Trusting a toddler with your tablet or phone can be a risky business – we’ve seen several screens smashed by over-excited infants – but it's worth letting them play with it anyway, because Android can make an excellent tutor, entertainer and even an occasional babysitter. Just invest in a good case first. Here are some of our favorite Android apps for kids.
Peppa Pig’s apps
Peppa Pig, the pre-school porcine phenomenon, is perfectly suited to mobile devices: the simple artwork and cheerful soundtracks work brilliantly as apps. There’s Peppa Pig’s Golden Boots for feeding ducks and, er, visiting the moon; interactive storybooks such as The Great Egg Hunt; stargazing with Peppa Pig Stars; and drawing with Peppa’s Paintbox. I’ve just introduced my second toddler to the joys of Peppa apps, and it almost makes me feel bad about the bacon sandwich I had for lunch.
The UK’s national broadcaster, the BBC, has two children’s channels: CBBC, and CBeebies for younger kids, both of which have a range of apps. The CBeebies Playtime app is a great example of what’s on offer. It ties in tightly with the TV channel and features puzzles, games and coloring-in, plus there’s a grown-ups' mode that gives advice on how to help your children learn.
There are lots of drawing apps in the Play Store, but Drawing Pad was there long before most. Its selection of realistic brushes, pencils, pens and stickers make it a lot of fun, and it works well with Samsung’s S Pen too.
Baby TV Mobile
If your satellite or cable broadcaster doesn’t offer Baby TV, this app is the next best thing: for US$4.99 per month it provides access to more than 100 programmes aimed at babies and toddlers up to the age of four. Many of the shows have been created in partnership with educational experts, and it’s all ad-free so you don’t need to worry about anything inappropriate popping up, such as ambulance-chasing lawyers and other undesirables, unlike with certain other TV channels.
All the Toca Boca apps
If you have younger children, you’ll love Toca Boca. Its gentle, colorful apps are great for pre-schoolers and not so noisy that you’ll want to throw your device through the nearest window. Titles range from Toca Hair Studio and Toca Pet Doctor to Toca Builders, which is essentially Minecraft for five-year-olds. On the subject of which…
Minecraft: Pocket Edition
Minecraft is the LEGO of the 21st Century, aimed at seven-year-olds and older, and it’s different for every child who plays it. You can explore others’ worlds or build your own, create structures or craft weapons. The Pocket Edition supports multi-player over Wi-Fi. It’s the perfect app for children, with just enough peril to be exciting but not enough to cause nightmares.
Dr Seuss’s books
The nice people at Oceanhouse Media have brought the legendary Dr Seuss books to life, but not too much life, so they’re not too exciting for bedtime reading. The titles are best suited to three- to five-year-olds, but we’re a good bit older than that and we loved them too. All together now: I do not like green eggs and ham! I do not like them, Sam-i-Am!
LEGO City My City
We described Minecraft as LEGO for the 21st Century, but LEGO would also quite like to be LEGO for the 21st Century. Its LEGO City My City includes 14 mini-games including space expedition, deep sea explorers, police, fire and coast guard. It’s free to play, suitable for ages five to 12, and free from in-app purchases or ads.
Where’s My Water?
As parents know all too well, many kids’ apps are cynical attempts at parting parents from their cash: some games’ interfaces are packed with triggers for in-app purchases, while others are effectively unplayable if you don’t hand over a bunch of cash for a wheelbarrow full of dangleberries, or whatever the in-game currency is. Hurray for Disney, then: games such as Where’s My Water offer hours of fun without constantly demanding money.
Feed Me Oil
Chillingo is another developer that isn’t too heavy on monetization (there are in-app purchases but the game doesn’t depend on them), and its Feed Me Oil game is a cute and surprisingly educational physics-based puzzler. The idea is simple enough – you have a creature, you have some oil, and you need to get the latter to the former – but actually making that happen involves platforms, windmills, fans and all kinds of bits and pieces. The soundtrack’s pretty good too.
Duolingo promises “totally fun and 100 percent free” language learning. Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Swedish and English are all covered. It’s racked up countless awards and has been praised by the likes of the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine. It’s based around very simple multiple choice tasks and feels more like playing a game than learning. It’s great stuff.
What about you? Do you have favorite Android apps that your kids and you both love? Let us know below.