British books and apps publisher Nosy Crow has made a succession of beautiful fairytale apps, all with a strong eye on encouraging reading, not just tapping on interactive whizziness.
1. Jack and the Beanstalk by Nosy Crow (£2.99)
Jack and the Beanstalk was their best effort yet, blending storytelling and light gaming with the company’s now-familiar voice narration from children, not grown-ups.
2. Toca Nature (£1.99)
Now one of the most well-trusted brands in children’s apps, Toca Boca had another good year in 2014. Toca Nature was its standout app: a creative sandbox for children to grow trees, raise mountains and dig rivers and lakes, to see what kind of wildlife their mini-ecosystem attracts. Wonderful.
3. Sago Mini Road Trip (£1.99)
Sago Sago is the preschool-focused sister studio of Toca Boca, and all of its apps are a treat for children. Sago Mini Road Trip offers a great way in to its collection though: a road trip starring a colourful cartoon cat and his friends, with different cars to drive and plenty to see and tap on.
4. ScratchJr (Free)
Scratch is one of the most popular languages used in schools when children are learning computer programming schools. ScratchJr took the idea to tablets this year, from a team including MIT, which was responsible for Scratch. It’s an app that gets children to create stories by slotting together blocks of code: fun and creative.
5. Night Zookeeper (Free + optional subscription)
Night Zookeeper isn’t an app you download: 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.
6. Teach Your Monster to Read: First Steps (£2.99)
Based on the well-regarded educational website, Teach Your Monster to Read was an excellent app introducing children to synthetic phonics, as a complement to their learning in the classroom. Its fun, accessible games introduced the letter sounds although – important note – it’s not describing your kids as monsters. Instead, teaching the in-game monster to read is key to the app’s structure.
7. Noisy Neighbours by Ruth Green: Tate Read & Play (£2.99)
Even art galleries were releasing children’s apps in 2014: Noisy Neighbours from Tate was a treat for children and parents alike. Based on Ruth Green’s charming book, it tells the tale of Sid the Snail, and his efforts to get some sleep. Your children have to draw their own characters while recording their noises, to take part in the story.
8. Skylanders Trap Team (Free, separate pack needed)
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.
9. Twelve a Dozen (£1.49)
Developer Bossa Studios made its name with games like Surgeon Simulator and Thomas Was Alone, which are more for adults. Twelve a Dozen is different though: an excellent educational adventure with a focus on helping children practise their maths skills while saving heroine Twelve’s family. It’s never dry.
10. Nosy Crow Jigsaws (Free + in-app purchases)
Another app from Nosy Crow, but this time it wasn’t a story. This was a digital jigsaws app using the artwork from several of the company’s apps and books: one of the best attempts yet to take the idea of piecing puzzles together to the touchscreen. Nosy Crow Jigsaws was also a responsible example of in-app purchases: parents could buy extra jigsaws via an in-app store, but if you own other Nosy Crow apps, their puzzles are unlocked for free.
11. Star Walk Kids (£0.69)
The two Star Walk apps have millions of happy adults using them to gaze at the nighttime skies. This year, their developer made a separate app for children: Star Walk Kids. It’s a cleverly-redesigned version of the adult app, helping kids point their iPad at the stars and learn about some of the constellations – with additional animated short films about the cosmos.
12. LumiKids Park by Lumosity (Free)
Another example of an app for adults spinning off another version for children. Lumosity has millions of people using its main brain-training app, but LumiKids Park was strictly for kids: a series of simple, colourful educational mini-games to help them practise core skills like sorting, paying attention and visual-motor coordination.
13. Endless Wordplay (Free + in-app purchases)
All of developer Originator’s apps are worth a look: Endless Wordplay followed previous apps Endless Alphabet, Endless Reader and Endless Numbers. This latest app focused on spelling and word building, with a characterful troop of monsters acting out the rhyming puzzles. Nine words are included for free, with other packs available at £2.99 each as in-app purchases.
14. Curious Words (£1.49)
Another developer whose back catalogue is worth digging into is Curious Hat, which makes creative, quirky apps that often aim to get children out into the real world, not just staring into a screen. Curious Words is a good example: it challenges kids to record one-second videos based on random words, then turns them into mini-movies. Great fun for children, but just as good to collaborate on with you.
15. 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.
16. Mickey’s Magical Maths World (Free + in-app purchases)
The first in a new series of educational apps for children by Disney: Mickey’s Magical Maths World is a collection of five mathematical mini-games hosted by Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and Goofy. They’re elegantly done, with some features available in the free download, and others unlocked by parents through in-app purchases for each game’s zone.
17. 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.
18. Makies Fashion (£1.99)
There are dozens of not-that-good dressing up games for kids, 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.
19. Toca Town (£1.99)
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. Every child will discover their own favourite characters and locations, too.
20. Gruffalo: Games (£0.69)
The Gruffalo finally got his own app in 2014, although it wasn’t an attempt to retell Julia Donaldson’s story. Instead, Gruffalo: Games was a collection of mini-games based on his world and characters, from playing snap against the terrible-clawed fella himself, through to catching nuts and playing matching pairs.
21. Dino Dog - A Digging Adventure with Dinosaurs (£1.49)
Dino Dog was a good example of one of the interesting children’s app trends of 2014: a move towards a form of digital storytelling that isn’t trying to be just a book, an animation or a game, but something that combines those elegantly. Here, that meant setting off on a quest for dinosaur bones with heroes Doug and Bonnie.
22. CBeebies Storytime (Free)
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.
23. Dinosaur Mix (£1.99)
More dinosaurs here, in a well-crafted app by British developer Cowly Owl for young children. Dinosaur Mix features a dinosaur stomping along, and chomping meat or foliage every so often, as it appears. But along the way, eggs appear too, with new parts to help kids mix’n’match their dino bodies.
24. Dr Panda’s Toy Cars (£0.69)
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.
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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