55 best apps for kids
Keep your children happy with these great iOS apps
Put a child in the same room as an iPad or an iPhone and they will instinctively reach for it. Perhaps it’s the bright colours and the feel of using a touchscreen; the simplicity of the iOS interface also plays a part. But kids love messing with smartphones and tablets.
Mobile devices can do a great job entertaining and educating your offspring. But not all apps are created equal. Some are expensive to buy or
contain in-app purchases designed to tempt kids. Others aren’t appropriate for youngsters.
For this article we’ve trawled the App Store to pick out some of the favourites of our editors and their children for learning, creativity and fun.
Babies and toddlers
We’ll start with a couple of suggestions for the very youngest age group. These are aimed more at parents than the babies themselves, of course, and we wouldn’t recommend much screen time for the very young.
1. Baby Feeding Log
Price: Free The lives of small babies are entirely structured around the twin cycles of eating and sleeping, and understanding these cycles (which will be specific to your child) can make the living hell that is the first three months of parenthood slightly less hellish. Why is she crying? Ah, it’s been nearly three hours since the last feed. Or she only took 130ml last time. Or she only took 130ml the last three times, and maybe she’s poorly. And so on.
If you’re breast-feeding then things are complicated in a different way, because you no longer have access to the volumes of milk consumed – at which point timing the feed becomes critical. You will also want to remember which breast you used last time, and if that seems like the sort of thing that’s easy to remember then you haven’t got up for a feed at 3 in the morning. This app is a simple, free and one-hand-optimised
way to keep track of these figures and timings (despite the name it covers sleep and ‘diapers’ as well as feeding), and while it isn’t perfect, we strongly recommend getting either this or something like it.
2. Sleepy Sounds
Price: Free Familiar sounds and songs can act as a valuable trigger, helping to indicate to baby when it’s time to sleep. In time you’re likely to end up with a dog-eared musical soft toy that adds touch and smell to the ensemble of familiarity, but when starting out or visiting family, having an emergency measure up your sleeve (or on your phone) can be a lifesaver.
Sleepy Sounds is limited, with just four white noise options (the tumble dryer is particularly restful) and three sets of nature sounds to choose from – we’d steer clear of the somewhat abrasive lullaby selection. But it’s free and helps to ease one of the more desperate situations faced by beginner parents: bedtime, with rabbit nowhere to be found.
Ages 5 and under
Age recommendations are approximate, of course, and you won’t need to be told that kids learn and
mature at different speeds. Check out our choices on the App Store (have a look at screenshots, any available preview videos and so on) before spending any money, to see if the difficulty, complexity and reading level are appropriate for your child.
3. Blackboard Madness: Math
Price: Free Got a maths-whizz child who wants a challenge? Blackboard Madness is a set of fast-paced, quick-fire maths challenges, taking in addition, subtraction, division, multiplications, algebra, and > (more than) and < (less than) questions.
This is a great test of mental maths skills, logic thinking and reaction. It’s like Live Mathletics on speed. You have to slash the correct answers before they drop off the blackboard. There are kung fu sound effects to make you feel like a martial arts maths black belt. Don’t give this to a child just starting out on maths as the pace is pretty frenetic, but mental maths reaction speed is a great skill to teach more experienced maths students.
As with any decent challenge game there are high scores and player statistics to track performance, achievements and badges as rewards. We enjoyed Blackboard Madness. It’s free. So why not try it?
4. Dinosaur Park Math
Price: 79p Dinosaur Park Math is a fun way for children to learn addition and subtraction from 0 to 20. Kids need to answer sums correctly in order to chisel
away at rocks that hide dinosaur fossils within them. Kids can learn dinosaur facts while they’re learning maths, too. There are also some less educational but equally fun games to play within the app.
We’d suggest there’s a risk that kids will get into the habit of guessing, though, as there are no major consequences to getting the questions wrong.
There’s a free version of the app too, so you can try it out and decide whether your kids will enjoy it before upgrading to the paid version.
5. Dino Tim
Price: Free Dino Tim is a great way for younger children to get to grips with colours, shapes and their first words. Dino Tim’s family has been abducted by witches, and kids have to solve various educational puzzles in order to save them. The game involves solving colour and geometric
shape puzzles, as well as running, flying, jumping and even a little bit of magic.
The aim of the game is to teach kids to recognise basic geometric shapes, as well as to learn about colours and even their first words. The game has been fully translated into a number of languages (French, Spanish and Italian to list a few) which provides your child with a great opportunity to learn a foreign language in a fun way, from a young age.
