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My recommended kid games

It started out innocuously. We were waiting for a table at a restaurant, my daughter was about two years old and fidgeting. I checked the App Store on my iPhone for a kid genre, found a fake phone game, and let her go to town on it. It saved the day and bought us 20 min of quiet time. Since then I've downloaded a lot of games and educational apps for my daughter (who is now four and a half) and I've been meaning to write up the ones I think are worth a few bucks and have stood the test of time, and here they are.

Kid games screen

This is my "Kid Games" screen of my iPhone that I go to when I find myself somewhere with my daughter and we're both bored. This happens sporadically in doctors offices, in lines while running errands, and most often at a restaurant. I'll quickly recap each one here with an appropriate age range after.

Fairy Trails — Augmented Reality for Kids! If you have a newer iPhone 3GS, this is a game that initializes the camera and you pan around the room, clicking the screen when you see a fairy fly by. It's pretty simple and kind of silly but can entertain kids for longer than you think (3-5 years).

Brushes — fairly advanced drawing tools than can trip up younger users (by them accidentally zooming out or in), but for general drawing works pretty good (3-12+ years).

iPlayPhone — the first kid game I downloaded. Mostly just a noisemaker for the youngest to mash on without messing up your phone (6mo-2 years)

Ballonimals — Pretty fun virtual ballon animal game from IDEO. You blow in the mic to make an animal, tap it to make it dance, then explode it by over-inflating. Good fun (2-6 years)

DinoMixer — It's a mix and match game of dinosaurs, with about a dozen different animals in three parts plus different foregrounds and backgrounds. Fun and a good learning experience (3-10 years)

TicTacToe — there are about 100 different TicTacToe apps in the App Store but this one allows for WiFi play, which I've done with my daughter using another iPod Touch. Good times (3-10 years)

ZenGarden — a really great simple "drawing" app where there is no color or brushes to choose from, you just push a line in the sand, and shake for a new blank canvas. Perfect for young artists (1-4 years)

Heat Pad — much the same as ZenGarden, you just drag a finger across and colors change, this one is a fake "heat map" based on how long your finger stays in place. Gets old kind of quick, I've found (1-4 years)

Cute Math — A nice basic number identification, counting, and eventually basic addition/subtraction app. (2-6 years)

LunchBox/WhenIGrowUp — Both THUP games come from a developer that is a member of MetaFilter where I heard of them. Great pre-school games, one is basic number and color identifier, the other is basically dressing up a monkey. My daughter loves both. (2-6 years)

AnimalMatch — My daughter loves Memory card-matching games and this one offers flexible grids of different sizes/difficulty. There was a time she wanted to play this for hours (2-6 years)

Let's Color — A Curious George/PBS app, this is just a paint-bucket coloring book style app. If your child is a fan of the show, they will like it (2-4 years)

DoodleBuddy — Amazing drawing app that is free(!) in the App Store, and is perfectly between something full-featured like Brushes and simpler apps. It even offers collaborate WiFi drawing between iPhones/iPods as well. It's worth $5 even though the basic version is free (3-10 years)

Pickin Time — Fun simple reaction-time game where you click on fruits/veggies as fast as you can. Works well when competing among several people to see who gets the highest score but game gets old quick (3-10+ years)

I've tried dozens more and deleted them all when my daughter grew out of them or no longer found them interesting. These have stood the test of time and lasted several months to several years, and most are just a buck or so.

Though I wouldn't suggest using these to ignore your kid or thinking that you just have to have them around all the time (crayons and paper are usually a bigger hit than an iPhone) these apps have come in handy when there's been dead time to fill and nothing to play with.

39 Comments

  1. Long after I quit using a Palm Pilot I kept one around loaded with games specifically for the kids. It can be a lifesaver when service is slow at a restaurant.

  2. Along the lines of iPlayPhone is BeBot, which is sort of like a finger synthesizer. There are some built in sounds, including Theremin, but it gives you the controls to mess with them all you like. My kids LOVE it and the crazy sounds it makes.
    There’s a video of it in action here: http://www.normalware.com/

  3. I kept a hold of my original iPhone and have it loaded with applications for my 3 year old son. There is a healthy mix of silly games and educational apps. Some of the apps you mentioned above we have on there for him. He likes all of the 3Dal apps (Preschool Arcade, Preschool Music, and Preschool Adventure). He also really likes Little Cook and ABC Pocket Phonics.

  4. My kids loves Feed me! most recently. Also, Balloons (balloon popping game), Shape Builders and Unblock Me (a bit too advance to my 4 years old since an update though) has been their long time favorites. And all of them are free or has free version to try out.

  5. Hi Matt
    A few more to try: http://www.tickletapapps.com
    I work for this company and was responsible for the visual design of the Tickle Tap apps. Beyond that obvious bias, I think we have made some great games for preschoolers. My personal favourites are Sound Shaker which is a loose sound toy and Field Flier which is an exploration game.

  6. I love kids apps. I’ve tried to develop a few as a hobby. Most of which have sold about 20 copies in two months. Then I asked my five year old what she wanted me to put on the iPhone. She gave me a great idea, and it sold 400 copies in a month. Just a silly toy cash register. http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/cash-register/id348577367?mt=8 Couldn’t believe it. Still working on making it better (it’s fun….)

  7. Thank you, Matt (and commenters). I’ve been looking for something like this for a while. My 3-yr-old has become obsessed with the iPhone, and I think he’s starting to get bored with his stable of ABC Animals, Koi Pond, Matching Zoo, Action Bowling, Traffic Rush, etc.
    He’s become such a videogame junky that we’ve had to limit his iPhone time to 15 minutes for every ten stars he earns by doing things like putting the dog dishes away, cleaning up his toys, listening, etc.
    My wife is considering purchasing some kind of dedicated “educational” kids videogame contraption like something by Leapfrog, but I’m trying to talk her out of it, assuming there’s gotta be plenty of educational games for the iPhone. So…are there? Geared toward a (very smart, of course) 3-yr-old?

