The colder winter months offer families more time together indoors, and homes with an iPad have many fun and educational apps within reach. However, with over a half-million apps in the App Store, searching for those kid-friendly apps can sometimes be a pain.

But there’s help. Jenny Gudmundsen in her new book, iPad Apps For Kids For Dummies®, offers parents a reliable resource for choosing the best apps for their kids. As a respected USA TODAY Kid-Tech columnist, Jenny has tested a host of apps and offers parents an objective view of  the best apps for kids of all ages. Here’s a review of five of her favorite free iPad apps for kids:

Squiggles! (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 3-6, Lazoo Worldwide, Inc.).

Most young children like to draw, making this app a winner. Squiggles provides a fail-proof drawing playground that allows kids to paint with their fingers. A scene is presented that needs a squiggle, and the app then demonstrates how to do it. For example, kids may be asked to draw the mane on a lion, the exhaust on a car, or the wool on a lamb. Once the drawing is complete, the player hits the “Go” button, and the squiggles begin to animate.

“The app also lets you take a photo and add squiggles to it, and includes an interactive story adventure,” adds Gudmundsen. “I love that this app teaches kids that by using their creativity, drawings can become anything they can imagine.”

Alien Assignment (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 4-8, Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College).

This fun app takes kids on a scavenger hunt to take photos using the iPad. An alien family, called the Gloops, has just crashed-landed on earth and needs the child’s help in repairing their spaceship. Not knowing what’s available, the Gloops’ on-board computer asks the child to take pictures of what’s around them so it can figure out how to replicate things to fix the ship. New requests are given each time the game is played.

“By playing this app, kids learn to solve problems and think creatively,” Gudmundsen says. “They must reflect upon everyday objects in new and different ways. Another great aspect of this app is that after kids take the requested number of photos (you can set it to be between 4 and 20), they are asked to ‘show your grown-up’ the photos. This provides you an opportunity to interact with your child and talk about why they chose the objects.”

LEGO Creationary (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 5-10, The LEGO Group).

LEGO lovers will jump at the chance to play this game which tests how quickly you can determine what specific object is being built with LEGO bricks. Categories of items being built (nature, vehicles, buildings, things, and two random options) are determined by a roll of the die at the start of the game. Four different completed objects appear in each corner of the screen with the object being built in the center. The player has to tap the correct corner object before the center one is completed to win the game.

“The building is superfast so that kids need to use observation skills, imagination, and knowledge of Lego-building to be successful,” Gudmundsen notes. “Don’t miss this one if you have a Lego aficionado who enjoys high-adrenaline fun. It will help your kids hone their observation skills and quick thinking.”

Scribble Press (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 6 and up, Scribble Press).

This free app is great for budding writers. Kids are able to write and illustrate their own books and share them on the iPad (with your permission, of course) on the moderated Scribble Press server for other kids to view and enjoy. Links to email, Facebook and Twitter are also available to allow kids to share their work with friends and family. Completed books can also be stored in your iBooks bookshelf.

“This app provides 50 story templates to help your child on her path to becoming an author,” comments Gudmundsen. “The templates provide a framework for kids in which some of the story is already written, and all they have to do is add in their own details. In addition to writing, kids are encouraged to add their own artwork or photos.”

Awesome Eats (Free US/CAN/UK, Ages 6 and up, Whole Kids Foundation).

Learning about healthy eating can be fun with the use of this free app. Awesome Eats is a fast-paced game that allows kids to learn how eating can be healthy while sorting life-like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. At each level of the game, kids are asked to move the food characters from one conveyor belt to another to eventually get the food in the correct box at the end.

“In between each of the 32 levels, the app presents kids with interesting nuggets of information about good nutrition,” Gudmundsen explains. “It’s one of my favorite free apps because it’s fun to play, teaches kids about healthy eating, and doesn’t contain ads or in-app purchases.”

If you’re looking for ways to educate and entertain your kids using your iPad, these five apps are a good start. What’s great is that they are just a small sample of all the free apps reviewed in Gudmundsen’s book, and many more can be found by searching the App Store or the internet.