THE CO-PARENTING SMARTPHONE

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Captain Kirk just read my kids a bedtime story.

Thanks to the Storyline Online phone application, Chris Pine (not William Shatner, sorry) performed an energetic reading of “Clark the Shark” while animated illustrations from the book played on my screen.

“Clark,” written by Bruce Hale and illustrated by Guy Francis, tells the story of an energetic shark who must learn how to control his excitable outbursts while at (fish) school. After finishing the story, Pine talked briefly about the book’s message - how there’s a time and place for all emotions, as well as a time and place to be considerate of other people’s feelings.

My kids liked how Clark wore a striped T-shirt. We all interpret literature differently, I suppose.

Storyline Online is a children’s literacy website, storylineonline.net, created by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation (Screen Actor Guild-Federation of American Television and Radio Artists union). The website and app contain video readings from the likes of Lily Tomlin, Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Betty White and 20 percent of the cast of “The West Wing.”

The site claims more than 100 million views annually from children all over the world. From a user standpoint, the videos play smoothly, and the entire experience is reminiscent of being comforted by “Reading Rainbow” as a kid.

It’s a perfect little app for when you owe your kids a bedtime story, but you just aren’t in the mood to perform on command. Why put so much effort into describing “Carla’s Sandwich” when seven-time Emmy winner Allison Janney can do it for you?

As a stay-at-home dad to four children ages 6 and under, some days require a little digital assistance. While we make an effort to limit screen time in our household, smartphones provide a massive assortment of educational activities, videos and parenting resources.

Storyline Online is just the latest addition to our arsenal.

Here’s a rundown of some of our most used apps:

Emotional Support

“Daniel Tiger for Parents”

As a kid who grew up watching “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,” I was initially skeptical of the

2012 animated update series, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” As any regular PBS viewer now knows, “Daniel Tiger” is just as warm and wonderful as the original model, and the spirit of Fred Rogers endures in every episode.

The “Daniel Tiger” app provides instant access to its library of simple-but-infectious songs, each focusing on simple themes about emotions or conflicts common to the average preschooler.

Just a sampling of lyrics:

“It’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Little by little, you’ll feel better.again.”

“Sometimes you feel two feelings at the same time, and that’s okay.”

Some of these are just nice for parents to hear.

The app adds video clips from related episodes, and you can take pictures with your kids to add to theme pages to help reinforce ideas. Our 4-year-old has always had a big temper, so it helps for him to hear what Daniel Tiger does in infuriating situations.

“When you feel so mad, that you want to ROAR, take a deep breath and count to four.”

Sometimes he just roars, but most often the song and deep breath makes all the difference.

Guilt-free play

“Dr. Panda” series

More than 30 games populate this lineup of open-ended apps that give kids humorous and colorful role playing activities. Many of the games in the series my 6-year-old likes aren’t especially challenging, but they allow her to make numerous creative decisions. She plays them alongside her younger siblings too, guiding them through choices and inspiring physical role playing games they play together after tablet time is over.

The kids especially like “Dr. Panda’s Supermarket” and “Dr. Panda’s Mailman,” which offer a somewhat open-world town where your character delivers kid-made mail to other creatures around town. It reminded me of a toddler version of “Grand Theft Auto,” but without all the horrific violence.

“PBS Kids Games” and “PBS Kids Video”

Obviously, I’m a sucker for PBS and their lineup of programming. With a few notable exceptions (looking at you, Caillou), the PBS lineup contains education-minded shows that provide enough entertainment value for adults to engage with kids with the stories and messages. “Sesame Street” garners the praise, but shows like “Super Why!” “Arthur” and “Curious George” have played well with all my kids so far, and I don’t cringe at the sight of them either.

So if I’m going to let my oldest tinker with games online, the assortment of learning-based activities in the PBS Kids Games app fits the bill. The video app provides a Daniel Tiger episode on demand just when a reactionary 2-year-old needs some wind-down time. We miss it on TV often, because we don’t watch much TV in the house, and because it airs at the same time as “The Price is Right.”

Just for Fun (with physics too!)

My 6-year-old recently showed me Disney’s gator-filled puzzle game, “Where’s My Water?” and now I kind of love it. Basically, you help Swampy the Gator get water to his broken shower.You make physics-based decisions on how to dig dirt and help your water flow to avoid hazards and reach the pipes. At first look, it doesn’t seem particularly educational, but watching my first grader problem solve major plumbing issues makes a dad proud.

There’s a free version of the game and its sequel with advertising and in-game purchasing options. You can disable them before your kids accidentally spend thousands of dollars trying to acquire digital rubber duckies.

Have a great kids/parenting app to share? Email twilson@cdapress.com

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