Our favorite selection of App Store gems for tiny humans
Ever since the dawn of the iPhone, people have argued the interface is so simple that even a child could use it. If anything, that’s underplaying things. Touchscreens are so intuitive that even two-year-olds are perfectly capable of successfully interacting with apps.
Developers are well aware of this. Search the App Store and you’ll find all manner of apps, toys and games designed for tiny humans. We tested loads on a tiny human of our own, and the final selection encompasses the very best. Our tester wasn’t easy to please either – ‘bad’ apps were quit in seconds.
Some quick points before we continue. First, small children shouldn’t be glued to a screen for long, and so ensure ‘iPhone time’ is supervised and doesn’t last for hours. Secondly, put your iPhone in a protective case if you know what’s good for it. Thirdly, before you hand over your device to a toddler, set restrictions on your iPhone to stop apps being deleted – it turns out they’re surprisingly adept at removing things if you dare turn away for a few seconds. You can do this as follows:
1. In the Settings app, go to General, scroll down and tap Restrictions.
2. Enter a passcode for the Restrictions area of Settings. Remember it!
3. Scroll down and (temporarily) turn off Installing Apps, Deleting Apps, and In-App Purchases.
And now for the best apps for toddlers and young children to install prior to doing the above!
$3.99/£3.99 • v1.0.1 • 193.2 MB • By YATATOY Oy
One for the discerning music-making youngster, Bandimal is also a sneaky introduction to sequencing. You pick a slot, select an animal, and tap spots on a grid to choose notes.
Three animals and a drumbeat later, and you’ve a great-sounding audio loop, to which the creatures perform – a whale spurts water and deep bass; a panda buzzes and pops to electronic noise. It’s superb, beautifully crafted, intuitive and lots of fun.
$2.99/£2.99 • v1.1.1 • 82.2 MB • By Avokiddo Ltd
A monster-creation app with a science bent, DNA Play begins with you solving basic puzzles that represent DNA. When that’s done, rearranging ‘genes’ causes the monster to mutate.
When happy with your creation, it’s time to play. Poke and prod to discover how the monster’s body reacts, send it off on a skateboard, and see how it responds to food and angry elephants. Smartly, monsters can be saved to a growing collection of friendly horrors.
$8.99/£8.99 • v3.7 • 82.1 MB • By Originator Inc.
Select a word from a blue monster’s mouth and it fills the screen. A bunch of critters then sprint past, scattering the letters. The aim is to return each of them to its rightful place.
Grab a letter and it burbles and wriggles. When the letters are where they should be, they cheer in celebration, before you’re treated to an animation that illustrates what the word means. Aside from iffy letter sounds (standard phonics aren’t used), this one’s a sweet-natured gem.
$2.99/£2.99 • v1.8.3 • 95.5 MB • By Pixle
This app showcases how technology can mix with real-world media. It starts with you picking a template, which includes basic forms, human figures, cars, and monsters. You then import photos, scribble with virtual pens, and add stickers.
All the while, a little 3D model shows a preview of what you’ll get. Next, you print your design on to card, and then with a deft bit of folding and gluing bring your creation into the real world.
Laugh & Learn™ Shapes & Colors
Free • v3.0.3 • 67.6 MB • By Fisher-Price, Inc.
This app manages to be simultaneously brilliant and maddening. It’s brilliant in that the two simple games are great for teaching very young children colors and shapes. It’s maddening because the songs will forever remain in your head.
Level one simply involves tapping and tilting to make shapes bounce around. In level two, shapes can be tapped to reveal their name, and there’s a piano. Then they all start singing, at which point parents should flee.
$3.99/£3.99 • v1.1.0 • 58 MB • By YATATOY Oy
The predecessor to Bandimal is equally warm and joyous, and a bit simpler, meaning it’s suitable for even younger kids. Again, it’s a sneaky sequencing teacher, but it merely involves dragging colored shapes to a single track with a looping playhead.
