Last month, I went in search of smartphone apps. While the research was a bundle of techie fun, it came with one unexpected distraction. As I tapped away on my iPhone, the two small people in my house became inquisitive. What was that little black box dad kept laughing at? More importantly, how could they get their hands on it? Hiding the thing has now become a challenge, almost as big a problem as finding it again once it’s been hidden (the brainbox is not what it used to be). But does it have to be that way? Surely the bods behind these gadgets have thought up a way to get the little ’uns involved? Of course they have...
Best for: 4-6 year olds
How much? The ‘lite’ version is free; the full version, Dhs11
What’s app? A parent with Dora the Explorer in their life is a relaxed parent indeed. The Spanish-speaking brat, her pet monkey and their nemesis, Swiper the Fox, star here in a loud and colourful app that will, undoubtedly, keep the little ’uns quiet for hours, just as the TV show does. All they really need to operate this game is a pair of opposable thumbs; once that’s sorted, hours of fun can be found chasing diamonds, exploring maps and, via a kind of digital osmosis, learning Spanish. Vamanos!
Best for: 2-3 year olds
How much? Entirely free
What’s app? Toddlers are surprisingly app literate, often able to unlock your handset and place an unintelligible call to your boss/best friend/paranoid aunt. If they can manage that unaided, why not show them the way to the Play Phone app, which turns your gadget into a colourful, fun kid’s phone? You can record an automatic message, so they feel as though they’re actually talking to someone, and the touch-and-speak numbers introduce a little education into the action. Whether or not you want your two year old holding a possibly radioactive device to the side of their head is another matter entirely.
Best for: Kids of all ages
How much? The ‘lite’ version is free; the full version, Dhs4
What’s app? There are myriad synthesised instrument apps out there – Karimba, Marimba and Tabla are all good fun – but none are as colourful and child-orientated as the iXylophone. It’s a self-explanatory piece of kit, and surprisingly realistic, too. The multi-timbres all work fine, and there’s a function that teaches tykes how to play nursery rhymes. It’s much more fun than the recorder lessons we had as children, though repeated renditions of ‘London Bridge’ are still as tiresome.
Best for: Kids of all ages
How much? Dhs4
What’s app? Not every app can be about learning – your kids will see through that ploy fairly quickly. So this bit of silliness is for times when you just want to hear them giggling. It couldn’t be simpler: Carl is a red, square cartoon character who talks in a helium voice. The words he utters are the responsibility of the kids – the app records whatever they say and spits it out sounding like one of the Chipmunks. You can tickle, punch and pinch him, too – whatever takes your fancy, really.
How to Draw
Best for: 3 years old and up
How much: Entirely free
What’s app? This is probably our favourite app of the bunch. It’s well thought out, looks great, is constantly challenging and encourages your child’s literacy and artistic skills. Ignore the bizarre mid-Atlantic accent the instructions are delivered in (Scottish, possibly?) – the directions are there to be read, so your budding artist gets to take it all in bit by bit before getting to the fun part. The app aims to teach the children how to draw bubbly, cartoony pictures of all kinds of things, taking them step by step through the process to awaken their inner Rolf Harris. If that’s a monster you think you want awakening, then this app is certainly for you. As Rolf himself would say, have you got it yet? All applications featured here are available in the UAE via iTunes