Here’s our selection of the best apps, games and educational titles for toddlers to early teens.
Older kids are bound to want to install TikTok, Instagram and maybe even Snapchat. Our advice is to hold off on allowing them to use social media for as long as possible. For more, see how to keep kids safe online.
It’s hard to believe, but Minecraft celebrated its 10th anniversary in May 2019. After all this time, kids still love its blocky worlds and the fact they can build anything that they can imagine.
It’s available on almost every phone and tablet, plus your PC and laptop. Plenty of alternatives have sprung up, including Roblox and Terraria, so if you don’t fancy paying for Minecraft there are free options.
Available on iOS, Android and Steam (for PC)
Among Us has been a smash hit in 2020, and something kids around the world have used to while away the lockdown hours. It’s free on Android and iOS, but it’s a few pounds / dollars on Steam or direct from InnerSloth.
It’s a multiplayer game for 4-10 people where players are either crewmates or imposters on a spaceship (or sky headquarters or planet base).
The aim depends upon which role you’re assigned when you join the game. Crewmates have to do tasks around the ship, while imposters have to sabotage the mission by killing crewmates without being ejected from the ship.
It’s great fun for kids and adults alike and you can play using local Wi-Fi against friends or family, or online against people you don’t know. There’s text chat which is integral to the game as part of the voting system and, in our experience, is pretty safe and clean.
Our kids say that it’s only fun (after playing obsessively for three months) if you get to play as an impostor. Nevertheless, Among Us is set to remain ultra popular well into 2021.
For slightly older kids who love Minecraft, Terraria is more than a close second. It’s not free, but it’s well worth the outlay.
Terraria is all the stuff you love about Minecraft, allowing you to create unique 2D worlds, but serving up more stuff to kill, things to build and places to explore.
There’s also a version for Amazon Fire tablets too.
Available for Android or iOS (free to play, with in-app purchases)
Pokémon GO is such a simple and yet absolutely brilliant idea that has captured the world’s attention. And millions of people still play: special events and new Pokémon to catch has kept our kids (and adults alike) perpetually interested. It encourages them to walk around to real-world locations to catch Pokémon and collect things from PokéStops, as well as battle in gyms.
Pokémon GO is deserving of real credit for getting nations off the sofa and into the great outdoors. It’s a power-draining but oh-so-addictive app, don’t pick up Pokémon GO unless you’re prepared to take your kids to the local park, high street and pretty much everywhere to catch the pocket monsters.Read our full Pokémon GO review
Toca Life: Vacation
Toca Life: Vacation (sadly not ‘holiday’ in the UK English version) is part of the Toca Life series. Like the others, it’s a digital playset that lets kids pretend they’re going on holiday. The main screen acts as a navigation tool so kids can tap on the place they want to play: the airport, the hotel, the beach, etc.
Just about everything you can see is interactive: suitcases can be opened and their contents rearranged; characters can be dressed up with clothes from hangers or in the shop, and can be accessorised. Our testers loved that the airport included an aeroplane where they could pretend their characters were flying to and from their holiday destination, and that they could feed them snacks and drinks.
This is an app with hours and hours of potential play for imaginative minds. And that makes the £3.99 price an absolute steal, especially given that (as with all Toca Boca games) there are no ads or in-app purchases.
Teach your Monster To Read
This series of inventive apps has been nominated for a BAFTA award as well as picking up a variety of industry accolades over the years. The reasons for these plaudits are easy to see once your little ones pick up and play the games.With a minimum of effort they quickly start learning how to improve their letter skills, put sounds together to make words, all while under the guise of them helping their onscreen monster learn.
A great and affordable way for younger children to develop reading skills.
In our experience kids love to watch videos on YouTube. Too much, in fact. And not everything on YouTube is suitable for children. But Google has made a child-friendly app which – aside from having a simpler interface – filters out the bad stuff and tries its best to make sure they only see what is appropriate.
No filtering system is perfect, so supervision is still required (that’s our advice, anyway) but this free app is a must-install.
We’ve got lots more tips for keeping kids safe online.
We’ve all heard that young people have minds that are able to learn new languages far easier than adults. With Duolingo they can explore this idea by using fun games to read and talk in Spanish, French, Japanese or any other of the thirty languages available.
