What are the best iPad and iPhone apps for kids? I'm looking for something educational, but fun too.

Put a child in the same room as an iPad or an iPhone and they will instinctively reach for it. Perhaps it's the bright colours and the feel of using a touchscreen; the simplicity of the iOS interface also plays a part. But kids love messing with smartphones and tablets. (Although that does raise another question: Are iPads safe for young children?)

Mobile devices can do a great job entertaining and educating your offspring. But not all apps are created equal. Some are expensive to buy or contain in-app purchases designed to tempt unwary kids. Others aren't appropriate for youngsters.

For this article we've trawled the App Store to pick out some of the favourites of our editors and their children for learning, creativity and fun. But we'd also love to know of any great apps you know for kids. Drop us a line with your recommendations in the comments below.

Read next: Best iPad cases for kids & children

We've divided the list into three quite broad age groups: jump to the section you're interested in.

We've also compiled lists of the best iOS games, as well as the best free iOS games for the older kids (and adults) to enjoy.

Lou HattersleySimon JaryLewis Painter and Matt Egan all contributed to this article.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for babies and toddlers

We'll start with a couple of suggestions for the very youngest age group. These are aimed more at parents than the babies themselves, of course, and we wouldn't recommend much screen time for the very young - something discussed in our article Are iPads safe for young children?

Best iPhone and iPad apps for babies: Baby Feeding Log

The lives of small babies are entirely structured around the twin cycles of eating and sleeping, and understanding these cycles (which will be specific to your child) can make the living hell that is the first three months of parenthood slightly less hellish. Why is she crying? Ah, it's been nearly three hours since the last feed. Or she only took 130ml last time. Or she only took 130ml the last three times, and maybe she's poorly. And so on.

If you're breast-feeding then things are complicated in a different way, because you no longer have access to the volumes of milk consumed - at which point timing the feed becomes critical. You will also want to remember which breast you used last time, and if that seems like the sort of thing that's easy to remember then you haven't got up for a feed at 3 in the morning.

This app is a simple, free and one-hand-optimised way to keep track of these figures and timings (despite the name it covers sleep and 'diapers' as well as feeding), and while it isn't perfect, we strongly recommend getting either this or something like it.

Best apps for kids & babies: Baby Feeding Log


Best iPhone and iPad apps for babies: Sleepy Sounds

Familiar sounds and songs can act as a valuable trigger, helping to indicate to baby when it's time to sleep. (And if only it were as simple as that sentence made it sound!) In time you're likely to end up with a dog-eared musical soft toy that adds touch and smell to the ensemble of familiarity, but when starting out or visiting family, having an emergency measure up your sleeve (or on your phone) can be a lifesaver.

Sleepy Sounds is quite limited, with just four white noise options (the tumble dryer is particularly restful) and three sets of nature sounds to choose from - we'd steer clear of the somewhat abrasive lullaby selection. But it's free and helps to ease one of the more desperate situations faced by beginner parents: bedtime, with rabbit nowhere to be found.

Best apps for kids & babies: Sleepy Sounds


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Ages 5 and under

Here are our recommendations for children aged 5 and under.

Age recommendations are approximate, of course, and you won't need to be told that kids learn and mature at different speeds. Check out our choices on the App Store (have a look at screenshots, any available preview videos and so on) before spending any money, to see if the difficulty, complexity and reading level are appropriate for your child.

Best iPhone and iPad apps for kids: Blackboard Madness: Math

Got a maths-whizz child who wants a challenge? Blackboard Madness is a set of fast-paced, quick-fire maths challenges, taking in addition, subtraction, division, multiplications, algebra, and > (more than) and < (less than) questions.

Blackboard Madness Maths app

This is a great test of mental maths skills, logic thinking and reaction. It's like Live Mathletics on speed. You have to slash the correct answers before they drop off the blackboard. There are kung fu sound effects to make you feel like a martial arts maths black belt. Don't give this to a child just strating out on maths as the pace is pretty frenetic, but mental maths reaction speed is a great skill to teach more experineced maths students.

