The best kids apps for iPhone
Our favorite iPhone apps, learning tools, musical toys and games for toddlers and children.
Sago Mini Airport
Sago Mini Airport is an exploratory app for small children, to familiarize them with the goings-on at airports. Or at least very cartoonish airports, filled with bright animal characters, and the odd grinning robot.
As with other Sago fare, this is a well-designed experience. Interactions feel solid and well-considered, and there’s plenty to do, such as getting your tickets, going through security, and zipping the plane along the runway toward the heavens. There’s also the kind of massive ball pit in the airport that you’ll wish existed for yourself, let alone for your kids.
The app’s safe for children to play without too much supervision. There are no purchases, and no third-party ads – just loads of going-on-holiday-themed fun!
Thinkrolls Space finds a cast of oddball rotund critters trundling around 200 mazes set across seven unique planets. With its tactile interface and amusing characters, it has the appearance of a stylish cartoon – but one children can interact with, and that makes them think.
Essentially, the player tries to get the Thinkroll to an exit, swiping to make it roll, and manipulating other critters on screen as necessary. Cheese monsters tuck into moon cheese, clearing blocked tunnels. Goo monsters, robots and others also have their parts to play, as do vanishing bridges, plasma fields and teleporters.
With two distinct level sets, 24 Thinkrolls to collect, and no ads/IAP whatsoever, this one’s a good bet for keeping a kid with an iPod Touch happy – without filling their head with junk.
Sago Mini Village
Sago Mini Village is a building blocks game for small children. It takes place in a vibrant, fantastical realm apparently entirely populated by grinning gnomes. Shops and houses are constructed by drag-and-drop, like a cross between prefab housing and Duplo. As your village grows, more gnomes will move in, and then start milling about the place, visiting new friends.
In the hands of a kid, Sago Mini Village becomes a thing of wonder. It’s reportedly inspired by Minecraft, but clearly knows how to engage and cater for very young children. The interface is elegant and usable,there are no ads, it’s possible to play offline, and all of the surprises within the game are of a delightful kind. And as an added bonus, after a major building session, there’s nothing to tidy away!
Women Who Changed the World
Women Who Changed the World is an animated picture book for children, exploring the achievements of influential and iconic women, including Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, and Marie Curie.
The stories are approachable, providing useful facts, but not deluging children with too much content. The illustrations are bright and adorable, and many scenes in each story have interactive elements, such as being able to drag Earhart’s plane around.
There are a few niggles, most notably that it isn’t always obvious what should be done to move the story on. However, this low-cost, advertising-free introduction to such important subject matter is a must-download app for any kids (small or large) who’d like a grounding in the achievements of some of history’s most brilliant and brave women.
- Free + $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.99 IAP
Zen Studio‘s developer describes it as a meditation app for kids, but really it’s an engaging and entertaining combination of coloring and musical toy. It’s ideal for anyone who needs to relax for a while – regardless of age.
The app’s canvases are triangles that you color in with a tap and emit a note whenever you do so. Drag out a line or tap a few triangles in quick succession and you’re treated to a little melody. It’s all very ‘zen’.
You get the bulk of the app for free, but pay the one-off IAP and it opens up in useful ways: white paint for ‘deleting’ colored triangles; a range of template-based tutorials; and unlimited save slots. You might feel ‘zen’ about not splashing out, but this is an app that’s well worth paying a few bucks for.
Foldify is a rarity – an app that’s not entirely devoted to the digital realm. Instead, it invites you to create little characters on your iPhone, which you can then print on to card or paper, and construct by way of deft folding and a dab of glue.
The interface is first-rate. You kick things off with a template – anything from basic cubes to little blocky people, cars and arcade machines. You then scribble all over that with a pen tool, slap on stickers, and import your own images. All the while, you can admire your handiwork as a little 3D model that’s updated in real-time and can be spun with a flick.
There’s also a social aspect for sharing your creations and downloading other people’s works – including amusingly cuboid takes on Steve Jobs and the original Mac.
