The best apps for bigger kids
Some kids like books, but a heart may nonetheless sink when you say: “Hey, I just got you a great new iPad book about the Earth, which you can read while we’re travelling”. Any glum expressions should vanish when you add: “And you can make volcanoes with your fingers!”
That’s the magic of Earth Primer, which is a tactile interactive experience imagined into being by Chaim Gingold (Spore Creature Creator). A further slice of genius lies in the book’s sandbox: a tiny hunk of land you can build on, freeze, bake or drown – but only if you’ve read through the relevant chapters first.
Download Earth Primer for iPad (£9.99)
Journeys of Invention
For older kids fascinated by inventions, there’s no better digital book than Journeys of Invention. You browse interconnected pathways to discover the most extraordinary events in science and technology.
Many objects you find can be explored, spinning them around with a finger. But there’s more heavily interactive fare, too. You can examine a flea under a microscope, explore the inside of the Apollo 10 Command Module, and send messages using an Enigma Machine.
And if your kids start doing the last of those all the time, rather than sending you messages in English, you’ve only yourselves to blame for trying to educate the little blighters.
Exploring objects in 3D and taking them to bits is a useful way for children to learn. However, chances are they spend learning time buried in dusty tomes – plus you wouldn’t want them dismantling your headphones, toaster, alarm clock, or a human eye anyway. (Also: where did that eye come from?)
JigSpace can project such items on to a desk – and many more besides, including Coronavirus, a trebuchet, and the entire solar system. There, you can see what makes these things tick, move around them in 3D, and explore text labels, thereby infusing knowledge into your brain in a way a hunk of dead tree just can’t compete with.
Download JigSpace for iOS (£free)
Solar Walk 2
Kids are often captivated by the heavens. A couple of decades ago, they might have received a book to leaf through, with dodgy paintings of planets.
Today, they can hurl themselves across a virtual solar system, scooting between Jupiter and Venus, spinning Saturn about, and hitching a ride on a comet. For those who want to delve deeper, tap the info button to get all kinds of facts and figures about any given planet. You can also peek into its internal structure. (Saturn’s looks like a freaky eyeball – possibly worth the price of entry alone).
Download Solar Walk 2 for iOS (£2.99 + IAP)
Download Solar Walk 2 for Android (£2.99 + IAP)
Love You to Bits
This one’s an old-school point-and-click adventure reimagined for a world of touchscreens. Rookie space explorer Kosmo must search for his robot girlfriend’s components, which have been scattered throughout the galaxy. He visits planets to which her parts have been tracked, and gets them back by solving puzzles.
For kids and adults alike, there’s an ongoing charm offensive and deluge of pop-culture references that are impossible to escape from. The mix of clever puzzles and gorgeous visuals is intoxicating, whether you’re figuring out how to beat a 2D Monument Valley or lurking in a certain cantina in a galaxy far, far away.
The Room Three
Barely a minute into The Room Three, you’re scared out of your wits as a ghostly apparition sits before you in a train carriage. The lights go out, and you wake up in a dungeon, with a note from the mysterious Craftsman. Figure your way out (and then from the multi-room complex as a whole) or you’re done for.
Cue: hours of swiping, exploring, puzzle solving, and general weirdness with a dreamlike horror bent. One to (hopefully) captivate older kids for a few hours, while cunningly simultaneously flexing their brain muscles. The two previous entries in the series are also fab, as is spin-off Old Sins.
Download The Room Three for iOS (£1.99)
The other games in the section for older kids are intentionally thoughtful. They’re about puzzle solving and logic – and therefore educational. Ish. But Fancade starts off as a set of breezy mini-games that riff off of popular mobile fare. There’s one-thumb racing and isometric path-finding. One game finds ninja-like critters bounding about 2D platforming worlds, and another has the player urge a massive truck across undulating tracks towards a goal. What is educational is your kid can dig into any of these mini-games and find out what makes them tick. They can then fashion their own versions, or even start from scratch and craft unique game worlds within the Fancade universe. Top stuff for any budding games designers.
Download for iOS (£free)
Download for Android (£free)
There’s a ton of depth lurking in this oddball sampler, including a sequencer, drum patterns, sync capabilities with other iOS audio apps, sample clipping, and MIDI control. But if you’re a kid, sitting in the back of the car, it’s also a hugely entertaining means to make a soundboard from whatever objects happen to be nearby.
A donk on the window. A nearby sibling yelling “GERROFFF”. An amusing sneeze. Whispering the word ‘poo’. All these sounds are ripe material for a subsequent pad-bashing session. It’ll drive you nuts, but Samplebot could be the first step of your pride and joy one day topping the charts.
Download Samplebot for iOS (£3.99)