We asked Jackie Breyer, Editor-in-Chief at The Toy Insider, New York for the top 10 apps for kids. All apps featured are available for purchase in the UK.
Kids are drawn to technology from a very young age. As soon as they are able to grab for something, they want what you have””and what you have is typically the TV remote, a smartphone, or a tablet. They wonder, “What is this magical device that Mommy and Daddy can’t live without?” And once they get their little hands on it, you can see the wheels turning.
Even at the earliest stages of development, kids possess an innate understanding of how to swipe, tap, and click. These gestures are second-nature to them, and the best apps designed for kids are so intuitive, kids are able to play instantly. As parents and caregivers, we may strive to keep our kids shielded from technology for as long as possible. Or perhaps we are okay with some tech time, as long as it is limited and the apps offer a positive learning and/or play experience.
The App Store and Google Play are filled with options designed for preschoolers, but it can be daunting for parents to decide which apps are right for their kids. There are several criteria to consider when choosing an app to download.
- Engagement: Parents want to know that their child will be drawn into an app, and will want to play with it for more than just a few minutes before casting it aside, proclaiming “I’m bored!” It should be a game kids look forward to playing with during the precious time their parents allow them to use a tablet or smart device. Try to avoid “watch me” apps. While some e-books are fantastic, a simple read-to-me or TV episode is not what we are searching for here. Look for an app that encourages the child to interact and respond.
- Quality: The app should be smooth, without glitches or pop-ups. The content should be something a parent not only doesn’t mind their child playing with, but that they feel enhances or encourages their child’s development in some way.
- Balance: The app should be both entertaining and educational. A child should be learning without being put off. Kids shouldn’t necessarily realize that it’s educational””just that it’s fun.
- Uniqueness: An app that’s worth its price is one that offers unique gameplay and content that feels fresh and new. The way a child interacts with the app should get his or her gears turning in new ways.
- Intuitive: While parent-child time is always a good thing, it’s a fantastic bonus if an app is so intuitive that even a non-reading child can enjoy it without constantly asking for help.
Here are 10 of my favorite apps for kids:
Tozzle””Toddler’s Favorite Puzzle, by nodeflexion.com
Kids can choose from many puzzles at varying levels of difficulty, and drag each piece as it pops up into the spot where it fits. These puzzles have layers of complexity that keep it interesting but are simple enough for kids to do. Once a puzzle is completed, kids can tap parts of it for sounds and actions.
What to know: Like many apps, there is a free lite version available. But once you see how engaging this app is, you’ll want to download the full version, which at $2.99 is well worth it. Tozzle is simple enough for a 2 year old to enjoy, but engaging enough that a 4 year old will sit and play at length.
Sago Mini Doodlecast, by Sago Sago
Bring out your child’s creative side with Sago Mini Doodlecast. The app provides more than 30 drawing prompts, such as a simple line drawing of waves with the question, “What’s happening in the water?” Kids select whichever prompt they like (or start from scratch) and start drawing. The app records the drawing process””along with audio from the smart device’s microphone””to create a short video of the artistic creation.
What to know: At $2.99, this app captures memories that you won’t want to delete, ever. Just be careful what you are saying in the background as your little one is sketching away. This app is appropriate for a 2 year old, but open-ended enough that a 6 year old can still enjoy it. Older kids could use it to give an art lesson by narrating as they draw.
Elmo Loves ABCs, by Sesame Street
Kids will slide, sweep, swipe, touch, trace, and dig to discover more than 80 classic Sesame Street clips, many of which parents will remember from their own childhood. Most importantly, kids will engage in fun learning about uppercase and lowercase letter recognition, letter sounds, tracing, and more.
What to know: The free lite version offers the letters A, B, and C. If your child enjoys this, it will be worth the $4.99 to unlock the entire alphabet and all of the app’s features. You can personalize this app, but you must complete all fields to have your content appear within the game play. This app is appropriate for kids ages 2 and up.
StoryBots Starring You Books, by JibJab Media Inc.
The Starring You Books app makes your child the star of animated storybooks by incorporating their face and name. A subscription costs $4.99 per month and if your family uses it as frequently as mine does, it’s well worth it. You can load as many friends’ and family members’ names and faces as you like to make each story unique. A new book magically arrives each month to add to your StoryBots library, and each book is cleverly written and beautifully illustrated.
What to know: There is no auto-play feature. Kids can turn the page and watch the animation and listen to background sounds, but you (or your child) must read the book. The developers hope to encourage family story time with this app. Also, the monthly subscription is not required, but offers a great value. The fee is charged automatically each month until you cancel. This app is appropriate for kids ages 2 and up to read with a parent or older sibling.
Sago Mini Forest Flyer, by Sago Sago
This app offers an open-ended play experience that kids will love. Explore the magical forest with Robin, your new feathered friend. There are a lot of surprises for kids to find, and silly animations that will have you adults cracking up as well.
What to know: Kids ages 3 to 5 will love exploring this world, and will discover new animations each time they play. Yellow markers help kids find the fun as they explore the forest. Cost: $2.99.
Toca Tea Party, by Toca Boca AB
Toca Boca offers an array of apps for kids, and is probably best known for its Hair Salon app (also a worthwhile download). Toca Tea Party makes the tablet screen look like a tea party with four place settings. Kids can seat their stuffed animals and dolls around the table and serve out pretend drinks and snacks, and tap away to watch the goodies get eaten.
What to know: There’s a lot to customize here, and the prompts make it easy for kids ages 3 to 5 to set the table, play, and clean up messes (if, for example, their guests spill their drinks). Cost: $2.99.
Trucks HD, by Duck Duck Moose
Duck Duck Moose offers many fun apps for preschoolers, but Trucks HD is my favorite. There are five different scenarios: car wash, repair shop, garbage truck, construction site, and car and truck parade. Kids can play within each scene, such as getting a car muddy and then taking it through each stage of a car wash. They can also sort garbage into recycling, trash, and compost before sending it off in the appropriate truck.
What to know: Great for kids ages 2 to 5, Trucks HD is a lot of fun, but the music can eventually make parents nuts. Don’t turn the sound off on your tablet; just turn off the music within the app. This way kids can still hear the prompts, and you are spared the 700th rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Cost: $1.99.
Monkey Preschool Lunchbox, by THUP Games
For parents looking to engage their preschooler with a broad array of counting, colors, numbers, and letters, this app will do the trick. Kids can play this game endlessly, as there is no start or finish. They earn a sticker every few rounds, which keeps them motivated.
What to know: The monkey sounds can get a little irritating, so just keep the volume at a reasonably low level. I recommend this game for kids ages 3 to 5. Cost: $1.99.
Bug Mazing Adventures, by Little Bit Studio
Kids take a somewhat creepy looking ant on a grand adventure through mazes of increasing difficulty. There are more than 20 challenges that require counting, letter recognition, understanding of patterns, and more.
What to know: All of the adventures in this app take place in mazes, so it helps if your child is a fan of solving this type of puzzle. I recommend this app for kids ages 4 to 6. Cost: $1.99.
PlaySquare Presents WordWorld’s Happy Birthday Dog, by PlaySquare
Play Square aptly describes Happy Birthday Dog as a “touchable television appisode” of PBS Kids’ WordWorld. While this app is not that new, it is my favorite among the WordWorld appisodes. Kids watch and play along to further the storyline. It’s very engaging, as well as educational.
What to know: This is the closest I’ve seen to truly interactive TV. Kids watch and come to the rescue in eight interactive scenes to propel the story forward. This app is recommended for ages 2 to 5, and is currently free. There are other appisodes for $2.99.