  8. Try TowerSmash! Most of the supposedly kid-friendly apps still have little buttons sprinkled around that are too easy for kids to accidentally touch, and they bring up alerts or end the game or clear the screen or what not.
    TowerSmash is simply a simulation of a favorite kid toy – wooden blocks. You tap to stack them up and tap to throw balls to knock them down, and that’s it! Simple, educational, and toddlers love it! Even 6 and 8 years olds fight to play it :-)
    http://brattonbrothers.com/towersmash/

  9. I need to add my own experience.
    My two-year-old daughter loves playing with the iPhone and the Touch, and has plenty of videos saved in it for her.
    For when she wants to play (and I need to have her distracted as she knows how to call her grans, both of which live in different cities) she loves these three and has loved them since she was 1 year old:
    Elephant Song: http://itunes.apple.com/es/app/elephant-song/id315167200?mt=8 (based on a video from youtube made into an app and later into an interactive song)
    Box of moo: http://itunes.apple.com/es/app/caja-de-muuuu/id300979900?mt=8 (soundbox with lots of animal sounds and easy-to-use app, although the last update sort of changed the style without any actual improvement. but it’s still nice)
    Alphababy: http://itunes.apple.com/es/app/alphababy/id321916100?mt=8 (A classic she also enjoys in the iMac, it allows her to have pictures of things she knows with sounds attached)

  10. The anorak app is wonderful – a good selection for small children, simple and fun.

  11. Our 5 year old son can’t get enough of ifighter. It’s not really a “kid” game but for over a year it has allowed us to start going to restaurants again.

  12. Try Smack Talk… 4 different characters to talk to and they repeat back what is said. Reduce or increase the pitch and speed to change the output voice. My 3 and 5 yr old boys love it.

  13. SmackTalk is great. I haven’t met a kid or adult who doesn’t like this one. Now I have to pry the phone from my 4-yr olds hand.

  14. “ABC Phonics Word Families” game is pretty good for my daughter.
    Easy enough for her to learn to read at an Early age.

  15. I second ABC Oddity, my 2 year old recognizes letters because of it. I also really like the Picpocket books, we have round is a mooncake and cucumber soup. They’re like little audio/visual books on your phone. Really cute and engaging.

  16. My kids really like earning pocket money and setting up chores/rewards using the ChoreBank app.

  17. Great list! I have 7- and 3-year old boys, and here (in addition to your list) are some of their favourites:
    Crazy Frogzy – tapping the frog makes him jump to catch flies. He’s supposed to catch only flies but my 3-yr old thinks it’s hilarious when the frog screams after catching a bee instead.
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/crazy-frogzy/id303488686?mt=8
    Shape Builder – this game is a simple drag & drop puzzle game, but has so many different shapes to put together it’s stood the test of time for my boys.
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/shape-builder-preschool-learning/id306572986?mt=8
    Animal Mechanicals Memory Match – my 3-year old is also big into matching. There are probably better ones, but this one is free.
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/animal-mechanicals-memory/id297589125?mt=8

  18. Thanks Lisa for mentioning “Shape Builder!”
    We created that hit about a year ago…is was both an Apple Staff Favorite and an App Store Essential for Toddlers – http://touchscreenpreschoolgames.com/games/shape-builder-iphone-toddler-game
    We just released a new hit called “Preschool Connect the Dots Game” with over 200 puzzles!!! — here’s the iTunes link http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/preschool-connect-dots-game/id353386972?mt=8 and our website link http://touchscreenpreschoolgames.com/games/connect-the-dots
    Best regards,
    Darren

  19. My 16-month-old loves two similar games: Bubbles, which lets you create and pop bubbles that fall down the screen, and Brian Eno’s Bloom, which lets you touch the screen to create floating circles and soothing tones.

  20. Great post, thanks! I published my own “best of” list that included 20 apps just a couple weeks ago. I have the iPod Touch, so none of the apps requiring a camera or microphone work (and some require me to be in range of an open wi-fi hotspot). But between your post and the comments, I have a whole host of new apps to check out!!! :)

  21. I recently wrote, illustrated and voiced a read-aloud kids book called “Lefty and Ron” that’s free on the app store. I’d be very interested to hear your feedback: http://bit.ly/bdtuPk
    Thanks for the list of apps; I’ll be checking some of them out for my two-year-old.

  22. I am currently loading apps on my two girls ipod touches with my husbands help of course and have set up a facebook page ipod touch learning tool, please feel free to post there also or share

  23. AniMatch is a *great* one, simple memory game. My 2 yr old daughter (now 3) started solving it in < 90 seconds which is faster than a lot of adults [proud dad syndrome, sorry] but it's got great replay value. The animal noises drew her in and she still loves it.

  24. Nice post.We are great favourers of iphone/ipod and
    my husband is into iphone development.He recently published a new educational app in cooperation with professional educators simply refreshing tons of paperwork exercises for kids and converging into digital domain. Our daughter enjoys playin it. Check it for your pleasure at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/babycounting/id358543477?mt=8
    and comment

  25. Hey,
    My two years old loves your app. He’s learned many new words from it. Great work! Thanks.

  26. I agree with you, Liz, that Picpocket books are great. I like Cucumber Soup. (I didn’t get Round is a Mooncake because I have a copy of the book.) Have you tried Seuss ABC? Greater than I expected. Cheers.

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