Best Kids Apps

What do tweens really want?


With one foot in childhood and one in adulthood, kids 9-12 crave both guidance and independence.  Ugh.


While you’re still (just barely) in charge, steer tweens toward puzzle apps, role playing games, graphic novels, and sports apps.   Warn them about in-app purchases and ads, then try to loosen the reins a little.

4 Apps That Can Keep Kids Safe

Apps that help parents keep kids safer both online and off

Most parents — myself included — aren’t willing to delegate their child’s safety to a handheld electronic device.  We’re more focused on the risks smartphones bring than the ways they can make our kids safer.  Still, there are a handful of apps that can give parents some peace of mind.

No matter how much trust and independence play a part of your parenting style, here are five apps that can keep kids a little safer both online and off:

1.  LIFE 360
Keeps kids safe from: Endless parent check-ins
Keeps parents safe from: Worrying

This location-sharing app for iPhone and Android users allows families to create circles with private maps, messaging, and check-ins.  If you’re the kind of parent who finds yourself texting your kids, “Did you make it?”, this is the app for you.  Whenever someone in your circle leaves a zone (like school) and arrives at a zone (like home), you’ll get a notification.

Two warnings: 1) if you’re thinking of using this app to keep teens in line, you should know that they can uninstall and therefore outsmart it — it’s not really meant for that, and 2) the maps include the locations and pictures of registered sex offenders (this information isn’t reliably correct and up-to-date, but it is always alarming).


Keeps kids safe from: Time suck websites
Keeps parents safe from: Nagging


You know when your teen is trying to get homework done, but ends up wasting time on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Vine, Pinterest, Instagram, TMZ, and so on?  Download a free trial of Anti-social, and block websites that prove distracting during certain hours.  If you like it, subscribe.  Who knows, you might decide to try it for yourself.

If you really, really, really need to use Facebook while it’s disabled for some reason, you can get around the block by re-booting your computer.



Keeps kids safe from: Late night texting
Keeps parents safe from: Grouchy, tired kids

Zact is an iPhone and Android app that lets parents monitor (and budget, and top off) their kids cell phone usage, set curfews, permit or restrict contacts, and approve or block apps.  Not everyone needs that level of micromanagement, of course, and many people object to it.  The killer feature is setting curfews.  Don’t want your kid to be able to send and receive texts between 9pm and 7am on school nights?  That functionality is just a finger tap away.

A word of warning: my high school student often needs to get in touch with project partners later at night than I would like, so don’t set the curfew too early.

Keeps kids safe from:  “Accidentally” viewing something inappropriate
Keeps parents safe from:  Worrying

Don’t think you need web safe browsing?  Consider this.  According to a 2008 study in CyberPsychology & Behavior, 93% of boys and 62% of girls have seen internet porn before they turn 18 (or so says Nancy Jo Sales in her Vanity Fair article, Friends Without Benefits).  Will installing a web browser with parental controls completely circumvent this?  Of course not.  Will it delay it?  I think so.

You can filter based on age, and comprehensive reporting means you can monitor your child’s web browsing history (and use it to have important conversations about what is and isn’t okay).


Amazing Ants

Help the cute ants collect all the fruit
  • * * * * *
  • Age: 6+ |

  • free

Amazing Ants is a basic platform game where you guide your ants through a puzzle landscape collecting fruit.

Kids will like the cute sound effects and innocent comic book-style graphics, and parents will like the low-stress problem solving dynamic.

Why we like it:
This is a very scalable app that adds skills one at a time.  First the ants just walk, then they jump, climb, fly, and float…once your child has mastered the previous skill.  Levels can be replayed to practice skills, and this also helps you rack up more coins (which can be spent on “unlockable extras”, like stylized ants and hints).

Watch out for:
In-app purchases are just a fact of life with these freemium games.  Level packs…  Ants in costume… there are a lot of temptations for players old and young.  Turn off in-app purchases if this bothers you.

Also, ads spring up more often than we’d like.  Often — but not always — in-between levels, you’ll see a “And now a word from our sponsor!” message.

