While screens and fingertips will never replace paint, paper, and scissors, it’s amazing how creative apps can be.
Drawing and coloring is only the beginning too. Kids can bake cakes, record music, distort photos, and write books too… all without wrecking the house!
Between homework, piano recitals, school plays, and soccer games, most kids these days have plenty of pressure in their lives. You know what they don’t have? Enough mellowness.
We like tense, timed, high-scoring games as much as the next family, but sometimes you need something a little lazier. Like playing in a mental sandbox. Here are five apps that are fun and relaxing for kids.
1. AVOKIDDO EMOTIONS
Dress, feed and play with three funny animals.
iPhone, iPad | Age: 3+ | Price: $2.99
Introduce your kids to a zany zebra, a shy sheep, and a jolly giraffe, then sit back and watch them giggle as they feed them, dress them up, and share toys with them. This game has no rules or expectations. Just funny, unscripted interactions.
There are some nice touches here as well. If you put the flower lei on the zebra, the background changes to tropical. The knit hat takes you to a snowy scene. The sombrero takes you to a Mexican desert complete with bullfighting music.
2. TOCA CARS
Drivers start your engines!
iPhone, iPad | Age: 5+ | Price: $0.99
World’s cutest car racing app! When you race in this stylish cardboard world, there are no rules. Want to mow down all the trees? Go for it. Drive through ice cream? No problem. Jump over a robot…while driving in reverse? Hey, it’s your racecourse.
Kids younger than five will want to play, but may need a little help navigating. If, like me, you knocked over all the buildings and landscaping on your first time around the track, just push the restore button! Come to think of it, I’d like a button like that… for my house.
MY PLAYHOME STORES
Hours of imagination-driven play.
iPhone, iPad | Age: 3+ | Price: $1.99
From the creators of the wonderful, award-winning My Playhome comes this opportunity for kids to goof around in the business world! Take a walk down the street into four beautifully illustrated shops.
Kids will enjoy going to the ice cream shop, doing a little grocery shopping, and even picking out a new outfit (which is ironic of course, because seriously, what kid likes picking out a new outfit!?). Even better, this app is fully integrated with My Playhome, so your kids can bring their purchases home.
4. WEE ROCKETS
iPhone, iPad | Age: 3+ | Price: $1.99
Kids aged 2-6 will enjoy designing and building their own rockets, launching them into space, and then racing through an asteroid field to rescue all the stranded aliens.
There are 64 parts to choose from when tricking out your rocket, and 10 astronauts, so kids won’t run out of original missions any time soon. This is a text-free and intuitive game, so it works well for readers and pre-readers alike.
5. QUELL +
A peaceful puzzle game for all ages.
iPhone, iPad | Age: 6+ | Price: $1.99
Quell+ is a deceptively simple puzzle app with a Zen flavor. Some puzzle apps lead to aggravation. Quell just leads to feelings of peace and contentedness. Don’t ask us why.
There is a raindrop on a game board that you must swipe vertically and horizontally in order to “collect” a series of pearls. Unlike many games, the learning curve is smooth and gradual. Even very young kids will be able to play a few levels before they get stumped. Also? Soothing spa music!
(There are in-app purchases, so make sure you turn them off in your device’s settings if that’s a concern for you.)
Ah, summer. The beach, the mountains, the lake, the… long hours in a car or airplane with impatient children. If you’ll be flying or road tripping this summer, download a few new iPhone and iPad apps to help the miles go by a lot quicker.
1. Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery: Episode 1
Ages: 6 and up | $0.99
Jacob Jones is off to summer camp, where everything isn’t exactly as it seems. Along with his hairy new sidekick, he has to figure out what is going on at Camp Eaglefeather by solving a series of narrative-style puzzles that are just right for young kids.
2. State Plate Bingo!
Ages: 4 and up | $0.99
This app really won’t keep kids occupied for hours, but it’s fun as an ongoing quest on road trips. Can you find all 50 states in a single journey? There’s only one way to find out. The iPhone version works on an iPad, but isn’t optimized for it.
3. Sago Mini Sound Box
Ages: 2 and up | free
Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers (and maybe even some older kids) will love this cute, simple music discovery app. Kids choose an “instrument” (though it could be a puppy barking or a noisy barn). They tap the screen to add the sounds, then grab, fling, bounce and play with them.
4. Road Trip Bingo
Ages: 4 and up | $0.99/1.99
Got exactly two kids? Download the only travel-themed bingo app that lets both of them compete head to head. Your kids can scour the landscape for everything from road signs and blue cars to snow-topped mountains and dogs.
Ages: 8 and up | free
Got three or more kids? Check out this hilarious app that’s a lot like the telephone game we all played when we were younger! Player one types a well known phrase, such as “The early bird gets the worm.” Player two illustrates the phrase with a fingertip drawing. Player three captions Player two’s drawing without seeing the original phrase. And so on.
Don’t think it’s only for travel either. My kids beg me to play every night. Can’t think of a good phrase? The developers have thought of that — just tap the suggestions button.
StoryLines is a creative app that encourages interpersonal, non-competitive play. More importantly, it’s an app that made me and my kids laugh really hard.
Here’s how it works: Player One types a well known phrase, such as “Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.” Player Two illustrates the phrase with a fingertip drawing. Player Three captions Player Two’s drawing without seeing the original phrase. And so on.
Why we like it:
It’s a lot like that telephone game we all played when we were young, and absolutely hilarious. Especially in my family, where we totally lack the art gene.
Watch out for:
It’s actually surprisingly challenging to think of well known phrases. Once you’ve done, “the early bird gets the worm” and “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, you may get stuck. Not to worry, because you can get suggestions from the app. They’ve thought of everything.
There is an option to play online with friends over the internet. Obviously this is a no-no for kids, so explain that to them before handing it over.