There are thousands of great child-friendly apps available for iOS and Android, but finding software that's appropriate for toddlers can be a challenge. Children ages 1 to 3 can't read and are still developing their language skills, while many have limited hand-eye coordination. However, with the right apps, youngsters can improve their vocabulary, learn about the world around them, or at least stay calm while their parents are trying to eat at a restaurant. (Just be aware that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents severely limit their toddlers' screen time, which includes TV, tablets, smartphones and computers.)
Here are 12 apps simple enough for 18-month-olds and above to use, but entertaining enough to keep them occupied.
Fox & Sheep's Petting Zoo app (Android, iOS) brings 21 cute cartoon animals to life in an interactive picture book. Using only simple swipe controls, kids and parents can play with different animals, such as dogs, elephants, big cats, and more. The app features animations by author and illustrator Christoph Niemann, and its cute designs and cartoon antics make it a great app for parents and toddlers to enjoy together.
Can you cheer up a sad sheep or put a smile on a giraffe's face? Avokiddo Emotions (Android, iOS) is cute app that introduces kids to four cartoon animals (a sheep, giraffe, moose and zebra), that they can interact with using a variety of props like food, clothes, toys and more. Each animal responds to the props in different ways, smiling, frowning, laughing or crying, all rendered with lively animations. Parents can use it to help teach kids about emotions and body language, or just let them have fun with free play.
Kids and parents can join young Artie on his artistic adventures in Minilab's Artie's Magical Pencil (Android, iOS), a kid's game that teaches basic shapes, while also reinforcing values of altruism and empathy. Kids guide Artie along his journey, where he can use his magic pencil to help animals and people whose homes have been damaged by a rampaging monster. By drawing basic shapes, Artie's magic pencil can grow plants and trees, rebuild homes and machines, and help people in need. Kids can play though the entire story, or go back to the map redraw their favorite shapes and things.
Originator Inc's Endless series of apps focus on edutainment for kids. Endless Alphabet (Android, iOS) introduces kids to letters and words, presenting toddlers and children with a series of minigames. Children put words back together in easy and engaging spelling puzzles featuring talking words, and afterwards, they're rewarded with short animations that explain each word's meaning.
The Duckie Deck Collection (Android, iOS) is a neat series of six minigames designed for simple, imaginative play by toddlers. Each minigame is designed to reinforce a variety of habits, and skills, from teaching care of pets by feeding zoo animals, tidying up a messy room. Plus, matching games encourage kids to try out fruits and vegetables. Interaction is very basic with taps and swipes, without requiring very fine coordination, and colorful art, sound effects and lively music help to keep your toddler's attention.
Dr. Panda City 2 (Android, iOS) has players teaming up with Hoopa the Hippo to build an urban playground. Kids can combine a variety of elements to build houses, roads, train tracks, museums, shops and more, and a helpful combination guide recalls the building recipes they've already unlocked. As your town grows, more cuddly animal people move in, and you can zoom in and play with them, placing them inside buildings so that they can study in school, eat in restaurants, or play in your parks and plazas. This app is all about free play, with no score boards or points, just an open world for kids to build the city of their dreams.
LEGO's Duplo Train (Android, iOS) lets your toddler build and drive their own toy train in this wonderfully animated little kids' activity app. Your child takes the role of the train engineer, choosing what carts to bring along, as well as playing simple minigames as the train makes its journey. The app sports beautiful animations and numerous little details like plants and animals in the landscape that you can tap to create sounds and actions.