Rewards for progressing mean that kids feel motivated to use the app, plus the Streak feature is a great way to ensure that they’ll load up Duolingo everyday.
Best of all, it’s free to use – you just have to put up with adverts. It you don’t want to, then pay for Duolingo Plus.
This delightful game lets you build up a little farm, tend your crops, raise animals, join in with the local villagers at country dances and fares, go adventuring in the mines, spend time fishing, and all while fighting off the evil empire of Jojo Cola that want’s to turn you lovely town into just another corporate wasteland.
The music is relaxing, aided by sweet 8-bit style graphics, jolly people all around, and a sense of calm. A welcome retreat from the hectic world for young and old alike.
Facebook Messenger Kids
Available for iOS and Android (but not in Europe, currently).
We wouldn’t recommend any social network for kids (especially those under 13) but Facebook has released a version of its instant messaging app called Messenger Kids.
Facebook has rolled out the app to most countries but we’re still waiting for a UK release date. The good thing is that it doesn’t require you to set up a second Facebook account: you log in with yours – the parent account – and the child’s account piggy-backs off that. Friend requests must be approved by the parent.
It allows kids to send messages, stickers, animated GIFs (vetted) and photos to their friends as well as video call them.
If your kids are impatient and don’t want to wait for Messenger to launch in Europe, you could try Skype and keep and eye on all friend requests, or opt for the child-friendly Xooloo Messenger.
Toca Life: Farm
Farm is another in the excellent Toca Life series and – as ever – well worth the few pounds it costs on each platform. There are different areas to visit: the barn, the field, the farmhouse and more.
In each, kids can interact with everything they can see, milking the cow, feeding the lambs, and harvesting crops. It probably goes over their head, but one of Toca Boca’s aims is to introduce kids to the lifecycle of food.
Our two testers loved taking seeds from the different sacks, planting and watering them, and then using the tractor to harvest them. You can also use the food machine to turn produce into food.
Available for iOS only
Toca Dance has proven an instant hit with our testers, 4 and 8. And plenty of adults have enjoyed a play, too. In the game you get to pick up to three dancers and dress them as you like from the wide range of outfits. Then you teach them routines by dragging your finger on the various body parts. You can move the arms and head independently, and drag the body to make the dancers jump and crouch. Different routines can be assigned to various coloured dots, and the system is brilliantly designed that even young children can use it.
There’s a variety of music to choose between and once you’re done, you can watch the final performance. Even this is interactive – you can cheer, set off fireworks, throw flowers (or tomatoes) and save the video to your camera roll afterwards.
Oddly, it has never been available on Android – just iOS.
Sago Mini Road Trip
Available for iOS and Android.
Designed specifically for toddlers and young children from 2-5, Mini Road trip is made by Sago (the sister company of Toca Boca). Kids can enjoy the fun of a whole road trip from packing a suitcase (complete with wacky items such as a chocolate cake), choosing a car (there are lots, including a shoe and a gherkin) and stopping en route for petrol and at a car wash.
There are six destinations, although only three appear at any one time, which is a little confusing. There are no rules for driving, so kids can pick up the car and fly through the air if they like. It’s great value at this price.
Toca Life: City
Available for iOS and Android.
In City, kids can visit different locations around the city and interact with practically everything. From the apartment to the food stalls and clothes shop, kids can decide which people to ‘invite’ and – depending on the location – give them different clothes, hairstyles, food and more.
Available for iOS.
Playing funny and educational mini-games, in iOS-only app Forestry your child will help forest dwellers to build a house, gather food stuffs, pick up berries, go swimming and, of course, prepare for sleep. A fascinating and useful game Forestry can also serve as great memory and attention trainer for your kid. (And it can help at bed time.) It is free, but with in-app purchases, so keep an eye out.
Toca Hair Salon 3
Available for iOS and Android.
All the Toca Boca games for kids are great (except perhaps Toca Band, which will drive parents round the bend), but Toca Hair Salon is seriously a must-have on any family’s phone or tablet.
Kids get to be a hairdresser and stylist. This really is a great app for keeping them amused for short periods of time.
