If you’re a parent, you know what happens when you leave your iPhone or iPad alone with your youngsters: You’re lucky to get it back in one piece — or at all. Kids just love iOS devices, and maybe you have an older device that you’ve bequeathed to your young ones, or you allow your kids to borrow yours for a set length of time. If so, there’s so much fun and learning to be had.
Apple’s App Store is a cornucopia of entertainment and learning apps for grownups and kids, and we’ve sorted through some kid favorites to bring you a sampling of the best iOS games available today. Note that the definition of “kids” is broad, and runs from just past infant to pre-teen, so we’ve categorized our chosen games to adhere to specific age groups up to age 12, but you know your child best.
Dino Tim (Free)
If learning basic geometric shapes, colors, and math while saving Dino Tim’s family from witches sounds like fun, this is the game for your kids. Educational puzzles infused with a little bit of magic help them learn while rescuing Dino Tim’s family from the witches’ clutches — and it helps enhance their fine motor skills too, as well as developing attention and concentration skills.
If there’s one thing kids love, it’s animals. Peek-A- Zoo lets the wee ones identify different species and their habits, actions, sounds and calls, and feelings and emotions. This simple game helps toddlers connect and empathize with the animal kingdom.
Toca Nature ($4)
The natural world is Mother Earth in your child’s hands as Toca Nature brings nature and animals to the small screen. The interactive app lets kids see what happens when you plant a tree or view a landscape from a mountaintop, or how to feed and sustain all kinds of creatures. Strolling through different ecosystems brings kids face-to-face with everyone and everything that co-exists in the world alongside us.
Busy Shapes ($3)
It’s never too early to develop hand-eye coordination, and Busy Shapes uses a series of puzzles to help toddlers recognize and handle various shapes and match them with the proper slots — with some helpful encouragement and guidance from the app. Inspired by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget’s theories of childhood cognitive development, the app seeks to develop experiences paired with logical reasoning. The app’s artificial intelligence features track the time it takes each child to complete a level and adjusts the game’s challenge. Busy Shapes lets kids freely access shapes while hiding the menu and even saves a child’s place in a game.
Kodable (Free trial/$7 per month)
If you want your kids to have fun while learning a valuable skill, download Koadable. It’s free to get started with hundreds of activities that teach them the fundamentals of coding, from object-oriented programming and variable to syntax, classes, and more. They’ll help the Fuzz family navigate the Technomazes of Smeeborg while exploring the slime-infested plains of Bug World and Asteroidia’s asteroid fields, all the while learning using simple drag-and-drop commands and earning rewards along the way. After the free trial, Kodable costs from $6 per month or you can subscribe for a year for $70.
Math Bingo ($3)
For many kids, math comes naturally. But for others, it can be a struggle that follows them into adulthood. Math Bingo helps kids orient themselves to addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and mixed numbers via separate Bingo games with three levels of difficulty. Players get a choice of avatars and profiles and Bingo Bug rewards for getting the answers right.
Thinkrolls 2 ($4)
This set of mind-bending puzzles offers 270 levels of gameplay with puzzles appropriate for ages 3 to 5 and 5 to 9. It helps kids improve logical thinking, spatial cognition, problem-solving, memory, and observation by introducing scientific concepts like physics, gravity, buoyancy, levitation, electricity, density, and acceleration. It features 32 smart characters and tracks six players. There are no third-party ads or in-app purchases.
Look for all your favorite characters on PBS Kids in more than 100 free games that let the little ones relive and enhance the experience of their favorite shows. Games include Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Wild Kratts, Super Why, Arthur, Sesame Street, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!, Odd Squad, Dinosaur Train, Let’s Go Luna, Pinkalicious, and more. These games — mazes, puzzles, coloring, and dress-up — encourage learning science, math, reading, and creativity.
Ages 9 and over
Redshift Sky Pro ($9)
Wannabe astronauts and astronomy fans will love this out-of-this-world app. At $9, it’s not the cheapest app around, but it offers a rewarding experience for older children — and adults too. Explore the galaxy with over 100,000 stars and other celestial objects in the planetarium, take off on a space flight to distant galaxies, view 3D models of planets and moons, or plan a stargazing session using the Sky Calendar. In “Today’s Night Sky” users can easily see what’s happening in the sky tonight, and there are 25 educational chapters of “Discover Astronomy” to watch, which should further ignite their passion for constellation-gazing.
Earth Primer ($10)
This kid-friendly iPad-only app — which is great for grown-ups, too — gives you the lowdown on how our planet earth works via gesture-based features and interactive geological simulations that demonstrate concepts like how volcanoes are formed or how rain is created. With easy to understand language, vivid photography, interactive 3D models, and a sandbox mode, players can gain insight into how our home was formed. Use the app’s 20 tools to create volcanoes, sand dunes, glaciers, mountains, push tectonic plates, paint with wind, and more.
Pokémon Go (Free)
The Pokémon craze returns for both parents and kids, allowing families to discover Pokémon anywhere you are — even if you’re stuck at home or just hanging around the neighborhood. This game lets you catch additional Pokémon to add to your Pokédex, compete in gym competitions, team up with trainers for raid battles, and more. You get the option to use Apple’s Health app to earn walking distance, even if the app is closed.
Solar Walk ($5)
Parents and kids alike can explore the wonders of the solar system with Solar Walk. The app lets you take virtual flights between space objects, observe a real-time 3D model of the solar system, explore planets, moons, satellites, asteroids, dwarf planets, comets, stars, and celestial bodies. Use the app to travel back and forth in time, view the Milky Way, and much more.