6. Doodle Critter Math: Shapes
Price: £2.29 Doodle Critter Math: Shapes teaches your children basic shapes such as triangle, rectangle, square, hexagon and circle. Kids learn to draw different shapes by touching the ‘critters’ (small animals). A range of tasks including sorting, matching and memory games, make learning fun. Doodle Critter Math is designed for kids aged three to five and is another great way that young children can use the technology on the iPad to learn basic skills.
Elephant Art! Painting Room
7. Price: Free/£2.29 It’s immediately clear this isn’t a typical art app when you prod a button and an elephant’s massive foot crushes a banana, splattering it across a canvas on the wall. Further buttons provide additional destructive capabilities, obliterating all manner of household objects that magically become transformed into paint and flung at the artwork, creating a kind of abstract masterpiece.
It’s all very silly and a world away from virtual crayons, but the developer notes that is the point. Elephant Art isn’t about recreating the real world, but celebrating colours, magic and art.
8. Endless Alphabet
Price: £4.99 Although more conventional than Metamorphabet, listed elsewhere in this feature, Endless Alphabet proves that dialling down the surreal doesn’t mean an app about letters has to be boring. On the contrary, Endless Alphabet is a lot of fun as you choose a word, watch the letters scatter, and drag them back into place.
The letters come to life when touched, wriggling under your fingers (doubly so when using Force Touch on a modern iPhone), and once the word is complete, you’re treated to a little animation that explains what the word means.
9. Geo Walk HD
Price: £2.29 Geo Walk HD is essentially a digital version of an old world encyclopedia. You can spin an interactive
digital globe and touch location-based flashcards to learn more about the world, or you can take quizzes about your knowledge of the people, places and things located in the app.
10. Intro to Colors, by Montessorium
Price: £3.99 With Intro to Colors, your child learns the basics of colours through a series of matching games. So it starts out white matching red, blue and yellow before moving on to secondary levels and gradients. Kids learn to mix and match paint to create colours, as well as how to learn to spot and name different colours. It’s a pretty app, which is one reason we like it, and it makes use of the iPad to deliver something children would not get from other more traditional means.
11. Lego Duplo Train
Price: Free Your toddler will love to drive a colourful Lego Duplo Train from station to station. Choosing and loading wagons, building bridges, stopping at crossings, refuelling and laying new tracks around pesky rocks. A toddler’s dream.
12. Little Digits
Price: £2.99 Back when the iPad first arrived, people were excited to learn it could in fact recognise all ten fingers touching the screen at once, yet few apps took advantage of this. Little Digits reasons that kids often count by using their fingers, and here they can do so by prodding an iPad. Every
additional digit used updates the on-screen number accordingly (numbers here being represented by inventive, colourful beasts); and once everyone’s familiar with how the app works, there are basic counting and maths puzzles to try.
13. Mathletics Student
Free. Requires annual subscription Recommended by teachers and parents is Mathletics, a subscription-based online system of maths learning. For £39/year the child can run through adaptive-learning, level-staged maths tasks and games via computer or iPad app. Students learn at their own pace.
Mathletics is fun and features a great rewards system for kids, who win Bronze, Silver and Gold certificates by scoring points in a wide range of maths questions. These questions are presented in a fun and colourful way with animations to brighten things up but also to show how to reach the correct answers. Parents will learn a thing or two, too.
Live Mathletics sets the child up against other Mathletics players across the world, and is a great way to learn simple number bonds and increase the child’s’ recall speed. Times Tables Toons helps teach children their times table through song and animal animation. There are also weekly progress emails to monitor progress via a Parent Centre.
My daughter has been using Mathletics for over a year now, and it has undoubtedly helped her with her maths, and me understanding/remembering/ learning alongside her. We sit down a few times a week for short periods of time, or for one 30-minute session that should be long enough for her to score her 1,000 points and earn a new certificate. She loves it, too.
Price: £1.99 There’s nothing especially innovative about Miximal – it’s yet another of those sliding games, where you make strange combinations of animals. But what sets Miximal apart from its peers is the sense of craft and care that’s gone into the app.
The style is very cartoonish, yet all of the animals are very recognisable. Each is animated, too. Tap one of the sections and it moves and jiggles. Fashion a ‘complete’ animal and it will
offer a celebratory alternate animation. Additionally, if your child wonders at any point what strange mixed-up creature is currently on the screen, a quick tap of the play button will give you (and read out) its name.
15. The Monster at the End of This Book... Starring Grover
Price: £3.99 This updated and improved version of the Sesame Streetthemed book is a lot of fun. As Grover performs, the words appear on the screen, highlighted as they’re spoken. And you can interact with the app by touching a knot, for example, to make it unravel. Tap Grover to tickle him.