As with any decent challenge game there are high scores and player statistics to track performance, achievements and badges as rewards.

We enjoyed Blackboard Madness. It's free. So why not try it?

Blackboard Madness Maths app badges


Best iPhone and iPad apps for kids: Dinosaur Park Math

Dinosaur Park Math is a fun way for children to learn addition and subtraction from 0 to 20. Kids need to answer sums correctly in order to chisel away at rocks that hide dinosaur fossils within them.

Kids can learn dinosaur facts while they're learning maths, too. There are also some less educational but equally fun games to play within the app.

We'd suggest that there's a risk that kids will get into the habit of guessing, though, as there are no major consequences to getting the questions wrong.

There's a free version of the app too, so you can try it out and decide whether your kids will enjoy it before upgrading to the paid version.


Best iPhone and iPad apps for kids: Dino Tim

Dino Tim is a great way for younger children to get to grips with colours, shapes and their first words. Dino Tim's family has been abducted by witches, and kids have to solve various educational puzzles in order to save them. The game involves solving colour and geometric shape puzzles, as well as running, flying, jumping and even a little bit of magic.

The aim of the game is to teach kids to recognise basic geometric shapes, as well as to learn about colours and even their first words. The game has been fully translated into a number of languages (French, Spanish and Italian to list a few) which provides your child with a great opportunity to learn a forign language in a fun way, from a young age. 


Best iPhone and iPad apps for kids: Doodle Critter Math: Shapes

Doodle Critter Math: Shapes teaches your children basic shapes such as triangle, rectangle, square, hexagon and circle. Kids learn to draw different shapes by touching the 'critters' (small animals). A range of tasks including sorting, matching and memory games, make learning fun. Doodle Critter Math is designed for kids aged three to five and is another great way that young children can use the technology on the iPad to learn basic skills.

Doodle Critter Math Shapes


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Elephant Art! Painting Room

It's immediately clear this isn't a typical art app when you prod a button and an elephant's massive foot crushes a banana, splattering it across a canvas on the wall. Further buttons provide additional destructive capabilities, obliterating all manner of household objects that magically become transformed into paint and flung at the artwork, creating a kind of abstract masterpiece.

It's all very silly and a world away from virtual crayons, but the developer notes that is the point. Elephant Art isn't about recreating the real world, but celebrating colours, magic and art.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Endless Alphabet

Although more conventional than Metamorphabet, listed elsewhere in this feature, Endless Alphabet proves that dialling down the surreal doesn't mean an app about letters has to be boring. On the contrary, Endless Alphabet is a lot of fun as you choose a word, watch the letters scatter, and drag them back into place.

The letters come to life when touched, wriggling under your fingers (doubly so when using Force Touch on a modern iPhone), and once the word is complete, you're treated to a little animation that explains what the word means.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Geo Walk HD

Geo Walk HD is essentially a digital version of an old world encyclopedia. You can spin an interactive digital globe and touch location-based flashcards to learn more about the world, or you can take quizzes about your knowledge of the people, places and things located in the app.

Read our full Geo Walk HD review


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Intro to Colors, by Montessorium

With Intro to Colors, your child learns the basics of colours through a series of matching games. So it starts out white matching red, blue and yellow before moving on to secondary levels and gradients. Kids learn to mix and match paint to create colours, as well as how to learn to spot and name different colours.

Intro to Colors is a pretty app, which is one reason we like it. But Intro To Colors is designed to appeal to children aged five and under and we think Intro to Colors is a great app that makes use of the iPad to deliver something they would not get from other more traditional means.

Intro to Colors


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: LEGO DUPLO Train

Your toddler will love to drive a colourful LEGO DUPLO Train from station to station. Choosing and loading wagons, building bridges, stopping at crossings, refueling and laying new tracks around pesky rocks. A toddler's dream.

