Endless Reader is full of character: an app where a troop of colourful monsters teach your children how to spell a series of words, as well as acting them out.
1. Endless Reader (Free + in-app purchases)
The app focuses on tricky words (“sight” words in some schools) that children need to recognise as they learn to read. Six words come for free, with more available for parents to buy using in-app purchases.
2. Toca Boo (£1.99)
Toca Boo may have been released for Halloween, but its appeal will last all year round. It gets children to play as a girl named Bonnie, who dresses up in a sheet and floats around the house scaring her family members by jumping out at them and shouting “BOO!”. Genuinely funny, and beautifully designed.
3. Night Zookeeper (Free, optional subscription)
Night Zookeeper isn’t an app you download from the Google Play store: instead, it’s a website that works on tablets. It’s a wonderful thing too: part game and part creative studio where your children draw animals to fill a magical zoo, illustrating their own stories as they go. It’s free, but parents can choose to pay for a subscription that includes a physical zookeeper welcome pack.
4. Skylanders Trap Team (Free, tablet pack needed)
It needs a pretty powerful Android tablet and lots of space – 2.5GB – but Skylanders Trap Team is impressive: a proper, full-blown Skylanders game to match the console version, complete with its own joypad and portal stand so that kids can use their physical Skylanders toys. The game is free, but you’ll need to buy the physical “tablet starter pack” to play the full thing.
5. Tynker (Free + in-app purchases)
All primary-school children should now be learning computer programming skills (or at least “algorithmic thinking”) as part of the curriculum. Tynker is one of the apps that aims to help them practise at home: a collection of “coding puzzles” teaching kids about programming, with a sandbox mode to make their own games. In-app purchases buy additional puzzle packs.
6. Me Books (Free + in-app purchases)
Me Books is a digital equivalent to a children’s picture-books shop, acting as a store to buy e-books including Angry Birds, Peppa Pig, Skylanders and Frozen, but also as an app for reading them. Its most fun feature is the ability to re-record the voice narration with your children. Comics were recently added too.
The UK-only CBeebies Storytime is the second official app from pre-school channel CBeebies: a collection of digital stories, rather than the games in CBeebies Playtime. Popular characters including Sarah and Duck, Peter Rabbit and Charlie and Lola star, with stories accompanied by questions to provoke discussion with your children.
8. Toca Hair Salon Me (£1.99)
Another app from Toca Boca, which is one of the most well-loved brands in the children’s apps world. Toca Hair Salon Me takes a photo of your child (or you – this will happen by the way) then creates digital hair for them that can be grown, cut, shaved or dyed any colour your child likes. It can be very silly, but also very creative.
9. Makies Fashion (£1.99)
There are dozens of not-that-good dressing up games for Android, but Makies Fashion is a cut above: an app that gets children to create their own outfits for virtual dolls, then snap pictures of them as they strut down a catwalk. As kids get used to it, their creations will get more ambitious, which is wonderful to watch.
10. Toca Lab (£1.99)
More Toca Boca, and this is one for any parent who’d love to show their children how fun science can be. Set in a laboratory, Toca Lab gets kids to explore the periodic table, albeit one that’s more... fluffy than you might remember from school chemistry lessons. They’ll be mixing, heating, freezing and spinning the elements.
11. Dr Panda’s Toy Cars (£1.79)
Dr Panda is another well-respected children’s apps brand, with a range of apps offering playful takes on grown-up professions. Dr Panda’s Toy Cars is pure playtime though: children drive various vehicles around a pair of cities, with a deliberate lack of a storyline to provide space for them to tell their own tales.
12. Ladybird: I’m Ready to Spell! (£2.99)
One of the UK’s most famous pre-school book brands, here, with a neat educational application. Ladybird: I’m Ready to Spell has a space theme, and is based on the phonics that kids will be learning in their first years at school. They work through three games, each with three difficulty levels, to reinforce what they’re learning in the classroom.