Bandimal is probably the world’s cutest music-making app. And although it was designed for children, we’ll wager anyone with a soul will be grinning from ear to ear shortly after starting to play.
It involves loading animals into one of three available slots, and tapping out notes on a dotted grid. When the playhead moves over the dots, a sound plays, and the animal bops along accordingly – such as a whale blowing colored water while emitting suitably deep bass noises.
It’s relentlessly jolly, sounds superb, and automatically stores every song you make. And as if to cement how perfect the app is, load one of your songs and the animals count in before it starts playing.
Toca Life: Office
Toca Life: Office is an app designed for children, ostensibly giving them insight into what their parents do all day at work. Only this office is probably a lot more exciting than the one you get to spend many hours in every week.
Here, tiny fingers can dot 35 distinct characters about the place, and role-play in an office, bank, rooftop, courthouse, and apartment. There’s a virtual daycare, a swanky glass elevator, and a bank vault with an alarm.
You can draw on a whiteboard, print from the computers, discover a helicopter, and even make superheroes. Chances are you’ll want to try this out yourself when your kid’s done, too, if only to imagine how exciting your own office life could be.
DNA Play is an educational app for children that serves as an introduction to the basic science behind DNA. At least in theory. Really, most tiny people will be more excited about the prospect of fashioning all kinds of bizarre, colorful creatures by way of dragging and tapping.
The app begins with you completing simple ‘gene’ puzzles, which see you dramatically adjusting a monster’s characteristics, and this can be done by simply hammering away at a body part to switch it for something new - ideal for less dextrous younglings. Each monster can then be saved and its photo shared.
Occasionally, objects show up, giving you the chance to propel your monster along on a skateboard, feed it a pile of fruit, or have it totally freak out when faced by a spider significantly less terrifying than the monster. But best of all, if you get caught playing with the app yourself, you can argue you’re in the midst of an important scientific breakthrough. Probably.
If you’ve got yourself a resident tiny human, your house probably has a few of those wooden puzzles where letter shapes are shoved into their respective slots. Endless Alphabet isn’t quite, well, endless, but contains dozens of such puzzles, which work brilliantly on the touchscreen.
On your child selecting a word, monsters sprint along the bottom of the screen, scattering its letters. They then need to be dragged back into place, coming to life as they’re moved. When a word’s complete, monsters act out what it means in a charming animated cut scene.
There are some minor grumbles here and there – the app’s resolutely US-English in nature, and the sounds letters make when dragged might confuse, since they’re not full letters nor the phonics often used in education. Otherwise, this is a first-rate, charming, enjoyable educational app for youngsters getting to grips with words.
If you've seen tiny humans around iOS devices, you'll have noticed that even those that can't speak beyond bababababa and dadadadada nonetheless merrily swipe and poke at screens.
Metamorphabet capitalises on this ingrained infatuation with shiny touchscreens, and cunningly attempts to teach the alphabet via the medium of surreal interactive animations.
It starts off with A, which when poked grows antlers, transforms into an arch and goes for an amble. Although a few words are a stretch too far (wafting clouds representing a daydream, for example), this is a charming, imaginative and beautifully designed app.
For most kids, plastic keyboards and annoyingly loud toy drums are a typical starting point in music, but Loopimal ambitiously attempts to introduce children to the concept of computer sequencing. Fortunately, it does so by way of highly animated dancing cartoon animals, bright shapes, and plenty of flair.
Hit play and you're immediately shown an animal bobbing its head to a backing track. You then drag coloured pieces (from a selection of five) into eight empty slots. When the playhead moves over the shapes, the animal adds its own sounds and melodies, often while performing impressive gymnastic feats.
It's Loopimal's character that initially wins you over. Unless you're dead inside, you won't fail to crack a smile when an octopus starts playing funky basslines with its tentacles, or the percussive Yeti gets all stompy. Smartly, once the player clocks how Loopimal works, the screen can be split into two or four, to combine animals and their unique sounds.
The one big miss is the inability to save your compositions, but every Loopimal riff is in C-major; this means you can use just the white notes on nearby keyboards to play along with whatever madness is happening inside the app.