A third of British children now have their own tablet, according to the latest figures from communications regulator Ofcom.
It’s a fair bet that those devices will be getting plenty of usage during half-term, which is this week in many parts of England.
Not as a replacement for physical activities – from painting and reading to climbing trees or riding bikes – but to complement them, with digital creativity, storytelling and education for children’s downtime.
Wondering what to download if your children are using Android devices? Here are some recommendations of recent releases that are well worth a look. And please chip in with your own recommendations in the comments section.
Developer Toca Boca is a reliable source of inventive, playful children’s apps, and Toca Mini is the current favourite of my own kids. It involves creating mini dolls using colour, stamps and facial parts, with huge scope for creativity whether they’re making new characters or modelling their favourites from TV or books. It also proved a spur for my children to try making figures in the real world too, once the tablet had been put away.
Eric Carle’s book about a caterpillar who chomps its way through... well, just about every foodstuff in sight remains a classic. Its latest incarnation is an app from developer StoryToys. Rather than mirror the original story, it tries to add something new with a series of mini-games involving counting, sorting and memory. The graphics do a great job of bringing Carle’s iconic illustrations to life.
This is brand new from MakieLab, the British startup that mixes 3D-printed dolls with mobile games. It’s a fashion-oriented game for children, encouraging them to create clothes for their virtual characters and then send them down a catwalk – complete with a photography feature. It’s just as well-crafted as the real dolls that the company sells.
Moonbot Studios work across apps and animation, and had one of the first big children’s hits on iOS with their The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore app back in the day. Fireflies is part of their new series of apps though, with Android support from the start. It’s a playful mission to catch fireflies in a forest, collecting them in a jar and mixing up their colours. A relaxing treat for young children.
Available in the UK, this is the second official app from the BBC’s pre-school TV channel CBeebies, focusing on stories rather than the games in its CBeebies Playtime app. This time, the emphasis is on six stories based on popular shows: Something Special, Charlie and Lola, The Octonauts, Old Jack’s Boat, Show Me Show Me and Grandpa in My Pocket. It’s easy enough for young children to use, but includes reading development information for parents.
I grew up with the Beano in printed form, but my children have discovered Dennis and friends through Me Comics, which is a sign of the times. It’s part digital-comics store and part reader app, with individual comics sold for 69p and up as in-app purchases (the “IAP” above). The selection includes an array of Disney characters as well as Transformers and My Little Pony, with a fun feature enabling kids and parents to record their own voices for the narration.
US developer Originator made its name with the marvellous Endless Alphabet app, and this is the follow-up. It teaches “sight words” through a mixture of interactivity and animation: children drag letters in to place to spell the words, before seeing a troop of colourful monsters act them out. Its humour bears many repeated viewings, while its in-app purchases for new word packs are under parents’ control.
Developer TribePlay has a growing collection of Dr Panda apps, which are well worth exploring. This is one of the most recent: a sequel that sees children cooking up a storm in their own restaurant. There are more than 20 digital ingredients to experiment with, and various cooking methods from boiling to frying. Again, it’s an app that may – if my children are any guide – encourage your kids to help out in your real kitchen. For better or worse...
There’s real craft and charm to this app, just like its predecessors Fiete, Fiete Match and Fiete Christmas. It’s set on a farm, with children helping the three characters go about their daily tasks: feeding animals, shearing sheep, milking cows and so on. It’s relaxed, lovely to look at, and the perfect follow-up to visiting a farm in the real world.
The founder of developer Mighty Yeti Studios used to make shows for Nickelodeon and Disney, and you can see that pedigree in his company’s first Android app. This is a storybook with a pleasingly-sideways sense of humour, as Mr Cupcake sets off to a friend’s birthday party while puzzling over a strange crunching noise. There’s plenty of things to tap on, and plenty to laugh at too.
Tynker is one of the growing number of apps aiming to get children interested in computer programming. Here, that involves completing more than 200 “puzzle adventures” that introduce logic, loops and subroutines in an accessible way. A separate creation mode then gets children to start making their own games, using the skills that they’ve learned. This isn’t about shoving kids into coding to turn them into the next rich startup founder – it’s about having fun in a creative way.
This isn’t an app that you download from the Google Play store: it’s a website designed to work within tablets’ web browsers. It’s a fab idea though: a creative community based around a zoo full of magical animals that children draw themselves, with digital story-books that unlock featuring them, and a light gaming element where they defend the zoo from invaders. It’s free to use, but as parents you can choose to pay £5 a month or £27 for permanent access for all your children – which gets them a physical Fan Club pack sent through the post.
That’s a dozen to get you started, with some recommendations from previous roundups in the links below. But if your children have been enjoying other Android apps, please do tell other parents about them by posting a comment.
This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Monday 27th October 2014 12.20 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010