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Quality apps to keep little kids entertained

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Welcome to , an ongoing series at Mashable that looks at how to take care of – and deal with – the kids in your life. Because Dr. Spock is nice and all, but it’s 2018 and we have the entire internet to contend with.


Parents everywhere are trying to find the right balance for screen time with small children, but if you absolutely have to make it through Aunt Edna’s three-course birthday lunch or take part in a grown-up conversation during dinner, sometimes to only thing to do is to hand your phone over. 

When you’re giving your child a game to play, you want to be confident that it’s child-safe, age-appropriate content — which is where this list comes in. We’ve hand-picked a selection of iPhone and Android apps that are especially designed to engage and educate younger children. 

Game on

1. PBS KIDS Games
PBS KIDS offers over 90 free games featuring favourite shows like Sesame Street, Dinosaur Train, Odd Squad, Arthur and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. The games are all designed to encourage creativity and promote learning science and maths. Ad-free, with no in-app purchases, this amazing app even works when your Wi-Fi is patchy. 

Free, Ages 2-8,  ,

2. Little Stars – Toddler Games
This popular app offers mini-games that all have an educational element. The games include things like counting fingers, learning numbers, identifying shapes and colors and farm animal flashcards. It’s very customizable, so you can introduce topics on an ongoing basis. The option to record your own voiceover is especially fun for little ones and they will love earning stickers and seeing their achievement rocket flying into space. 

Free, Ages 2 and up,

Edutainment

3. ABC Kids – Tracing & Phonics
This ad-free option is a colorful early education app made by parents that helps children learn the English alphabet. It’s designed so that a toddler can use it alone without pressing confusing menu options that take them out of the game. The basic premise is an ABC-tracing game with both lowercase and uppercase letters, but there’s also elements of phonics paring and letter matching. Your child will earn stickers and toys as they complete games. 

Free, Ages 2 and up, ,  

4. Starfall
Available on both iPhone and Android, this is the companion app for the popular pre-K and kindergarten curriculum providers. There is free content available to all, but Starfall members can access a full suite of educational activities. With the aim of helping kids learn reading, math and more, there are also art-related topics, poetry, music, books, songs, geometry and more. If your child is hungry for knowledge as well as dinner, this app will keep them engaged. 

Free, Ages 8 and under, ,  

Watching video

5. PBS KIDS Video
Sometimes for a tired, bored child the only way to go is video. This multi award-winning app is specially designed for a safe, child-friendly viewing experience for kids of all ages. Anywhere you have a cellular or Wi-Fi connection, your child can watch their favorite shows and look forward to new full episodes available every Friday. 

Free, Ages 8 and under, ,  

6. Hopster
This app gives you a free taste of the Hopster TV service. Claiming to “make screen time smart” Hopster delivers ad-free, child-friendly shows, books and games with an easy-to-use interface. The hand-picked TV shows include the likes of “Sesame Street,” “Moshi Monsters,” and “Fireman Sam” and can be downloaded for offline access. When your child is done with video, the apps’ “Games Balloon” gives them fun ways to learn numbers, literacy and improve their fine motor skills and memory.   

Free, Ages 5 and under, ,  

Make-believe play 

7. LEGO DUPLO Train
There’s a great selection of other LEGO apps available, but we’re highlighting this option as we’ve yet to meet a child who isn’t fascinated by trains. Use that to your advantage with this role-playing option that will magically transform your kid into a train driver. Based on the DUPLO My First Train set, this app will see your tiny driver build a train, load it up with cargo, help passengers and drive around the train tracks dealing with obstacles and crossings. 

Free, Ages 18 months and up, ,  

8. Tiny Tiger and Friends
Delightful illustrations from a children’s book artist give this charming app gorgeous looks that will engage children and inspire their imagination. Three cute characters — a tiger, a hippo and a monkey — need help getting dressed up. Once your child creates them a colorful outfit, they can take snapshots and play sweet mini-games with the animals. A super-simple, ad-free, no in-app purchases interface makes for a hassle-free experience for everyone. 

Free, Ages 2-5,

For calming down

9. Breathe, Think, Do With Sesame
Part of Sesame Street‘s “Little Children, Big Challenges” initiative, which tries to help kids manage stressful situations and challenges by building resilience, this app will see your little one helping a monster to calm down. They can tap, pop bubbles and breathe with the monster as they face interactive everyday challenges together. 

Free, Ages 5 and under, ,

10. Toddler Animal Pop
This fun game also uses bubbles as a way to de-stress, but with a twist — they are animal-shaped. As well as a possible 30 different animals (with a $1.99 in-app purchase) there are other shapes to pop like stars and fruit. Designed for children ages 18 months and up, it’s ad-free with such simple gameplay that you can hand your phone over to your little munchkin and they can keep themselves entertained whilst improving their hand-eye coordination.  

Free, Ages 18 months plus, ,  

For more mindfulness apps for kids, check our full list.

Storytime 

11. FarFaria Stories
FarFaria is a subscription service, but the kind folk behind the app do offer access to one free book a day from their library of 900+ specially curated children’s books. From fairy tale classics to exciting new titles, if you have a budding bookworm, put this app on your phone. The design is well thought-out and the app includes read-along word highlighting in every story to help young readers improve. 

Free, Ages 1-9, ,  

12. Speakaboos – Kids Reading App
Speakaboos is another free-trial option that offers over 200 interactive stories and songs designed to be so entertaining that children will choose reading over gaming. Created to be used independently by children from age two and up, they can discover nursery rhymes, songs, classic fairy tales as well as content that’s exclusive to Speakaboos. 

Free, Ages 2-6,

So go ahead, order dessert.

Read more great stories from Small Humans:   

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