Lego Duplo Train


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Little Digits [iPad only]

Back when the iPad first arrived, people were excited to learn it could in fact recognise all ten fingers touching the screen at once, yet few apps took advantage of this. Little Digits reasons that kids often count by using their fingers, and here they can do so by prodding an iPad. Every additional digit used updates the on-screen number accordingly (numbers here being represented by inventive, colourful beasts); and once everyone's familiar with how the app works, there are basic counting and maths puzzles to try.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Mathletics Student [iPad only]

Recommended by teachers and parents is Mathletics, a subscription-based online system of maths learning.

For £39/year the child can run through adaptive-learning, level-staged maths tasks and games via computer or iPad app. Students learn at their own pace.

mathletics app kids learning math

Mathletics is fun and features a great rewards system for kids, who win Bronze, Silver and Gold certificates by scoring points in a wide range of maths questions. These questions are presented in a fun and colourful way with animations to brighten things up but also to show how to reach the correct answers. Parents will learn a thing ot two, too.

Live Mathletics sets the child up against other Mathletics players across the world, and is a great way to learn simple number bonds and increase the kids' recall speed.

Times Tables Toons helps teach children their times table through song and animal animation.

There are weekly progress emails to monitor progress via a Parent Centre.

My daughter has been using Mathletics for over a year now, and it has undoubtedly helped her with her maths, and me understanding/remembering/learning alongside her. We sit down a few times a week for short periods of time, or for one half-hour session that should be long enough for her to score her 1,000 points and earn a new certificate. She loves it, too.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Miximal

There's nothing especially innovative about Miximal - it's yet another of those sliding games, where you make strange combinations of animals. But what sets Miximal apart from its peers is the sense of craft and care that’s gone into the app.

The style is very cartoonish, yet all of the animals are very recognisable. Each is animated, too. Tap one of the sections and it moves and jiggles. Fashion a 'complete' animal and it will offer a celebratory alternate animation. Additionally, if your child wonders at any point what strange mixed-up creature is currently on the screen, a quick tap of the play button will give you (and read out) its name.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: The Monster at the End of This Book... Starring Grover

This updated and improved digital version of the classic Sesame Theme-themed kids' book is a lot of fun. As Grover performs, the words appear on the screen, highlighted as they're spoken. And you can interact with the app by touching a knot, for example, to make it unravel. Tap Grover to tickle him.

The Monster at the End of this Book


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Monster Mingle

There's a lot to be said for exploration and play when a child is developing. Monster Mingle's free-play nature makes it ideal for such things. You create your own friendly monster by dragging parts to it that are lying about the place, and said monster can then amble about, dive into the ocean or soar into the air. The world features all kinds of strange creatures to discover and interact with, and the goal-free nature of Monster Mingle makes for a stress-free and highly entertaining time.


Best iPhone and iPad apps for kids: Monument Valley

One of the most beautiful and captivating games ever released, Monument Valley isn't cheap (for an app) at £2.99 but it will keep children and adults engaged for hours working our how to help the silent princess Ida through mysterious and mind-bending, fantastical architecture, uncovering hidden paths, unfolding Escher-like optical illusions of impossible geometry, and outsmarting the barking Crow People.

Monument Valley is both surreal and serene exploration and will surely go down in game history as one of the unique greats.

Monument Valley


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Mr Thorne's Times Table Terra; Mr Thorne's Divide + Conquer; Mr Thorne's Addition Space Station

London teacher Christopher Thorne must be one of the coolest Sirs on the planet (although he does appear to own several pairs of Timmy Mallet-like specs), and he uses the planets as the theme for his three maths apps: Mr Thorne’s Times Table Terra, Mr Thorne’s Divide + Conquer, and Mr Thorne’s Addition Space Station.

The apps are simple and look gorgeous - sure to be a hit with boys as well as girls.

Mr Thorne Addition Multiplication Division apps

When you score 10 out of 10 on a particular addition, times table or division test you get to keep a space station or planet, depending on the app you're using. There's a mystery challenge when you’ve unlocked all the tests, which is an extra incentive – and different to the Squeebles and Math Bingo reward games.

Each game has three levels: Beginner/Newcomer, First Class/Elite and World Class/Legend. The top level is going to test adults, too, so you can join in the sum fun.

