Screens can be great for children. Here’s how to get started
We know: when you were a kid, you had to make do with sticks for toys. The notion of handing an expensive device to a youngling is therefore terrifying.
But with the right approach, an iPhone or iPad can be a thing of wonder for even the youngest child, bringing them opportunities for learning, creativity, and play.
Here are our tips to help you get started, apps to check out, and accessories to make sure your device and child alike remain happy during and after the experience!
Avoid ancient hardware: It’s tempting to offload very old devices to kids, but be mindful they may no longer get security updates and often won’t be compatible with current apps. Ideally, stick to the most recent two or three device generations.
Go large, if you can: iPhones are pricey – and fiddly for very young children. Where possible, prefer iPads. The larger screen gives children more space to learn and play – and adds scope for more ambitious apps to engage older children.
Supervise when necessary: An iPad is no more a child-minder than any other device. Spend time on apps and games yourself, to make sure they’re suitable. With younger children, learn and play together at least some of the time.
Normalize screen use: Today’s children will grow up in a world of technology, and so embrace it. Screens should be a part of life, and so do what you can to make time with them enjoyable and productive.
Use Screen Time: Following the previous point, there is nonetheless a danger screens can take over. So set – and, with older kids, discuss – daily limits. Use Screen Time to define and monitor app usage.
Encourage creativity and thinking: It’s easy to dismiss screens as entertainment windows. Look beyond this and support using devices for reading and creativity. Note that many apps aimed at adults (ebooks; coloring; art and music creation) will work for kids.
Beware of the internet: For younger children, lock down the internet in Screen Time. Even with older kids, it’s wise to monitor and supervise online activity, notably YouTube (whose algorithm can rapidly push bad content) and social media/messaging.
Protect your device: Along with protecting your child from bad things, protect the device from… the child. We’ve previously written about childproofing your iPhone.
Download these apps
Metamorphabet ($4.99/£4.99): This animated, surreal interactive alphabet is an exploratory joy, starting with an ambling A that turns into an arch and sprouts antlers.
White Noise+ (free + IAP): Our favorite noise generator lets you construct soothing sound mixes and set a run time. Ideal for sending restless children to sleep.
Thinkrolls Space ($4.99/£4.99): The best of the Thinkrolls games combines gentle no-risk puzzling with dexterity tests and bright, colorful characters.
Toca World (free + IAP): Akin to a giant virtual dollhouse, Toca World is a superb platform for creative and imaginative play.
Charcoal (free): Although not designed for children, the immediacy and simplicity of Charcoal make it an ideal drawing app for younger users.
Bandimal ($3.99/£3.99): An entry point to music sequencing and an app with loads of silly animated animals, Bandimal is grin-inducing fare for kids and adults alike.
GarageBand (free): For kids who get the music-making bug, GarageBand is a feature-packed app that will grow with them as their skills develop.
Mission to Mars (free): Space holds a fascination for many children. This app mixes education and fun, including wonderfully realized remote-control AR rovers.
Super Robot Bros ($4.99/£4.99): Understanding coding may prove crucial to today’s children. This app gamifies learning programming logic, by way of bite-sized single-screen puzzles.
Apple Arcade ($4.99/£4.99 per month): Too many App Store games have ads and IAP. Apple Arcade games have none – and there are titles to suit all ages.
Connect this hardware
Gumdrop FoamTech iPad Case ($29.95/£32.39): Or, really, any case that will stop your device smashing when a child inadvertently drops it on a hard floor. OtterBox cases are also worth a look.
Planet Buddies wireless headphones ($44.99/£49.99): Comfy. No wire to get tangled while your kid plays. An 85dB limit to protect hearing. And a cute animal character on the cans.
MekoTech Bargains Depot stylus ($6.99/£7.99): Avoid very young children using a stylus on a screen, since they can get… experimental. Slightly older kids can make do with this capacitive stylus until they can be trusted with an Apple Pencil.
DualSense Wireless Controller ($69.99/£59.99): When children get into more complex games on Apple Arcade, they might want to move beyond the touchscreen. A PS5 controller is your best bet.