplish community tasks. Android, iOS, Amazon

Pet Bingo by Duck Duck Moose

Practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to earn adorable virtual pets, pet food, and pet toys.
Android, iOS, Amazon

ScratchJr by Scratch Foundation

Create your own interactive stories and games by snapping together programming blocks to make your characters move, jump, dance, and sing. Android, iOS, Amazon

Tami’s Tower by Smithsonian Institution

Use basic engineering principles to help Tami the golden lion tamarin solve problems encountered in the jungle.
Android, iOS, Amazon

Jet’s Bot Builder: Robot Games by PBS KIDS

Build and personalize your own robot before traveling through outer space to complete STEM challenges. 
Android, iOS, Amazon

Think & Learn Code-a-pillar by Fisher Price, Inc.

Learn basic coding and problem-solving skills as you move your virtual caterpillar through a variety of logic puzzles. 
Android, iOS, Amazon

CyberChase Shape Quest! by PBS KIDS

Practice geometry and develop spatial reasoning skills through puzzles and games as you try build a new environment in Botopolis. 
Android, iOS, Amazon

Recommended Apps, Family

ChatterPix Kids by Duck Duck Moose

Turn pictures of real life objects into silly, playful messages with filters, recorded audio, stickers, and more.
Android, iOS

Storytime Online by SAG-AFTRA Foundation

Watch diverse celebrity readers perform both classic and timely children’s picture books for all ages.
Android, iOS

Toontastic 3D by Google LLC

Draw, animate, and narrate your own cartoons. Record your voice, insert pictures, and share your creations with friends and family. 
Android, iOS

Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Identify birds flying through your backyard by answering five questions or taking a picture of the bird and identifying where you live. 
Android, iOS

NSF Science Zone by National Science Foundation

Learn about hundreds of scientific discoveries with exciting videos and high-resolution photos that will take you from the far reaches of space to the smallest bacteria. Android, iOS

Seek by iNaturalist

Learn about nature by using recognition technology to identify plants and animals in your backyard or on a nature hike. 
Android, iOS

Pick Your Plate! by Smithsonian Institution

Explore cultures from around the world through food. Learn about new cuisines and select nutritional meals that fit your virtual budget. Android, iOS, Amazon

Recommended Podcasts for Kids

1. Aaron’s World. Journey to the distant past into the world of dinosaurs and imagination. http://www.mydogrocket.com

2. But Why. Approaches silly and very real questions in a kid-friendly manner—from “why do we taste food?” and “why do lions roar?” to the timely “But Why Special On
Coronavirus.” https://www.vpr.org/programs/why-podcast-curious-kids

3. Cirlce Round. Share folktales from around the world, adapted into modern radio plays. https://www.wbur.org/circleround  

4. Ear Snacks. Music duo Andrew and Polly create a fun soundtrack for all ages
performing original children’s music. http://andrewandpolly.com/earsnacks

5. Molly of Denali. Listen to the adventures of Molly Mabray, an Alaska Native girl
determined to discover the identity of the creature that stole Molly’s birthday cake.

6. Pants on Fire. This hilarious game-show style podcast keeps kids guessing. Two
grow-up “experts” talk about a topic—one is an expert, and one is a pants on fire liar. Listeners have to figure out who is who! http://www.bestrobotever.com/pants-on-fire

7. Peace Out. Yoga and meditation for kids. Practice relaxing and mindfulness through visualization and breathing exercises. https://bedtime.fm/peaceout

8. Smash Boom Best. Debaters enter heated competitions over some intense
match-ups—such as unicorns vs. dragons and chocolate vs. cheese—to convince
listeners which is the best. https://www.brainson.org/pages/smashboombest

9. Story Pirates. Amazing performers turn original stories written by real kids into podcast episodes often featuring celebrity guests. https://www.storypirates.com/podcast

10. Story Time. Designed to serve as bedtime stories, these short, sweet episodes feel like miniature audiobooks with music and sounds. https://bedtime.fm/storytime

11. What If World. Mr. Eric examines kids’ most wacky “what if” questions from “What if sharks had legs?” to “What if dinosaurs were alive today?” with humor and levity.

12. Wow in the World. Jump into the wonders of the world with Mindy and Guy in this daily kids podcast by NPR. https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510321/wow-in-the-world

What great resources am I missing? Share them in the comments below!