Mr Thorne’s Addition Space Station has 42 mental maths tests, which includes adding multiple numbers, decimals and fractions so is suitable for children aged 5-11.

Mr Thorne’s Times Table Terra features 60 tests based on basic multiplication and times tables. They also feature video tutorials from Mr Thorne himself.

Mr Thorne’s Divide + Conquer has 50 maths tests based on division and inverse times tables.

Mr Thorne maths apps

I recommend all the Mr Thorne maths apps, as they're simple to use, look great, and should really engage kids in these maths basics.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: My Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar has munched its way through countless books, a telly animation, and even the odd activities-based app. But My Very Hungry Caterpillar takes a different approach, transforming the ravenous larva's surroundings into an interactive game.

The result's not unlike a no-lose Tamagotchi, with you feeding the caterpillar, playing with it, helping it doze under a leaf, and watching it grow. Eventually, like in the original story, the caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly, at which point a new egg is laid for the adventure to begin anew.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Number Monster

One for the very early learners, Number Monster (from Wombi) is a simple app that teaches kids to recognise numbers – from 1-20. It's friendly and easy for kids to pick up. Parents can turn on and off visual clues as their child progresses. It doesn't go much further than that so is a little expensive for what it offers.

Monster Maths and Shapes

There's also a Shape Monster games (at the time of writing this was offered for free). Like Number Monster it's easy and friendly, and can be set at different levels up to hexagons and pentagons from a start with squares and circles, etc.

Wombi also offers Colour Monster and Letter Monster apps, and a simple telling-the-time app called Around The Clock.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Nursery Rhymes

This set of three apps reimagines famous nursery rhymes as tiny interactive scenes. In 'Hey Diddle Diddle', there's a fiddling cat, leaping cow, grinning moon, and crockery eloping with cutlery. Every item on the screen can be tapped to make it wobble and emit a sound effect, and the rhyme is sung through when the words are tapped. Navigation between rhymes is by way of large arrows at the top of the screen, ensuring the Nursery Rhymes collection is suitable for even very young toddlers.

Note that the three volumes are also available individually, and there are separate free versions, too. Each of those has a single unlocked rhyme, the rest being available via a single IAP.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Peek-a-Zoo

There's an elegant simplicity at the heart of Peek-a-Zoo, and it might at first appear a bit too simple. But any time spent with the app and a small child will dismiss any lingering concerns. You'll grow to love the gang of sweet cartoon animals, and the simple questions for the child to answer: Who is winking? Who is dressed up? And so on. You soon realise that although this app is very straightforward, it's cunningly teaching your child all kinds of things, from identifying animals to types of clothing and actions.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Pure Math

Pure Math has a simpler and cleaner interface than many of the colourful apps in this round-up (hence the 'pure' in its name), and a faster difficulty progression, too, so it suits older children best.

At the start of each level, the player will have a score of 1,000. This will decrease as time ticks by, and each time the player gets a wrong answer. The aim is to have as close to 1,000 points as possible at the end of each level.

To begin, the sums are very easy, but with each level, they get harder and harder until even the adults will struggle.

The addition mode is free, but to unlock the subtraction, multiplication and division modes, you'll need to upgrade to the full version for £1.49.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Redshift

And here's a delightful astronomical option. Redshift uses your current location to show you which stars, constellations and planets you should be able to see. If you enable the Follow Sky option, RedShift will update what you should expect to see as you point your iPad or iPhone at different spots in the sky while you pan around. It's not a cheap option at £7.99, but a deep and rewarding experience.

Read our full Redshift review


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Sago Mini Babies

This one's all about caring for a little Sago baby, feeding, bathing and playing with a tiny cat, rabbit or dog. There's plenty of character in evidence, whether you're making your on-screen chum grin when splashing about in the bath or glare when you splatter a load of food mush on its face. According to the developer, the familiarity of the activities will help young children better understand their world and improve nurturing behaviour; and the colourful visuals and straightforward controls should ensure it's plenty of fun for them to play.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Sago Mini Monsters

One for younger monster-creators, before working their way up to the likes of Monster Mingle or DNA Play, Sago Mini Monsters has you coax a monster from gloopy green slime. You then tap colours and paint your beast before interacting with it.