Snail Bob 3
Snail Bob 3 is a game that’s fun and captures the imagination, but slow enough for younger children to play successfully. Snail Bob 3 is a physics-based strategy game, and your goal is to guide the snail on a treasure hunt. Press buttons to control various mechanisms and guide Bob safely to the exit of each level all while collecting the valuables along the way.
Rinse and repeat (hopefully long enough for Mum and Dad to have a break). At the moment it’s only available as a free title on Android, but with the previous instalments being multi-platform, we expect it will appear on iOS soon.
Toca Kitchen 2
Available for iOS and Android.
Kids love messy play, but you probably don’t like clearing up afterwards. With the second version of Toca Kitchen, kids can chop, fry, bake and now blend food and force-feed it to the new Kitchen characters. Our three-year old tester particularly like blending up pears and Monster Beets, laughing out loud when the sour flavour made the characters spit it out on the screen.
You can mash up peaches, strawberries, watermelon, onions, spaghetti, rice and octopus legs along with ketchup, soy sauce and a deep fryer appliance.
There’s even a ‘vegetarian mode’ and there are no annoying links (as you get in some freemium games) which take you away from the app to the app store. Well worth the price of admission.
Artie's Magic Pencil
Artie’s Magic Pencil is designed to help kids learn to draw. It aims to teach the fundamentals of drawing to children aged three to six. It offers a relaxed and encouraging space for potential young illustrators who might need some coaxing into the creative world.
Note that on Android it’s free to install, but you have to pay if you want to play past the half-way point.
One of the most beautiful and captivating games ever released, Monument Valley isn’t free but it will keep children and adults engaged for hours working our how to help the silent princess Ida through mysterious and mind-bending fantastical architecture. They’ll uncover hidden paths, unfolding Escher-like optical illusions of impossible geometry, and outsmarting the barking Crow People.
Monument Valley is both surreal and serene exploration through and will surely go down in game history as one of the unique greats.
The best part is that once you’ve completed this game you can buy Monument Valley 2 on Android or iOS for more beguiling adventures.
A free game enjoyed by children from a surprisingly young age (as well as older ones).
You suit up with a selection of jetpacks and take to the skies on an exciting adventure. It’s been around a long time, but still has plenty of charm.
A Parcel of Courage
Available on iOS.
This beautiful family-friendly book is an interactive reading adventure loaded with educational activities has four unique learning games enhancing logic, spatial cognition, photographic memory and more. It’s free to explore the main story, but for additional content there is a £2.99/$2.99 in-app purchase.
Hoopa City has fun and interactive educational values, letting kids role-play and use their imaginations. It’s a character game for primary school children. It features Hoopa the Hippo. Kids must combine together elements to help construct cities.
Children must build roads, houses, and more. It also features pioneering new mechanics so kids can combine elements to find secret combinations to unlock different building.
Dumb ways to die
Originally conceived as a public safety animation for an Australian metro company Dumb Ways To Die morphed from a brilliant cartoon and maddeningly catchy tune that kids love to sing into an equally fun game of 15 potentially lethal possibilities.
Kids love it and learn how not to get themselves killed at the same time. All together now: “Set fire to your hair, Poke a stick at a grizzly bear. Eat medicine that’s out of date, Use your private parts as piranha bait.”
Such has been the success that there are also now other titles in the series: Dumb Ways to Die 2, Dumb Ways to Die 3: World Tour, plus the Dum Ways Jr games. All are great, so start at the beginning and work your way through the lot!Read our full Dumb Ways to Die review
Let's Create! Pottery
Providing you can wrestle your phone or tablet from your kids once they get wind of it, here’s an app that you can enjoy just as much as they do. It won’t teach you how to become a real potter but Let’s Create! Pottery is a great-looking and surprisingly fun game which everyone can enjoy.
The full game costs money, but if you’re not convinced, try the free Lite version first.
You loved Despicable Me, right? Minion Rush is a great action arcade game where the little yellow Minions jump, fly, dodge obstacles, collect bananas, ride the Fluffy Unicorn, and defeat villains in a variety of different missions.
You can customise your Minion with costumes, weapons, and power-ups. Earning new locations and different Minions makes this free game a lot of fun for Despicable Me fans and anyone who likes bananas. There are in-app purchases available but you can get along fine without them.
There are also lots of alternative ‘endless runner’ games, including Talking Tom Gold Run and Subway Surfers.