There are tons of crazy, cool, super exciting games for phones, and a lot of them are shockful of expensive add-ons and annoying adds. These are not for me! I favor well designed, quiet apps with a cute UX. I used to be, and still is, a game designer/ UX artist. I'm also an educator and illustrator as you know, so I set up the bar pretty high..and I still find stuff I like!
I will talk about my favorite apps for the little ones, bigger kids..and cool adults, of course! For this round of reviews I will limit myself with two apps per category. I will come back with more posts later on , about apps I really like.
For the little ones, from 3 to 6 years old:
Several companies take kids seriously , but my favorite of them all is Toca Boca. There games are cute, with fantastic design ideas, and real gameplay for the kids, that promotes social skills, science skills, and imaginative play. What's more to love?
I won't make a detailed review of them all, because it would take hours. I recommend you check their website and choose what would be more fitting for your very own little darling. I used to have them all,at least all the ones that were published before my son was 8. He is now a little bit old to play with these apps, but still come back to it from time to time because they were his favorite toys.
This said, here is two unexpected favorite of mine:
Toca tea party. This is your classic tea set with a vitamin twist. It's the simplest app really, but the best one for a kid who loves to play with dolls and stuffed animals. I remember the first time we took the airplane with my son, 5 years ago ( he was 3 and a half). Of course, boarding was late and he began to panic. I just got out the iPad, and sat with Le Bu and Mr Bunny for the best tea party ever. The other passengers, who were bracing themselves for yet another hour long toddler tantrum, and then worried about electronic sounds, were so relieved that some of them even congratulated me on my parenting skills. Bragging apart, this is a real virtual toy, perfect for imaginative play, not super exciting or even a little bit frustrating, except for the parent who accepts to play and has to nom nom nom a hundredth carrot cake and wash virtual dishes for the hundredth time. This said, it's so cute you might, like me, gush when you are invited to join the fun.
If you ever considered bringing a tea set on vacation, this is the right toy for you. I said toy!
Toca Nature. Here is an app from outer space. It does nothing useful, there is nothing to win,no challenge. But this is one of the most soothing and engaging app ever. Build a scenery. Get animals. Take a walk, gather fruits, feed your animals. Take pictures if you feel like it. There is nothing more to it. This app is the best anxiety cure ever! I love it. I have on my iPhone. I have it on my ipad! This is the virtual equivalent of birdwatching or gardening, and a very good thing to have in your pocket on stressing, nature stricken days. A very good choice for your little poet. I recommend watching the trailer for a better idea:
I really wish there was more apps like this one, and I might share very soon a post about stress free things to do with your phone!
You might want to check the other apps from took Boca, which all have interesting gameplay and engaging ideas. I do recommend checking!
Apps for the bigger kid (preteen)
Of course, Minecraft. I know : a lot of parents are worried about that game, but I'm OK...OK as long as my son doesn't play the online version. At 8, he is way too young to be online. But he plays the creative version on an old laptop, and the pocket edition is our best companion anywhere, from the waiting room to the airplane.
We bought all the books and it got my son into reading. With the books, he learned to build stuff and wanted more. I got him computer coding lessons. Learning to code he needed to do some math, so here we are, I'm giving him math lessons. My son got an education from liking Minecraft. I highly recommend it . We have limited screen time at home, and this is how I introduced the books, to ease the , hum, withdrawal. I also made him take notes and draw blueprints of what he wanted to build. I'm quite strict with screen time. Get a life!
Minecraft is not a toy for boys only. Please give it to girls too! It's an important educational tool, that will shape a whole generation.
So with a few rules, I am all in. I love Minecraft. It's Legos on steroids. I just don't want to hear one more Youtube video about it.
If your kid is less than seven, I recommend to start with Toca Boca Builders. It's a very good and fun introduction to 3D building.
Lesser know than Minecraft, but as addictive and educative, here is Scribblenauts. When I discovered it I laughed like a maniac. It's an educator's dream. It teaches my kid to spell and extend his vocabulary and he is not even aware of it! HAHAHA! He is having fun! I'm sure one of the creators is Willie Wonka. Or at least eats a lot of chocolate. Here is how it works : to get his/her character out of trouble, the player has to write a solution. One is not allowed to use always the same word, either. Your kid will need synonyms, and creative expressions.
I recommend to get a dictionary (apps are less frustrating ) like the Merriam Webster . I will spell up to 5 words to my son, but it gets tiring, so after 5, he has to get the dictionary. And learn more. Haha! I love Scribblenaut. It exists for the Wii and DS, but the IOS version is by far the cheaper, if not the most complete. I highly recommend it if your kid is not into spelling. Bringing to life fun things with words, he might even learn to appreciate the magic of words and writing.
Grown ups apps to share with bigger kids:
Monument Valley: Cool down. Seat. Relax. You probably have heard of this game, if you don't already play it-and regret there wasn't more of it. Most games are like a noisy, high strung chihuahua : pushy, nervous little things that barks at you and are very demanding. Watch out! Get this! Fast! Faster ! I don't like that. I always said that I was more into making games ( building worlds!) than playing them. This one got me. It's a poetical exploration, full of wonder. It uses the simple principles of analytic geometry (don't be worried, it's just a simpler way to see the world than perspective) to create poetical puzzles. It brings a sense of awe and delight at each puzzle. It's a journey in a beautiful world. We shared some nice moments with my son, one playing a level and the other watching , cuddling on the sofa, way out of this world! It was delightful to share.
Threes! Is a number puzzle game. You probably got hooked on 2048, but Threes is the original game, that was copied again and again. I prefer playing with the original. It is really quite addictive : a grid fills with numbers, and by pairing and adding, you can free space. I had a lot of fun before noticing that it was a good way to promote calculus and hooked my son too...