When the playhead moves over a shape, an audio loop plays and the selected animal dances. If you want to take things a bit further, you can create a menagerie ‘supergroup’, by splitting the screen into two or four.
$3.99/£3.99 • v1.12 • 170.2 MB • By Vectorpark, Inc
This alphabet app is a window into a surreal world of transforming letters and general weirdness. The first thing you see is an ‘A’ growing antlers, morphing into an arch, and going for an amble. But things get stranger.
There’s the N-shaped building with a huge nose, on a spindly neck, and a guitar in a garden full of flowers that when tapped flutter away as tiny ghosts. It’s mesmerizing and fascinating, and our own tiny reviewer’s been entranced from the age of 18 months.
$1.99/£1.99 • v1.0.2 • 41.1 MB • By YATATOY Oy
There are loads of sliding games on the App Store, where you match – or mismatch – animal parts. Miximal’s charm and heart make it the best. It’s wonderfully realized, whether fashioning a Ko-Co-Go (Koala-Crocodile-Flamingo) or Go-Ga-In (Gorilla-Kangaroo-Penguin).
Whatever you make, the app reads out the name of your strange creature. Tap any one section, and you’re treated to a small animation – and you get an additional scene on matching all of an animal’s parts.
$2.99/£2.99 • v1.1.7 • 330.3 MB • By Cowly Owl Ltd
One of the more arcade-oriented titles in this round-up, Monster Mingle is a free-play exploration game. On attaching different body parts to your monster, it gains new characteristics – slap on some wings, and it can fly.
In replacing goals and objectives with experimentation, Monster Mingle enables a child to be creative, figuring out how to feed their monster, and sing to other creatures. It’s a vibrant, entertaining sandbox.
My Very Hungry Caterpillar
$4.99/£4.99 • v1.4.0 • 162.2 MB • By StoryToys Entertainment Limited
There are several apps featuring Eric Carle’s lovable larvae, but this one’s by far the best. It features the titular critter in an interactive playground, offering food to pluck from trees and varied games to play.
You can mess around with a ball and a music box, paint with the caterpillar on a white sheet, and visit a lake that changes by the season. In summer, you get a tiny boat to sail; but come winter, it’s an ice-rink for a belly-sliding caterpillar.
$6.99/£6.99 • v2.1 • 331.5 MB • By Moxie Matey LLC
A great many nursery rhyme apps are gaudy, cheap and throwaway, but this series has beautiful illustrations, fun interactions, and decent audio. Almost every element can be tapped or dragged, whereupon it makes a sound. Tap the words and the rhyme is sung.
Care is the watchword here – the app feels handmade, with its tactile textures, and many animations. We recommend grabbing the entire set, but each volume’s also available individually, or as a free version with a single song to try.
Free • v2.1 • 20.7 MB • By Duck Duck Moose LLC
In each scene of this app, you’re asked a question, such as “Who is winking?” You then need to prod the correct animal. Some solutions are subtle – someone is ‘dressed up’ when wearing a hat. Others are clever – a pig ‘hiding’ due to mostly matching the screen’s pink background.
The entire thing’s charming, playable and entertaining – and has range in covering identification, emotions, actions, clothing, positions and sounds, despite featuring just eight cartoon animals on a static screen.
Sago Mini World
Free + IAP • v2.6 • 486.1 MB • By Sago Sago Toys Inc.
The free bit of this app was once called Sago Mini Friends. It’s a sweet-natured game that finds your character partaking in colorful mini-games. Some promote empathy, such as ensuring two friends are fed equal amounts of pizza.
But an optional IAP ($5/£5 per month) now unlocks over 20 other high-quality Sago Mini games. There’s a seven-day trial if you’re not sure; and you can always use that to check out all the games and buy your favorites. Speaking of which…
Sago Mini Monsters
$2.99/£2.99 • v2.0 • 87.7 MB • By Sago Sago Toys Inc.
