Young minds

Unless you live on the moon, before very long your kids are going to be hassling you for an iPad – or God forbid, your iPad. It’s only natural that peer pressure is going to kick in, and besides, they see us adults all doing it – often more than we should.

There are plenty of fonts of knowledge available out there as to how to limit screen time and ensure safe and secure browsing. Let’s take it as read that we all want (need?) to protect our little treasures from both harmful content and being sucked into screen addiction. I think we all also want to give them a balanced diet of entertainment and education.

As well as straightforward gaming and screen gazing, an iPad can be the ideal tool for sneakily educating your children through gaming and entertainment.

Is it really free?

It’s surprisingly hard to find good content that’s 100% free. The dreaded in-app purchases (IAPs) raise their ugly heads in all apps, but are particularly prevalent in apps for kids. There’s a simple reason. Your kids will unquestionably want the IAPs in a well written app, and they will wear you down. Be warned.

Subscription models are particularly prevalent, too, and given the quixotic nature of young children, this may quickly build into quite a monthly outgoing.

Having made the case for free, there are many great paid-for apps out there. I’ll round up my favourites at the end of this.

Meanwhile, at the risk of sounding parsimonious, start with what you can get for free and work up/down from there.


Free!

BBC iPlayer Kids

Good old Auntie in its wisdom has created this as the regular iPlayer’s little brother. Free, trustworthy, no IAPs and no ads. Nobody wants ads on kids’ apps.

iPlayer kids limits content to CBeebies and CBBC, so no unfortunate encounters with sweary comedians, gory crime dramas or the news. The news is often both.

Bags and bags of content, and as with its bigger brother, you can download to watch offline for those interminable ‘are we nearly there yet’ car journeys.

YouTube Kids

That peer pressure thing will also have your kids wanting to access YouTube content, not all of which is…..erm….suitable. YouTube kids uses an effective algorithm to screen out content deemed inappropriate for under 12s, and though not all algorithms are perfect, this one works well. Welcome your children to the world of singing cats and unboxing videos.

Khan Academy Kids

The core tenet of founder Salman Khan’s philosophy is that Khan Academy should be absolutely free. And it is, no strings, no sell throughs, no ads as it's a not-for-profit organisation.

This is a great learning resource, and has a huge amount of potential depth. Most importantly, though, it makes learning fun. One of the joys of this library approach is that it's very easy to wander into other topics and disappear down rabbit holes - learning by stealth. The content is all solid, no tin foil hats in sight, and when your kids are older, the fully fledged Khan Academy is a great partner resource for school and homework - and it's also free.

This is hands down the best free early learning resource out there.

Duolingo ABC

Duolingo are best known for their Duolingo language learning app, and this app follows a similar pattern aimed at the 3-6 years age group.

It has over 300 bite sized lessons teaching phonics, the alphabet and sight words. It's designed to familiarise children with reading and writing through entertaining mini-games. Well designed and thought out.

Paid for

Apple Arcade

Price - one month trial, then £4.99 per month

OK, this is a bit naughty as it's a service, not an app, but I thought it was worth inclusion here though, as it's really terrific value for money. £4.99 a month subscription buys you access to almost 200 arcade games. That's a lot of games, interactive cartoon titles and boardgames.

As your kids get older, they'll be drawn towards (perhaps) unsuitable computer or console games, Switch titles and many exploitative iPad apps. This service can mitigate that.

Toca Nature

Price - £3.49

Toca make a growing library of excellent apps for kids. This one is a lovely thing - a living growing interactive nature book for kids. They can shape nature, watch it develop, plant trees, forage for seeds and berries. Feed your animals, learn what they eat, and view your created world from above or at the microscopic level.

Endless Alphabet

Price - £7.99

A highly entertaining spelling app.

Drag letters about, spell words and get rewarded with great animations. Unlike real world puzzles, your little darlings will never lose (or eat) the pieces.

Metamorphabet

Price - £4.49

Designed by Montessori certified teachers, this is an excellent early learning resource for ages 3-7.

This is totally absorbing, even for adults. Like many of the great cartoons, it manages to pull off the trick of being totally surreal without giving you nightmares. Highly recommended.

Sago Mini-Friends

Price - £3.49

Like Toca, Sago have a fast growing library of well-designed apps for kids.

This one is delightful. It takes you through adventures, games and activities, all promoting an underlying message of empathy and sharing.

Namoo

Price - £3.49

This beautifully designed app is all about plant life, encouraging exploration through play.

Discover how leaves make food, experiment with underground root systems, or play with the parts of a plant cell. The interactive 3D simulations and straightforward language enable an immersive experience for curious minds.


Thinking of buying an iPad from new? Think different.

Apple are working hard to reduce their carbon footprint, but computer manufacture is notoriously carbon and rare earth heavy - not to mention the sumptuous packaging!

We all have a part to play in maintaining the environment we live in. By buying a refurbished iPad, we are collectively reducing our carbon footprint and preserving the planet now and for our future generations. A good refurbished MacBook Pro or iPad is both a sound economic and ecological choice.