Favorite Baby Songs

For more baby storytime posts explore:

Music is a staple of baby storytime. It is more valuable for little ones to hear people singing instead of recorded music. When singing acapella, adults can slow down words to help little ones hear small parts. Little ones often respond more to their parent’s voices than recorded music, and singing can help build the child-caregiver bond. I use a scattering of well known songs throughout storytimes that we will sing as a group without backing music (often Wheels on the Bus or If You’re Happy and You Know It).

However, like many folks, my voice is far, far away from Beyonce’s. My singing can be politely described as off-key. I sing in front of parents and poke fun at myself, reminding them that if I can sit in front of 100 people and sing horribly, they can do it with their child who doesn’t know any better. For everyone’s sake, however, I include a good amount of recorded music in my storytime. My favorite songs are linked below.

Just like my rhymes and other activities, all the words to our baby songs are on my PowerPoint in the front of the room:

Kids Music – Storytime Baby Songs

These are my favorite baby songs to use as an element of storytime (like books, rhymes, and puppets).

Kids Music – Play Music

These are some of my favorite kids songs that I use for play time.

Popular Music

Popular music is a great way to engage parents in a storytime as well as littles.

Top Baby Movement Rhymes

Each week, I present at least one baby storytime for fairly large crowds. My general storytime outline remains very similar week to week, particularly after my regular co-presenter and I worked together to make sure our dueling weekly storytimes followed the same general plan.

One staple of any baby storytime, mine included, are bounce rhymes. These are excellent tools to help little ones feel the rhythm in words (building phonological awareness), to keep both little ones and adults engaged in the program, and to provide caregiver/child bonding–the caregiver is essentially forced to participate by having to move their child.

I call these types of rhymes “baby movement rhymes” instead of “baby bounce rhymes” after having a parent (nicely) call me out after a program when she pointed out that the three rhymes I used that week–all of which I referred to as bounce rhymes–actually mostly involved swaying, lifting, and movements other than bouncing.

I also don’t tend to use traditional Mother Goose rhymes. This is one (of a few) ways that I deviate from the Mother Goose on the Loose program. That program is excellent–take a look at their website, read the book, take a course–and I think about the research behind that program when structuring and selecting activities for my storytime.

However, I struggle with MGOL because (1) we have large crowds that can’t accommodate some of the activities well (like the drum), (2) my programs tend to focus on older babies (10-24 months) who want to move a lot, and (3) the rhymes, particularly nursery rhymes, are dated. Goosey Goosey Gander (arguably) either references Catholic priests being persecuted or has sexual overtones. Maybe its my immaturity, but I can’t bring myself to say “two little dicky birds” in front of a group of adults. I know there is research backing up the value of nursery rhymes, but, frankly, I didn’t grow up with many of these, and the parents I work with didn’t either. The parents don’t know them, the parents find them weird, and if the parents aren’t enjoying the program, the babies aren’t coming. Unless it is one of those nursery rhymes that has really stood the test of time (like Itsy Bitsy Spider) I tend to choose rhymes that have a more modern feel.

After quite a bit of intro, I am happy to share some of my favorite movement rhymes. I take credit for inventing absolutely none of these baby movement rhymes. During a storytime, these are always repeated twice (and sometimes three times).

All of my baby movement rhymes appear on the PowerPoint at the front of the room to encourage parents to recite along.

A Bouncing We Will Go
A bouncing we will go,
A bouncing we will go,
Hi ho the derry-o
A bouncing we will go.

Continue with: Rocking, Tickling

Five Little Riders
Five little riders on a nice fall day
Jumped on their ponies and rode far away.
They galloped int he meadow.
They galloped up a hill (lift)
The galloped so fast (fast)
That they all took a spill. (tip over)

Gregory Griggs
Greggory Griggs, Gregory Griggs
Had 27 different wigs.
He wore them up (lift)
He wore them down
To please the people of the town.
He worse them east (tip to one side)
He wore them west (tip to the other side)
But which one did he love the best?
This one! (hug)

A Hippopotamus on a City Bus
A hip, a hip, a hippopotamus
Got on, got on, got on a city bus
And all, and all, and all the people said,
“You’re squishing us!” (hug)

A cow, a cow
A cow got on the bus
And all, and all, and all the people said,
“Mooooove over!“ (tilt sideways)

A sheep, a sheep,
A sheep got on the bus
And all, and all, and all the people said,
“Baaaack up!“ (lean back)

Humpty Dumpty
Rock and rock and rock on the wall (sway)
Rock and rock; I hope we don’t fall!