2012 Holiday Gift Guide for Kids

Great gift ideas for the tech-savvy kids on your list

We’re very happy to present our first annual holiday gift guide for gadget-loving kids.  It’s chock full of tech-y goodness and there isn’t a thing on it that we wouldn’t love to see under our own tree!  There’s something here for every person on your list, not to mention every budget.

>>See our 2012 Holiday Gift Guide for Men and Women


1.  A tablet

Tired of holding your breath every time you hand your iPad to your toddler?   Why not get him a kid-friendly tablet that’s a little sturdier?  We like the Nabi 2, but we’ve got other recommendations too.

Read more about the Nabi 2.
Read our full tablet review post.

2.  Wii with Wii Sports Resort

Sure, it’s fun to play on a phone or tablet, but if you’ve got a group of people, you can’t do better than the Nintendo Wii.  Even very young kids can get in on the action… dancing… bowling… beating their parents at doubles tennis.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to pick up a copy of Just Dance Kids (trust me on this).

Read more about the Wii with Wii Sports Resort

3.  Fisher-Price Kid-Tough See Yourself Camera

No matter how much you need silence or cooperation, it is never a good idea to hand a very young child your camera or phone.

Even in a padded room full of marshmallows and feather duvets, kids can find a way to bork our expensive devices (trust me, I speak from personal experience here).  There are many cameras designed just for the short set, this one is by far the best of the bunch.

Read more about the Fisher-Price Kid-Tough See Yourself Camera.


1.  iPod Touch

It is an axiom of technology gift-giving that once you have a smartphone, you no longer need an iPhone touch.  Unfortunately, it is also true that most very young children (1st and 2nd graders for sure, and probably 3rd through 5th too) don’t yet need phones.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Yes, the iPod Touch continues to be one of the most coveted devices of all time.  If you’ve got a grandparent who is dying to splurge, this is the idea I’d recommend passing along.

Read more about the iPod Touch.

2.  Boogie Board 8.5-Inch LCD Writing Tablet

Any time you take a regular activity and add tech, kids like it.  For example: I have a “learn the states and capitals” app for my iPad.  Guess how long it took my 5th grader to master the subject?  That’s right.  About 10 minutes.  Which is why the Boogie Board (basically an LCD chalkboard) is so fun for kids.  Plus, there’s the eco-angle… drawing without wasting paper!

Don’t like pink?  Don’t worry.  It comes in five other crave-able colors too.

Want to save your kids’ masterpieces?  Take a digital photo!

Read more about the Boogie Board 8.5-Inch LCD Writing Tablet.

3.  Kidz Gear Wired Headphones

Okay, this is really a gift for you.  Forget peace on earth, give yourself peace of mind! You’re a parent, so of course you worry about everything.  Now you can check hearing loss off that list.

Protect those sweet little ears while protecting yourself from hours and hours of listening to those laughing pigs in Angry Birds.  You can thank us later.

Now if we could only get our teenagers to use these.

Read more about the Kidz Gear Wired Headphones.


1.  Sonos PLAY:3 All-in-One Wireless Music Player

As much as we love all things Apple around here, we do NOT love buying music.  We especially do not love buying music for kids, because their tastes change so much from day to day (and thank God for that, see also: Carly Rae Jepsen).

We got our kids Sonos wireless music players and a family Rhapsody account instead.  With the magic of the internet, we can play any music we want.  And when we outgrow it?  We can move on.  It’s like renting vs. owning.

Read more about the Sonos PLAY:3.

2.  Fujifilm Instax MINI 25 Instant Film Camera

A stylish, retro camera (not to mention the world’s best party accessory!) that takes photos and instantly prints them on 2×3″ paper. Let’s face it: we all miss Polaroid cameras — at least in theory.  But with this little cutie, we don’t have to anymore!

Film is a tad expensive for teens, so be sure to order a few extra packs to get them started.

Read more about the Fujifilm Instax MINI 25 Instant Film Camera.

3.  iPad Mini

The smaller rendition of Apple’s most hyped product of all time, the iPad Mini is sized just right to slip into backpacks and purses (and under pillows too, so beware of bedtime).  Teens will thrill to find this under their tree, or even in their stocking.

Come to think of it, anyone would thrill to get this.

Read more about the iPad Mini.

>>See our 2012 Holiday Gift Guide for Men and Women