13. The Snowman And The Snowdog 2014 (£2.99)
Last year’s Snowman and Snowdog game was “freemium” – free but using in-app purchases. This year, it’s reverted to a pay-upfront game, which some parents will prefer. It’s a beautiful game though, as you soar over London, San Francisco, Japan, China and Australia collecting snowflakes. Stress-free fun for fans of all ages.
14. Toca Town (£0.69)
And still more Toca Boca: you might be understanding why many parents happily pay out for every new app from the company. Toca Town is a freeform world full of characters – some of whom featured in the company’s previous apps. Children can move them around, interact with items and – crucially – make up their own stories about what’s happening.
15. The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Friends (£2.99)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Friends is a reworking of Eric Carle’s classic book and illustrations, in the form of a digital “pop-up app” modelled after printed pop-up books. Aimed at pre-schoolers, it helps them practise counting, sorting and memory skills in fun mini-games, as well as encouraging healthy eating.
16. Sarah & Duck – Day at the Park (£2.99)
More Sarah and Duck, this time in their own app rather than just as part of the CBeebies Storytime app. It gets across all the charm of the animated TV series, as Sarah and her quacking pet head to the park for a series of six mini-games and activities, from hide and seek to kite-building.
17. Moonbeeps: Fireflies (£0.63)
This isn’t an education app or a game: Moonbeeps: Fireflies is a playful, relaxing bit of fun where children catch fireflies in a virtual jar, then watch them fly about. There are four to catch, with kids able to experiment with mixing their colours before releasing them back into the wild.
18. Dr Panda’s Postman (£1.79)
Another appearance for that moonlighting doctor, this time in Dr Panda’s Postman (or Mailman, as it’s known in the US). This app gets children delivering the post to 10 animals, wrapping packages, writing postcards then exploring the scenery as they deliver. It’s great open-ended fun.
19. The Journey of Alvin (£2.11)
This story of an old man riding a lawnmower across the US to visit his brother is the perfect base for a well-crafted road trip, with children watching and playing through the scenes. The Journey of Alvin looks lovely, and its meditative tone makes it very good if your kids’ tablet time tends to be in the evening.
20. Stampy Cat (Free)
Stampy is one of the biggest stars on YouTube as far as many kids are concerned, with his Minecraft videos watched as eagerly by tens of millions of children as any mainstream TV show. This is his official app: a simple way to watch his new YouTube videos without risk that a child will end up somewhere else on the video service – for example, swearier Minecraft videos from other YouTubers.
21. Yo Gabba Gabba! Awesome Music! (£1.49)
If you’re new to the charms of US children’s TV show Yo Gabba Gabba!, get thee to a cable channel (or, yes, YouTube) – it’s brilliant. And its growing range of apps retains the charm for tablets. Yo Gabba Gabba! Awesome Music! puts its focus on the songs and characters from the show, with fun mini-games.
22. Dr Panda’s Restaurant 2 (£1.79)
The sequel to a previous cooking app from developer TribePlay, Dr Panda’s Restaurant 2 adds more ingredients, and more ways for children to cook them up into a variety of tasty dishes for visitors to their virtual restaurant. There’s even a vegetarian mode.
23. Toca Pet Doctor (£1.99)
One more Toca Boca app, this time for budding young veterinarians. Toca Pet Doctor presents children with a waiting room full of cartoon animals looking sorry for themselves, with kids having to work out how to cure their ailments. Perfect for three and four year-olds.
24. The Foos: Free Code Hour (Free)
This is another app that aims to get children interested in programming: a taster for a full app that’s coming in 2015 from developer codeSpark. The idea behind The Foos: Free Code Hour is that children guide the colourful Foos characters to the end of each level by dragging instructions into place in their mini-routines.
25. Gory Games TV Play-along (Free)
Another BBC app – and thus, one for British children for now – which ties in to the quiz show spin-off from Horrible Histories. Gory Games TV Play-along was one of the first mainstream “second screen” apps for kids, designed to be used while watching the TV show. Children answer questions and compete with the on-screen contestants. And it works with the repeats!
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