Shopping for fun iPhone, iPad, and Android games for kids is dizzying. There are sim games, action games, sports games, role playing games, physics games, card games, word games, and puzzle games… and that’s just the tip of the app iceberg.
Overwhelmed? Not to worry — we’ve got your back.
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.)
Jack Stalwart: Passport to Adventure is a world travel-themed interactive adventure for kids based on a wildly popular series of books.
(they are especially wonderful for reluctant readers, here’s a link to the author’s Amazon page.)
Anyway. Eight ancient artifacts have been stolen around the world, and your kids must recover them using only their wits and fingertips (and picking up a bit of geography, history, and culture along the way).
There are puzzles to be assembled, scrambled words to be decoded, hidden pictures to be found… and much more.
Why we love it:
In-country contacts? Secret missions? Travel to Australia, Thailand, and Brazil? What’s not to love?!
In the spirit of full disclosure, however, I have to admit that being called “Secret Agent Mommy” (a moniker I chose for myself during set up) was my favorite part of this app — I just never got sick of that.
Overall, the app has very high production value, with great background sounds, images, and activities.
Watch out for:
There is a link to the iTunes store to buy the author’s ebooks and audio books (these are not technically in-app purchases, so they can’t be turned off. Explain this to your kids). Also, while this is a great app, it will work for a somewhat narrow age range, say 6-9 (my 11-year-old liked it, but finished it very easily).
If you haven’t yet upgraded to iOS 6.0, you’re going to have to in order to download this app.
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.