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall! (tilt backwards)

All the kings horses and all the kings men (bounce fast)
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!

I Bounce You Here
I bounce you here, I bounce you there,
I bounce you, bounce you, everywhere! (lift)

I tickle you here, I tickle you there,
I tickle you, tickle you, everywhere!

I hug you here, I hug you there,
I hug you, hug you, everywhere!

Popcorn, Popcorn
Popcorn, popcorn (bounce gently)
Sittin’ in the pot.
Shake it up, shake it up. (wiggle baby)
Pop! Pop! Pop! (bounce high 3 times)

Snuggle Up
Snuggle up together
Baby’s in your lap.
Snuggle up together
And clap, clap, clap

Snuggle up together
Don’t you nap.
Snuggle up together
And tap, tap, tap. (tap feet)

You’re workin’ out together
Baby don’t stop.
You’re workin’ out together
So hop, hop, hop. (big bounce)

Now our song is over
Get ready to stop.
Now our song is over
So stop, stop, stop.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, (sway)
I’m a little cuckoo clock.
Tick-tock, tick-tock,
Now it’s almost one o’clock.
Cuckoo! (lift)

Tiny Little Babies
Tiny little babies love bouncin’ bouncin’
Tiny little babies love bouncin’, yeah.
Tiny little babies love bouncin’, bouncin’
Tiny little babies love bouncin’ so.

Bounce to the left, bounce to the right
Now hug that baby nice and tight!

Toast in the Toaster
I’m toast in the toaster,
I’m getting very hot!
Tick tock, tick tock,
Up I pop!

Two Little Boats
(Tilt forward and backward)
Two little boats went out to sea
All is calm as calm can be.

(Tilt side to side)
Gently the wind begins to blow
Two little boats rock to and fro.

(Bounce up and down)
Loudly the wind begins to shout.
Two little boats they bounce about.

STOP! Goes the storm, the wind, and rain (freeze)
Two little boats sail on again (rock forward and backward)

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom
Zoom, zoom, zoom
We’re going to the moon.
Zoom, zoom, zoom,
We’ll get there very soon.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1…
BLAST OFF! (lift)

Favorite Baby Storytime Books

We all have our personal favorite storytime books. There are plenty of lists of best baby storytime books on the Internet–some of these work for me, some of them don’t. For one thing, we typically have large storytime crowds–a minimum of 40 people, often up to 80-90. With these crowds, I tend to avoid standard 6″ board books. I’ve thought about scanning in the pages and displaying them on my storytime powerpoint, but I like using a physical book for the younger kids (who often don’t have strong enough vision to see the screen).

Our large crowds are often made up mostly of ages 12-24 months, meaning our little ones often have less patience than some of their younger counterparts. I focus on selecting books that have repeated phrases we can read as a group or clear actions. I slip in more traditional stories sometimes, but those never go over as well as more action-based titles.

Finally, and most importantly, I choose books that work for me. For whatever reason, I have never been able to make Clip Clop by Nicola Smee work. I can’t seem to get the rhythm right, even though this should be a book that would be ideal for my storytime crowd and style (its available in big book format and has easy actions).

My personal go-to titles are included below. What are some of your go to baby storytime books?

The Babies on the Bus by Karen Katz

Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Jane Cabrera

For this title, I include the different verses on the PowerPoint behind me so the parents can join in. The first few times I read this book, parents, used to my style, joined in, but they repeated the traditional “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” verse for every page, overwhelming my reading voice (that happens with 40 parents reading along!). My slides look like this:

If You’re Happy and You Know It: Jungle Edition by James Warhola

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.