This simple monster maker has an amusing sideline in promoting good dental hygiene. Apparently, even monsters need to have gleaming teeth. Before that point, though, your monster rises from the gloopy depths and must be colored in.
Post-scribblage, you fiddle around with features, and hurl food into the monster’s maw, before attacking its teeth with a colossal toothbrush. Then it’s time for decoration and a quick photo call before the next monster appears.
Sago Puppy Preschool
$2.99/£2.99 • v1.2 • 139.5 MB • By Sago Sago Toys Inc.
Pretty much every kid loves cute puppies, and the ones in this game want to teach some key skills. There’s a counting game where puppies leap into a bath, and drag-based shape- and color-matching. This is all rounded off with an entertaining ‘piano’ of howling hounds.
With its clean, whimsical art, smart interaction design, and clearly defined goals, Sago Puppy Preschool manages to be smart, educational and entertaining all at once.
Sago Mini Trucks and Diggers
$2.99/£2.99 • v1.2 • 110.2 MB • By Sago Sago Toys Inc.
This one heads towards game territory, but showcases that even more arcade-oriented fare can be beneficial to kids when it comes to boosting puzzle solving skills and dexterity. It starts off with you choosing a house to build and a construction machine to work with.
You then get a huge pile of dirt to dump into a truck. That’s then driven to the house’s location, and – by some magical process, we imagine builders would love the secret of – when offloaded instantly becomes a building.
Thinkrolls: Kings & Queens
$3.99/£3.99 • v1.2.1 • 59.9 MB • By Avokiddo Ltd
This game is effectively a couple of hundred cleverly designed brainteasers for kids. It involves the titular Thinkrolls, who want to trundle their way down a well. To do so, they must outwit a number of logic puzzles.
It’s varied stuff, encouraging problem solving, experimentation, and reasoning, whether working with gears, using a harp to make a crocodile snooze, or figuring out the precise order to shift objects around, in order to reach the exit.
Toca Hair Salon
$2.99/£2.99 • v1.2.7 • 51.4 MB • By Toca Boca AB
This bonkers game lets your kids run riot in a virtual salon. They can snip hair, color it, and add all kinds of decorations. That might not sound terribly exciting, but Toca’s take is very much larger than life.
You can go from giant curls to a buzz-cut in seconds, then use a magic potion to grow the hair back and turn it into massive rainbow spikes. If your kid fancies dress-up over hair-styling, check out the equally entertaining Toca Fairy Tales instead.
Toca Life: Office
$2.99/£2.99 • v1.0.1 • 227.7 MB • By Toca Boca AB
We could have picked any of the Toca Life apps for this round-up – they’re all great. But Toca Life: Office gets the nod, because it allows a kid to play at imagining what a working parent does all day. (And it’s probably a lot more fun.)
The app is designed to suit a range of ages. For younger kids, it’s a virtual doll’s house, with you moving characters and making them hold stuff. For older children, there are surprises to find, such as making meals in the café and locating the jail’s secret exit.
$2.99/£2.99 • v1.0.2 • 156.1 MB • By Toca Boca AB
This gorgeous app gives you a square slab of land and invites you to shape it with a finger. You can raise mountains and dig rivers. You then dot trees about and wait for animals to appear.
Although you can enjoy the view from on high, a zoom mode enables you to walk around the woodlands and rivers, collecting food and feeding deer, foxes, birds, and bears. It’s a lovely introduction to the magic of nature – and a relaxing app we imagine many adults will also enjoy.
Free + $2.99/£2.99 IAP • v1.14 • 172.9 MB • By Edoki Academy
Like Toca Nature, Zen Studio feels like an all-ages product, despite its App Store name stating that it’s ‘meditation for kids’. What you in fact get is a geometric drawing board, on to which you can paint. Every tap you make plays a musical note.
You can go freeform, or color in templated tutorials. For free, you get a small number of canvases, but no white paint. The ‘complete version’ IAP unlocks everything, and comes recommended for anyone wanting to unleash the app’s full potential.