Games for Android seem to be increasing in number, making the platform a perfect mobile gaming experience. But what about titles for younger users? Do they meet expectations?
Educational, inspiring games for young children can prove extremely useful in various scenarios, but if you’re ill-prepared, you might end up downloading some subpar, advert-loaded title that your little one quickly loses interest in.
So what games should you be looking for?
What To Look For
These games are not aimed at teenagers; they’re not for most 6-10 year olds. Rather, these apps are aimed at 18-months-old to 5-year-old children.
As a result of the age and the motor skills of younger children, the games that were chosen are all free-to-play and without adverts (at the time of writing). The idea of this is that you can install the game at short notice, perhaps when times are tight; the lack of adverts is important as you don’t want your children opening links to potentially unsuitable web pages.
These apps are also free of in-app purchases. You may have these disabled, but like on-screen ads, little fingers tend to tap often and all over the place, especially with artistic or music apps. Adverts and menu options just get in the way, so avoiding these entirely is the best option. Apps should preferably disable hardware buttons, although this isn’t entirely necessary.
I compiled this list recently while trying to entertain my 3-year-old twins as we waited at their dance show rehearsals for other routines to complete. It can be a slow, frustrating wait, and the games you’ll find below — which I think you’ll agree are all of a good quality — helped the second run-through go much quicker than the first.
At the top of the list has to be this BBC-produced app, which features many of the famous faces from the broadcaster’s preschool channel, CBeebies. Here you’ll find educational and engaging games: children can build a vehicle and collect fuel with Nina and the Neurons, paint their own bowtie, boot, or handbag with Mr Tumble, paint pictures with the Show Me Show Me game, and enjoy a virtual board game with Swashbuckle. There are also games for Tree-fu Tom, Octonauts, and The Furchester Hotel (a show co-produced by Sesame Street). As with all good-quality apps for children, there’s a parent’s page providing useful information about the app.
Best of all, the app is free and has a companion in the shape of CBeebies Storytime, a storybook app featuring stories from favourite shows like Old Jack’s Boat and Charlie and Lola.
Despite being aimed at the UK market, these apps can be installed anywhere.
Fans of the larger Lego blocks aimed at young children will probably love this: a virtual Duplo train set. Featuring an easy to follow user interface (complete with guide), the game challenges your child to build his or her own train and load it with items.
A variable speed control is included along with a whistle and a horn. Along with the train, background items such as trees and animals are interactive, making the journey fun, and along the way, children get the opportunity to build bridges and plan the direction of the track and other mini games. The parent’s page claims that the game can help inspire children for real life play, be a starting point for stories, and teach cause and effect — along with aiding spatial awareness, cognitive development, and hand-eye coordination. Other Lego Duplo games are available too.
Comprising two apps (Volume 1 and Volume 2), the Storybook Rhymes includes two stories in each volume that have songs based on nursery rhymes and featuring caption lyrics to follow along. Children will be entertained by various interactive elements on each page of the storybook.
Browsing the storybooks is achieved by dragging the corner of the “page” to display the next one and sound can be disabled if necessary (although this will of course make the singalong activities rather quiet).
Information is also provided for parents, with Fisher Price considering the apps “an extra tool in your toy box as you play with your baby.” There is also advice on how long to play, and to interact with your children in between games. Furthermore, as with the Lego Duplo games, the app claims to encourage exploration and discovery, practicing of motor skills, and encourage anticipation of actions and responses.
A whole host of Fisher-Price apps are available for Android, and they’re all worth taking a look at.
Want to teach your children new words? Endless Alphabet is surely the way to do it, combining puzzles — your kids will have to spell the words puzzle-style by dragging the displaced letters into place — with polished animation and narration.
Big graphics make the placing of letters easy, and as they’re dragged into place the name of the letter will be chanted. Endless Alphabet really is a fun way to learn.
Although we stipulated no in-app purchases above, this game is the exception. After completing the first few words, you’ll need to spend a few dollars to enable your little ones to continue their adventure. It’s genuinely worth it, however, as the words are inspiring and entertaining, and production values on this game are superb.
Featuring six fairy-like girls, this game offers magic, music, and lots of colour. Probably more suitable for children with feminine interests, a number of different games are available, ranging from watering a garden and watching the musical flowers grow to collecting paint from a rainbow and painting mushrooms.
There’s even a seventh game in which your children can hear the songs associated with each of the Magic Belles.
Additionally, the Belles can perform a jingle when tapped during a game, and some of the animals that surround them will also respond. Magic Belles: Magic Music reminds me of an interactive game book, and it can keep small children successfully engaged.
Do You Have Any Other Suggestions?
Selected above are five tried-and-tested apps for your Android phone or tablet that can individually or as a group keep your preschool and early-age school children entertained.
There are some big names, such as the BBC, Fisher-Price and Lego, as well as some independent titles.
But the big question is: do you know better? Have you tried these and found them wanting? Did your children discard them in favour of a cheap-looking advert-heavy mix and match game? Or do you have a genuinely impressive suggestion to add to the list?