The best free iPhone apps for kids and toddlers
Our favorite free iPhone interactive experiences and learning aids for toddlers and children.
Duolingo ABC (opens in new tab) draws from the famous tool for learning foreign languages. But in this case, the friendly interface is designed to help young children learn to read.
From the off, this free iPhone app is packed full of quick games and exercises, designed to engage, and have children directly interact with what they’re learning about. There are colorful buttons to press, letters to trace, and the (optional) opportunity to provide answers by talking.
The app’s been designed from the ground up as kid-safe, and so it’s offline-only and will never send you to a web page or beg for IAP. Parents should be aware, though, that this app perhaps works best with you alongside your child, since some of its elements may require some guidance - especially for younger users.
Toca Life: World
Toca Life: World (opens in new tab) rethinks the superb Toca Life apps, mostly by smushing them together. What you end up with is a spinning globe that provides access to the Toca Life apps you already have on your iPhone – or any equivalents you buy via IAP.
But what if you don’t want to buy anything? Even then, Toca Life: World is worth a download. You get eight places to visit within the Bop City location for free. Kids can explore a hairdresser, shopping mall, food court and more, experimenting with characters, and even recording narrated movies of play sessions.
This is a generous, reasonable way to approach immersive, expansive children’s entertainment. There’s a lot for free, and added rewards when you decide to grow your collection – but there’s never any pressure to do so.
Noah’s Ark Animalibrium
Noah’s Ark Animalibrium (opens in new tab) isn’t a typical recreation of the famous story. Instead of a massive boat, there’s a precariously wobbly water-bound bowl for the animals to balance on. Also, there are just eight critters, rather than all of that two-by-two shenanigans you’d previously heard of.
Still, youngsters won’t mind as they have fun with the playful physics, flinging things about, scrolling the scene, and even dragging animals underwater – whereupon they close their eyes, and the audio appropriately dulls.
You also get two buttons: one changes the weather; the other shoots a snap for posterity, should the player manage truly epic balancing. There’s a one-off IAP too, for those who fancy a trip back to prehistoric times: $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 unlocks a pack of eight dinosaurs to save from a flood. We’re pretty sure that wasn’t in Noah’s Ark either…
Tankee (opens in new tab) is a video-streaming platform designed for kids who want to watch videos about gaming. It strips out social networking and comments, and also – crucially – has a real person watch every video that’s made available.
The downside is that this limits Tankee to a few hundred hours of content (although this is growing all the time); but you can at least know the videos will be age-appropriate, and algorithms won’t make horrific recommendations after your kid has delved into some Minecraft tips.
Everything can be browsed for free, right from the off. Create an account and your child can choose an avatar, save favorites, follow channels, and hammer smiley buttons at lightning speed when they like a particularly good bit of a video.
Wonderbly Story Time Books
Wonderbly Story Time Books (opens in new tab) is an iPhone take on a personalized illustrated children’s book. The story centers on a child’s magical quest to find their forgotten name, and each letter has its own beautifully realized miniature adventure.
In fact, each letter has more than one scene, which means there’s no duplication even if your kid has the unlikely name ‘Daaaaavid’. The only minor snag on iPhone is the text is sometimes a bit small. You can use a zoom gesture, but the second you let go, the page snaps back into place.
Still, should you want to free your book from the confines of your iPhone, you can order a printed version. And should you want to revisit previous adventures in digital form, they remain stored inside the app.
Peek-a-Zoo (opens in new tab) doesn’t look like much at first, given that every scene essentially features simplistic cartoon animals atop a flat slab of color, but you soon appreciate how much imagination has gone into this basic setup when you watch a child using the app.
It’s all down to the questions, which challenge a toddler to find the right animal. They’ll be asked things like who’s dressed up (which character has the hat), who’s winking, or who’s trying to hide. That last one makes brilliant use of the minimalist graphics, ‘hiding’ an animal by matching its body to the game’s background.
It’s all very sweet-natured, and has surprising range given how simple it is. That’s something to appreciate – a free children’s app that’s free from cruft and ads.
Toca Tailor Fairy Tales
Toca Tailor Fairy Tales (opens in new tab) turns your child into a designer and stylist. On selecting a character to clothe, they can then drag and swipe to give them a beautiful new outfit.
Well, ‘beautiful’ might be a stretch. The mix-and-match nature of the app offers equal potential for eye-searing garish fashion disasters. This is especially true when you delve into the materials section, zooming and rotating textures, or adding new ones by way of the camera.
Garments can be adjusted in other ways, too – tap to switch to a different type, or drag to change something’s length. Last of all, there are accessories to give the model a perfect final touch – or a very silly hat.
Laugh & Learn™ Shapes & Colors
Laugh & Learn™ Shapes & Colors Music Show for Baby (opens in new tab) is an interactive experience designed for very young children. Level 1 should be approachable enough even for a six-month-old you’re brave enough to arm with your worryingly expensive iPhone; they can tilt and tap to make shapes appear and bounce around the screen.
Level 2 is squarely designed at toddlers. The app chirps “Let’s put on a show!” as shapes dance and jump about on the screen. This is augmented by jaunty earworms that will burrow into your skull, while your tiny human makes their own live remix by prodding at a colorful piano keyboard. It’ll drive you bonkers, but the smile on that little face will be worth it. Probably.
Lego Creator Islands
Lego Creator Islands (opens in new tab) might seem like an odd choice for inclusion here, since parents would most likely sooner see their children playing with plastic bricks rather than virtual ones on an iPhone. But when the real thing isn’t available, this official game does the business.
It all takes place on the titular islands, which you explore to collect bricks that act as a kind of in-game currency. These can then be used to acquire Lego sets that are constructed with a few deft taps.
The selection is fairly small, but even so you can over time build a rather nice set of islands, featuring houses, roaming animals and dinosaurs, and vehicles blazing about the place. Also, there’s no chance of getting a plastic brick embedded in your foot.