Jump! by Scott M. Fischer

Ten Tiny Tickles by Karen Katz

Up!: How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones by Susan Hughes

The Baby Goes Beep by Rebecca O’Connell

Leo Loves Baby Time by Anna McQuinn

Baby Faces Peekaboo! by Dawn Sirett

Peek-a-Baby by Karen Katz

Do Crocs Kiss? by Salina Yoon

Splish, Splash, Ducky! by Lucy Cousins

Favorite Graphic Novels of 2019

Graphic novels are one of my favorite mediums to read. I try to keep up with what my patrons are reading, so I make an effort to pick up the newest or most talked about series. Some of them I love–I will forever be a Dog Man fan–and some of them I am fine letting go after the first book (sorry Plants vs. Zombies).

I never read graphic novels or comics growing up. In fact, I don’t think I read my first graphic novel until library school, when a few “classic” kid titles were required reading for my children’s literature classes. I fell in love with the format. I always associated graphic novels with comics and comics with white superheros and never-ending violent fight scenes. Graphic novels (and comics) offer so much more than that, with a modern young reader being able to find essentially any genre in graphic novel format. The blend of words and illustrations also makes it easier for a reader to try something new–while those older superhero comics are still not my preference, some of the newer imagingings of those characters and stories are my favorite series.

Each year, a brand new selection of amazing graphic novels is released. Some of my favorites published this year are featured below.

All of these titles represent the physical book, not any audiobook adaptation that has been or will be produced in the future.

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Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir
This sassy mash up imagines a world where three girls from various “classic” fantasy novels live in the same universe and end up at the same boarding school, a place designed to help them learn how to harness their world-crossing powers. Wendy, Alice, and Dorothy are all tired of being told what to do and what to think and are quickly dashing between magical universes, leaving havoc in their wake.


The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
This graphic adaptation of the Newbery winning novel delivers, capturing the emotions, spirit, and rhythm of the original story while adding an entirely new dimension through its beautiful illustrations.

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Guts by Raina Telgemeier
How can you have a list of great graphic novels and not include the reigning queen? While Raina’s popularity as an author is unquestioned, this book lives up to the hype. Raina expertly depicts what it is like to deal with the everyday ups and downs of middle school, while also introducing to young readers a very real struggle with anxiety.

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Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki
I am not a traditional comics reader, and I didn’t know anything about Harley Quinn before this graphic novel. Surprising to me, I quickly found myself immersed in this world and rooting for the antihero Harley becomes as she is forced to stand on her own two feet after both of her parents abandon her.


Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Hatke combines his two most popular universes–those of Zita the Spacegirl and Mighty Jack–in his newest book. Friends and enemies from both series clash as Jack, Lilly, and Zita must learn how to work together to save their home planet.

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Narwhal’s Otter Friend by Ben Clanton
Narwhal and Jelly’s adventures continue, this time introducing a new friend–and a new emotion–to their otherwise joyful friendship. This continues to be a go to series for ages 6-8.


New Kid by Jerry Craft
One of my new favorites for book talks. Jordan loves to draw, but instead of sending him to art school, his parents send him to a prestigious private school. Jordan immediately feels uncomfortable–he is attending on a scholarship, and he is one of the only black kids in the entire school. Jordan tries to make new friends as he learns to balance the two worlds that divide his attention.


The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner
The back matter describes this as a combination of Roller Girl and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and I don’t think I can come up with a better summary. Middle schooler Moth discovers that her family is caught up in the center of century-old drama in her small Massachusetts town–they are the remaining descendants of some of the most famous witches from history. There is a lot more to figure out than just how to control her new powers, as Moth quickly becomes torn between family members, friends, and the new world she is excited to discover.

Princess, Volume 9: Love Yourself by Jeremy Whitley
The spectacular Princeless graphic novel series is coming to an end. This penultimate volume begins wrapping up many storylines, not the least of which involves Princess Adrienne confronting her father’s misogyny. An excellent volume that just leaves me even more excited for the end of the series.


The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer
Traditional fairy tales have never been my favorite types of stories. While I am always interested in a fractured retellings, the traditional versions never rang true for me–I was always reading a version that was too sweet or too grim, and both styles felt like they were just trying to beat a lesson into my head. This collection of “new” fairy tales adds humor to stories that feel like they have been around for a few generations, often without the needed “lessons” feeling quite so harshly delivered at the end.


Stargazing by Jen Wang
Christine becomes unlikely friends with her new, strange neighbor, Moon. As the girls become closer, they both reveal some of their most precious secrets. After disaster strikes, can Christine find the courage to be the friend that Moon deserves?