I was playing bubbles with a 2 yr old when she wanted a turn. Even though I knew the outcome, she said “peeeze” so I said OK. As predicted, she immediately dumped the bubbles on the floor and started laughing. In the corner of the room I heard the quiet voice of her 10 year old brother say to me, “Excuse me, ma’am… you know there’s an app for that”.  

After I shook off the “you’re old and uncool” comment, I was intrigued to see what he was going to show me that could compare to the messy and fun magic of bubbles. He took his mom’s iPad, tapped an app and within 7 seconds his little sister was popping bubbles on the screen. While I was standing there feeling old and uncool, I realized I needed to “app it up” and join this century. So over the years I have collected a bounty of apps and iBooks. These are a few of my favorite distractions for toddlers and preschoolers.


1. Pop goes the Bubble (iOS link, Android link) – $0.99

This is the app my 10-year old friend introduced to me. The child can tap the wand and bubbles appear, then tap and pop!

2. Toddler Happy Birthday (iOS link) – Free

Toddlers love to sing happy birthday and blow out candles. This app plays the Happy Birthday song. Then the child can blow into the mic and the candles go out. This is a great choice to slow down breathing.

3. Balloonimals (iOS link) – $1.99

Another great app to encourage deep breathing. The child blows into the mic and balloon animal appears. They can then tap and play with the animal they have made.

4. Wheels on the Bus (iOS link, Android link) – $1.99

All the apps by Duck Duck Moose are well made and a good musical interactive game. I like to use them for distraction during procedures and exams for small children. 

5. Elmo Look and Find (iPad link) – $2.99

Look and Find books are a great distraction for kids of all ages. This one is geared just for preschoolers. It is fun and interactive. A good choice if you want to block a child’s view during an invasive procedure.


iBooks and the app store have hundreds of read-along books to choose from. These are great for blocking a child’s view from an invasive procedure or for distraction. Some of my favorite digital books for small children include:

  1. Ms. Spiders Tea Party (iOS link) – $2.99
  2. Smurf Classics (iOS link) – Free for one story then $0.99 for additional stories
  3. Thomas and Friends: Thomas and Toby (iOS link) – $2.99
  4. Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue—A Magical Adventure (iOS link) – $2.99

Personal Note

I would like to note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than 1-2 hrs/day of total screen time for children. Children less than 2 years old should have ZERO screen time.

For the record, the 2 year old played with the iPad for 4 minutes and then wanted the real thing. Whew, I haven’t been replaced by a machine…..yet! Play on.


Edited by Dr. Nikita Joshi

Disclaimer: We do not have any financial affiliations with any of the apps, iBooks, or companies mentioned.

Kristen Beckler, CTRS, CCLS

Kristen Beckler, CTRS, CCLS

Certified Child Life Specialist
Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford
Pediatric Emergency Department