16. Monster Mingle
Price: £2.99 There’s a lot to be said for exploration and play when a child is developing. Monster Mingle’s free-play nature makes it ideal for such things. You create your own friendly monster by dragging parts to it that are lying about the place, and said monster can then amble about, dive into the ocean or soar into the air. The world features all kinds of strange creatures to discover and interact with, and the goal-free nature of Monster Mingle makes for a stress-free and highly entertaining time.
17. Monument Valley
Price: £2.99 One of the most beautiful and captivating games ever released, Monument Valley isn’t cheap (for an app) at £2.99 but it will keep children and adults engaged for hours working our how to help the silent princess Ida through mysterious and mind-bending, fantastical architecture, uncovering hidden paths, unfolding Escher-like optical illusions of impossible geometry, and outsmarting the barking Crow People.
Monument Valley is both surreal and serene exploration and will surely go down in game history as one of the unique greats.
18. Mr Thorne’s Times Table Terra Mr Thorne’s Divide + Conquer Mr Thorne’s Addition Space Station
Price: £1.49 each or £2.99 for the Maths Universe Bundle London teacher Christopher Thorne must be one of the coolest Sirs on the planet, and he uses the planets as the theme for his three maths apps: Mr Thorne’s Times Table Terra, Mr Thorne’s Divide + Conquer, and Mr Thorne’s Addition Space Station. The apps are simple and look gorgeous – sure to be a hit with boys as well as girls.
When you score 10 out of 10 on a particular addition, times table or division test you get to keep a space station or planet, depending on the app you’re using. There’s a mystery challenge when you’ve unlocked all the tests, which is an extra incentive – and different to the Squeebles and Math Bingo reward games.
Each game has three levels: Beginner/ Newcomer, First Class/Elite and World Class/ Legend. The top level is going to test adults, too, so you can join in the sum fun.
Mr Thorne’s Addition Space Station has 42 mental maths tests, which includes adding multiple numbers, decimals and fractions so is suitable for children aged five to 11.
Mr Thorne’s Times Table Terra features 60 tests based on basic multiplication and times tables. They also feature video tutorials from Mr Thorne.
Mr Thorne’s Divide + Conquer has 50 maths tests based on division and inverse times tables.
I recommend all the Mr Thorne maths apps, as they’re simple to use, look great, and should really engage kids in these maths basics.
19. My Very Hungry Caterpillar
Price: £2.99 The Very Hungry Caterpillar has munched its way through countless books, a telly animation, and even the odd activities-based app. But My Very Hungry Caterpillar takes a different approach, transforming the ravenous larva’s surroundings into an interactive game.
The result’s not unlike a no-lose Tamagotchi, with you feeding the caterpillar, playing with it, helping it doze under a leaf, and watching it grow. Eventually, like in the original story, the caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly, at which point a new egg is laid for the adventure to begin anew.
20. Number Monster
Price: £2.29 One for the very early learners, Number Monster (from Wombi) is a simple app that teaches kids to recognise numbers – from one to 20. It’s friendly and easy for kids to pick up. Parents can turn on and off visual clues as their child progresses. It doesn’t go much further than that so is a little expensive for what it offers.
There’s also a Shape Monster games (at the time of writing this was offered for free). Like Number Monster it’s easy and friendly, and can be set at different levels up to hexagons and pentagons from
a start with squares and circles, and so on. Wombi also offers Colour Monster and Letter Monster apps, and a simple telling-the-time app called Around The Clock.
21. Nursery Rhymes
Price: £4.99 (Download Nursery Rhymes Bundle) This set of three apps reimagines famous nursery rhymes as tiny interactive scenes. In ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’, there’s a fiddling cat, leaping cow, grinning moon, and crockery eloping with cutlery. Every item on the screen can be tapped to make it wobble and emit a sound effect, and the rhyme is sung through when the words are tapped. Navigation between rhymes is by way of large arrows at the top of the
screen, ensuring the Nursery Rhymes collection is suitable for even very young toddlers.
Note that the three volumes are also available individually, and there are separate free versions, too. Each of those has a single unlocked rhyme, the rest being available via a single IAP.
Price: £2.29 There’s an elegant simplicity at the heart of Peeka-Zoo, and it might at first appear a bit too simple. But any time spent with the app and a small child will dismiss any lingering concerns. You’ll grow to love the gang of sweet cartoon animals, and the simple questions for the child to answer: Who is winking? Who is dressed up? And so on. You soon realise that although this app is very straightforward, it’s cunningly teaching your child all kinds of things, from identifying animals to types of clothing and actions.