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OLogy: Science for Kids (Opens in new tab) is an iPad app for injecting science into the minds of children at the American Museum of Natural History. It does this by combining book-like pages and links that cover many topics in dozens of sections.
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The entry point is a large stack of cards, which do not appear to be lined up in any particular order. But entering them all opens up a new world for young people living. They can explore stargazing, find out why the T-Rex had small arms, and learn about biodiversity.
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More traditional pages are well laid out, looking like a decorative book. But there are also game-like sections and drag-and-drop quests like searching for different species while bird watching. For free, it’s like a simple download to help fill your young brain with positive things.
Duolingo ABC (opens in a new tab) is an educational tool designed to help children get used to reading and writing. Like the language learning app Duolingo, lessons take the form of mini-games. However, the games here are designed to be fully accessible to young children with minimal adult intervention.
It’s intentionally repetitive, but the incremental nature of each lesson and regular changes in approach maintain interest. One minute your child will be drawing letter shapes and the next, matching pictures or bubbles containing specific letters.
The very linear nature of the app can make it a slog for older kids, and the lack of profiles for multiple users is a concern. However, as a completely free app (in terms of price, ads, and IAP), it has earned its place, especially on the iPad where little fingers can take advantage of more space.
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Toca Life: The World (opens in a new tab) combines all the Toca Life apps into one big world that your child can explore with frenzied typing. The new mode will automatically be available if you have another Toca Life app installed or available for purchase as a one-time IAP.
Even if it’s free, you can explore enough. Bop City has a lot to see, including a hair salon, a theater and a small shop with lots of interactive elements. You can draw your drawings and you can create three custom drawings in the free version of character creator.
As a free tool, it is solid and forgiving. Especially on the iPad with more room to play. In combination with other Toca Life applications, this is useful.
Noah’s Ark Animalibrium (Opens in a new tab) may have a famous story to its name, but this story breaks convention and can be told at least openly. There is no box here. It just looks like a big wooden bowl. And instead of the animals going in pairs, all the colorful animals have to balance on the sailing boat.
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It’s a fun, interactive game and will help young players improve their coordination and (visual) composition skills. Besides moderation, there are buttons to change the weather and take pictures. And for kids who want to travel back in time, a one-time IAP ($1.99 / £1.99 / AU$2.99) unlocks a bunch of dinosaurs to save them from the previous flood.
Tankee (opens in new tab) lets kids watch other people play and talk about video games. It may seem embarrassing at a certain age, but it is something that children really enjoy.
What sets Tankee apart is curation. All videos on the program have been watched by real people. This avoids the problems seen with other online video networks where children can suddenly see inappropriate rates.
Tankee also takes care of another big concern: comments. It achieves this by removing these features completely, although some of the ‘network’ remains. Creating an account allows your child to collect their favorite videos and follow specific creators for later. Even if you enjoy the show, you can let everyone know by clicking a smiley sticker in real time.
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Wonderful Storytime Books (opens in new tab) is a custom iPad-made picture book for kids. The premise is that the protagonist has forgotten his name and must go on an adventure to collect just one letter at a time.
The story is wonderfully presented and the material cleverly captures many instances of the same character by providing variations for each character. (Actually, this works on a fun level. We tried the name ‘Aaaaa’ and it shows 5 vignettes that are not edited!)
Part of the point of the app is that you reach the limit and then buy a physical copy of the actual book. But even if you resist its literary, expensive charm, the material is a blast. You can even save your previous trips so nothing gets lost.
LEGO Creator Island (opens in a new tab) is for fans of the popular construction toy when there are no plastic bricks nearby. You start with a small island on which you build a house. Setup is easy. Tap a pile of bricks to merge them into pieces from your completed LEGO set, which you can drag and drop into place.
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After a few rinses and repeats, your kids will have a big smile as they watch the island come to life, full of LEGO animals surrounded by LEGO minifigures and impressed with the houses, trees and vehicles.
Of course, the experience is not very deep, and you can see most of what it has to offer in an hour or so. But stepping on LEGO bricks barefoot is always fun, and better than stepping on LEGO bricks.
Sago Mini Friends (opens in new tab) is a collection of the best cute mini games for young children. After choosing a character to play as, visit a neighborhood with colorful buildings. Knock on the door and you will be invited to a play date.
The tasks are varied and smartly designed. There’s a fun birthday party to open presents and a new house to break into and fix up. But our favorite is a discreet snack time with two friends sitting next to each other. Giving one and the other seems nervous, encouraging young players to learn to share.
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With no IAPs and no ads, Sago Mini Friends is the obvious choice for any parent who wants a safe, free, fun and educational tool for their kids to spend quality time together.
As the developer explains, Zen Studio (opens in a new tab) is meant to help children relax and focus by offering the kind of finger painting that can only be found in the digital environment. In fact, Zen Studio has a problem with the ‘kids’ section, because it has a friendly and playful attitude that will make it a hit with any iPad user.
It starts with a triangular grid and colored columns. Tap Paint to select a color, then click individual triangles or drag across the grid to start drawing. All gestures are accompanied by musical notes playing in the accompanying background music.
The combination of drawing tools and materials is lush, with a loud buzzing sound that hits the ambiance every time you pick up a new tube of paint. When you’re done, you can share your photos with the world by sending them to the Photos app.
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However, this is in some ways free of charge. There are 8 canvases that can be empty or based on a template. If you want more, you can buy IAP to unlock the premium version of the app. However, you can relax and have a good time for a few hours at no cost.
Lego Life (opens in a new tab) is a social network for children whose lives revolve around plastic bricks. Once you’re registered, you can browse your feed and follow themes to become a better creator or stay updated on the latest from the LEGO universe.
Pay attention to the kind of announcements that are freely available in new product videos, of course. But mostly this is an app about inspiration. You will be given regular homework assignments and knowledge tests. On a lazy day, you can put stickers on all your virtual Lego equipment or create little figures for your profile.
Given that most children use the app, it is worth noting that usernames are anonymous. It cannot be printed directly; instead, you choose from a list of random words. Meet the motorcycle sensation, Elder Supersonic Jelly!
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Laugh & Learn Shapes & Colors Music Show for Baby (opens in new tab) is a two-part game designed for babies from six months.
In level 1, the pup, armed with a mind-bogglingly expensive technology, can tap and click the screen to make shapes appear and bounce around. Level 2, however, greatly improves the situation.
“Let’s show you a game” shouts from the app as five shapes spin and roll across the screen.