I always thought I was the biggest gadget freak in the house. My wife hates them as much as she hates all the attention they get from me and the paranoia that follows with letting anyone else touch them. All that changed a few months back when my son – just about three years old at the time – decided to lay his hands on my Android phone while it was unlocked. It wasn’t too long before he claimed complete and absolute ownership of the device throughout my time at home.
There are advantages to this situation, as we have learnt over time. It is a great way to keep him busy in situations where he would otherwise be impatient and cranky, and with carefully chosen apps it is possible to convert that play time into a productive and enriching experience. We have since given in to the fact that he is better at navigating the device and figuring things out than we can ever be, and have decided instead to load the device up with apps that make sense for him. Here are my top picks from the seemingly endless trials I’ve had over the last few months.
Baby Android icons by Android.net
Pango Book 1 is first of a series of interactive books that take good advantage of a smartphone’s capabilities to create an engaging experience for kids. The stories are pretty short, spread across 4-5 screens where the kid needs to interact at each step to move on to the next. Activities include tapping things on the screen, rubbing and scratching to reveal stuff, shaking the phone to move things around and more. The artwork is beautiful and the activities are designed to keep things engaging enough for kids to keep coming back.
If you like this first book, there are two more that you can buy from the Play Store. Just remember that the app requires Adobe Air to run, so make sure your phone is compatible before checking the app out.
The first thing that came to mind when I set out to find apps for my son was coloring books. There is no dearth of coloring apps on Android, but PicsArt is by far one of the best I found. There are three sections to the app – drawing, coloring & learning.
Drawing includes a series of background themes and brush types to let kids draw to their heart’s content. The Coloring section has some of the best artwork I’ve seen in a coloring app, and the Learning section contains some pretty interesting tips and techniques to help kids learn the basics of drawing and coloring. Overall, this is well rounded app for a price you can’t really beat.
This is another pretty nice drawing and coloring app, Color & Draw is available in phone and tablet editions for $0.99 and $1.99 respectively. Apart from a drawing and sketching mode where kids can draw to their heart’s content, the coloring section contains 50 images across a variety of themes and a comprehensive color palette to choose from.
One interesting differentiator from many other coloring apps is a finger painting mode where kids can fill colors within shapes like they would on paper, instead of the more common click-to-fill-the-shape mode.
As my son enters his pre-school, the first few bits of learning obviously involve the alphabet. Kids ABC Alphabet Puzzles brings the fun element to learning for pre-schoolers by using puzzles to teach kids the alphabet, words, shapes and spellings. Kids put together a bunch of puzzle pieces to put together animals in each scene, in the process learning the associated letters and words, along with the ability to match shapes to put pictures together.
Although the app works on most new phones, it is best experienced on a tablet where the screen real estate makes it easy for the kids to drag & drop elements while being able to see what they are doing.
Another app that makes learning the alphabet simple and fun is Kids Puzzle ABC Lite. Kids can tap each letter in the alphabet to put together the shape of the letter as well as a picture associated with the letter. With three levels of difficulty and a “time limit” mode, there is enough variety to keeps kids coming back for more.
As the name suggests, this is a free version of the app that is limited to only a few letters. If you like what you see, you can upgrade to the full version from with the app itself.
Talking of puzzles, here’s one of a series of puzzle games on the Play Store that’s probably the best of its kind as far as I’ve seen. In kids Puzzle:Animals, children can choose from a set of boards that contain animals, birds or fish, and then complete each board by solving puzzles to put the animals together. The normal mode proved a bit too easy for my son on the first attempt, but the hard mode provides enough of a challenge to have him coming back for more. Every time you complete an animal, an audio piece plays out the name or distinct sound of the animal.
And while we are on the topic of learning, you might want to give Zumbo’s Early Learning a try if you want a more well rounded learning app and don’t mind a higher price tag. The app clearly comes across as a much more polished version with brilliant artwork and production values. With sections for letters, numbers, shapes, colors and animals, the app provides a fun and engaging way for kids to learn through listening, matching and writing.
Again, although the app will work fine on newer high resolution phones, it works best on tablets that provide more real estate and larger elements to interact with.
Okay, enough about learning. Let’s have some fun with the phone for a while. After seeing my son spend a good half hour with Talking Tom Cat on a friends phone, I decided to get it myself to check out what the whole deal was.
The concept is pretty simple. Tom the cat listens to what you are saying and repeats everything after you. You can interact with it by tingling its tummy, feeding it food and wine and even hitting it in the face. It is one app my son still keeps going back to for a quick laugh and some fun.
A big part of the first couple of years of a toddler’s life – especially in the pre-school days – are the nursery rhymes we all learn. The Nursery Rhymes Volumes 1 & 2 bring some of the best known of these rhymes to your Android device, complete with catchy tunes and pretty animations to boot.
There are a whole bunch of these apps in the Play Store, and I probably like these two because they are made by Indian developers with songs and tunes I can relate to. But as far as I can tell, the rhymes have universal appeal and can be enjoyed by most kids around the world.
Last but not the least, Famigo Sandbox is one app I will recommend to anyone with kids who have access to their phones. If you are worried that your kids might access parts of your phone that are not meant for them – be it making calls, accessing your work-related apps or making purchases in the Play Store or within the apps – you need to check this app out. It creates a sandbox environment with just the apps that are safe for your kids and disables ads, purchases and calling features. You can choose what apps are allowed in the sandbox mode and lock it up with a pattern lock.
The app will also send you weekly reports of what your kids have been doing within the sandbox, how much time they have spent on what apps and will give recommendations on other apps that might be of interest to you and your family.
Those were top ten ways to let your kids make the most of their time with your Android device. Let us know your own picks in the comments below. Of course, too much time with the phone is not healthy and teaching kids to virtue of keeping their sessions with phone brief is paramount.