Our favorite selection of App Store gems for tiny humans
Ever since the dawn of the iPhone, people argued the interface is so simple 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 ‘device time’ is supervised, and doesn’t last for hours. Secondly, put your iPhone or iPad in a protective case if you know what’s good for it. Thirdly, before you hand over your device to a toddler, set restrictions to stop apps from being deleted – it turns out very young children are 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 Screen Time, and tap Content & Privacy Restrictions.
2. In iTunes & App Store Purchases, disable Deleting Apps. You may also want to adjust settings within Allowed Apps and Content Restrictions.
3. Set a Screen Time Passcode on the main Screen Time page.
And now for the best apps for toddlers and young children to install prior to doing the above!
$4/£4 • v1.0.3 • 224.9 MB • By Yatatoy
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 have 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.
$3/£3 • v1.2.1 • 82.7 MB • By Avokiddo
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.
$9/£9 • 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.
Hey Duggee: The Squirrel Club
$1/£1 • v1.3 • 270.1 MB • By BBC Worldwide
There are 17 badges to collect in this app take on the superb children’s animation, featuring a furry scout leader and his troop of tiny animals. Although some involve video – a maddeningly catchy toothbrushing song, for example – most are simple mini-games.
Once a badge has been won, a page of ideas can be printed out, to take newfound knowledge into the real world, and inflict it on cardboard, tape, and colored pens. Fancy something a tad more advanced? Check out The Big Outdoor App.
How does The Human Body Work?
$4/£4 • v1.0 • 427.3 MB • By Learny Land
A voyage of discovery into your innards, How does The Human Body Work? has you check out a child’s various components, including bones, organs, and the nervous system. This is all done by way of manipulating a steampunk machine – all levers and big buttons.
This is one to sit with while your nipper pokes around – the app doesn’t really do hand-holding, and uncovering its secrets requires exploration and experimentation. It’s fun doing so.
Laugh & Learn Shapes & Colors
Free • v3.1.0 • 56.3 MB • By Fisher-Price
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.
Lego Duplo Town
Free • v2.5.0 • 191.7 MB • By Lego System A/S
There’s some sleight of hand at the heart of this virtual take on plastic blocks. You rock up at a building site, and mess around with bricks. But on prodding a button, a full Duplo set magically replaces whatever’s already been constructed. For very young kids, it’s like magic. For older ones, it’s perhaps frustrating.
Still, it’s fun messing around with completed sets. And as an added advantage, there’s zero chance of treading on a brick, and spending the rest of the day hopping mad.
$4/£4 • v2019.2 • 196.4 MB • By Cowly Owl
This modern iPad-only take on finger counting takes full advantage of your tablet’s touchscreen. In its most basic mode, a number on the screen (which, natch, is also a goofy monster) changes as more digits press down.
Once this aspect is mastered, your child can delve into addition and subtraction games. And because the app’s multilingual, there’s scope for learning to count in other languages, too – or even recording your own.
$5/£5 • v1.18 • 175 MB • By Vectorpark.com
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.
$3/£3 • v1.2 • 329.4 MB • By Cowly Owl
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.
Pango Paper Color
$3/£3 • v1.0 • 90.3 MB • By Studio Pango
This unique experience invites you to decorate what’s essentially a living origami movie. In each of the four tiny universes, the world before you wheels and spins, occasionally presenting a new model to color.
A tap is all that’s required to add a hue to an object, and new colors can be mixed, if the basic palette doesn’t suffice. The result is dazzling – to the point we imagine adults will enjoy a quick sneaky go on their own of an evening.
Sago Mini Village
$3/£3 • v1.0 • 87.9 MB • By Sago Mini
Reportedly inspired by Minecraft, Sago Mini Village enables a youngling to build a community from scratch. Here, the viewpoint’s side-on, but it’s possible to rapidly create all manner of oddball constructions.
Once some buildings are up, gnomes move in, and subsequently begin ambling about, exploring their growing village, and checking out the neighbors. It’s creative, colorful, open-ended play of the best kind.
Sago Mini World
Free + subscription • v3.6 • 563.3 MB • By Sago Mini
Although some Sago Mini games (like this list’s previous entry) exist as separate apps, their creators would rather you delve into this collection. For free, you get Sago Mini Friends (also available as a free download), a sweet-natured set of colorful mini-games that promote empathy – such as ensuring two friends are fed equal amounts of pizza.
But the real prize – assuming you’re happy to splash out $6/£6 – is access to over 25 richer titles, with a huge range of play styles. Perfect fodder for any toddler armed with an iOS device.
Sizzle & Stew
$3/£3 • v1.2.1 • 238.2 MB • By Cowly Owl
Only a nutter puts a llama and a sloth in a fully-stocked kitchen. And that’s because this furry pair make a mess, on the road to fixing something that could only very charitably be described as a meal.
Interaction is all exaggerated bouncy physics, and the visuals are bright and cartoonish. But the best bit is – especially on iPad – a split-screen two-player mode, where two friends get to play with food in a way parents will actually be happy with.
$4/£4 • v1.0 • 105.7 MB • By Avokiddo
This game is effectively many dozens of cleverly designed brainteasers for kids. It involves the titular Thinkrolls, who want to trundle their way through planets. To do so, they must outwit a number of logic puzzles.
It’s varied stuff, encouraging problem solving, experimentation, and reasoning, whether filling holes with obliging square robots, encouraging a purple monster to munch through space cheese that’s inconveniently blocking a corridor, or figuring out the precise order to shift objects around, to reach the exit.
Toca Hair Salon 3
$4/£4 • v1.2.7 • 129.8 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
$4/£4 • v1.1.1 • 264.4 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.
$4/£4 • v1.0.5 • 148.3 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.
Women Who Changed the World
$3/£3 • v1.0 • 443.4 MB • By Learny Land
Too often, history lessons involve stories about great men, and many amazing women are essentially sidelined. But our penultimate pick aims to set that right. This digital book provides insight into the fascinating lives of Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, and more.
There are no ads here, and no IAP – just a range of beautiful interactive illustrations to dazzle the eyes, and exciting stories to excite the mind. This is important stuff – after all, everyone needs a role model.
Free + $3/£3 IAP • v1.15 • 173.3 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.