Most interaction comes in the form of feeding the monster dishes that appear, along with prodding and poking horns, eyes and mouths to change their appearance. A quick brush of the teeth and some decorations and the monster's time is done. You can then take a photo to share before starting the process again.

 


Best iPhone and iPad apps for kids: Solar Walk

If your kids are feeling bored later tonight, how about a spot of astronomy? The amazing Solar Walk is a great app to get you started. The £2.29 app lets you explore the solar system in exquisite detail. You can pinch and zoom around the heavens, examining celestial bodies in an immersive 3D environment from any angle or perspective.

Read our full Solar Walk review


Best iPhone and iPad apps for kids: SquiggleFish

SquiggleFish is a great way to blend the creative nature of children with the digital world. Your child will start with an empty fish tank, and they need to draw fish to fill it. Rather than drawing fish on the screen, kids are encouraged to draw fish with pen and paper. Kids then move these fish into the fish tank via the iPad's camera, and they magically come to life.

SquiggleFish is a pretty unique experience for younger children (it's rated for 4+) but you'll have fun with it no matter what your age.

SquiggleFish


Best iPhone and iPad apps for kids: Toca Band

This smart, uncomplicated game is all about creating music from a band of colourful characters. You simply drag them to the stage and they get on with playing their instrument.

Move them to a spot with a different colour and they'll change what they're playing. Any character plonked in the star position (unsubtly marked with a massive yellow star) gives you the chance to explore more sounds as part of a solo performance - perfect for when you think pianist Dancy Nancy or maracas player Shaky McBones hasn’t had enough of the limelight.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Sago Mini Friends

This sweet selection of mini games has you choose from one of the brightly coloured Sago characters and then embark on a series of playdates with similarly vibrant chums.

There are ten activities in all, including doing the washing up and munching your way through a selection of goodies. Characters respond appropriately, such as a disappointed look on not getting a piece of cake when someone else has been fed. Apparently, this is designed to promote empathy in children. That might sound a bit worthy, so rest assured the app's overall breezy nature is almost relentlessly charming and fun, and it's extremely generous in being free yet having no ads nor IAP whatsoever.


Best iPhone & iPad apps for kids: Shape Gurus

In this interactive story, children are regularly challenged to complete puzzles based around shape-matching. In one case, a little bird flutters towards the outline of a nest, while five brown triangles wait to be dragged into place. Elsewhere, shape and colour matching creates flowers and a watering can. The voiceover isn’t the best around, but the 27 puzzles and story should keep a child engrossed for a good while, and the journey’s fun enough that it will warrant repeating a number of times.


Best iPhone and iPad apps for kids: Wee Kids Math

Wee Kids Math (from Ebooks & Kids) has a whole bunch of colourful games to teach kids about numbers and basic maths. This app is good for children just starting to learn their number shapes and order (0-20), up to those starting out on addition and subtraction. It's not really for those who have grasped these concepts already.

Wee Kids Math app iPhone iPad

There's plenty of variety - and that's important when encouraging kids to like maths - and the games are simple to get the hang of despite a lack of instruction from the developers. I'd have preferred a little more help when starting the game, as you have to guess what to do on each new game.

There are many varied games to play, including all the kids favourites such as insects and other animals, and space arcade games.

One other gripe is that the number '3' in all games looks too much like an '8' on a small screen, which can be confusing. Lesson to developers: don't needlessly confuse your young users.

Wee Kids Math app iPhone iPad children

These criticisms aside, Wee Kids Math is a fun addition (geddit?) to your maths app library, and teaches a lot of basic concepts in a fun and engaging way.


Best iPhone and iPad apps for kids: Where's My Water?

A great and simple game that slightly older children should be able to get the hang of. There's a supply of water at point in each level, and an alligator at another, waiting for a shower. You have to remove intervening rock and clay (with a swipe of a finger) to complete the circuit. It gets harder later on, mind. 

Read our full Where's My Water review

On the next page: Great apps for kids aged 6-8.