Twelve Children’s App Publishers You Can Trust
From the March 2017 issue of Children’s Technology Review
There are tens of thousands of children’s apps. But the ethical ones can be counted on a few hands and toes.
Here’s a strategy for dealing with the mess (besides buying a subscription to our fine, ad free publication, of course).
Ask yourself “who makes the good stuff?”
In other words, which publishers have stayed above the IAP fray, staying ethical — making products that are free of hidden tricks, sales agendas, commercial characters or gimmicks.
Based on CTR’s systematic review system, here are twelve publishers (there are others, but these consistently stand out) with a proven track record for making high quality, ethical, gimmick-free paid apps for younger children.
We’ve listed the number of apps we’ve reviewed, along with one favorite example to get you started. Get to know these publishers as your child’s trusted friends.
Avokiddo, www.avokiddo.com. Number of apps we’ve reviewed: 5
Example: Thinkrolls Kings & Queens, ($3.99 on iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle) for ages 5-up. If you’ve played Thinkrolls in the past (this is the third in the series) you’ll like Kings & Queens more. Now there’s a playful story theme behind the puzzles, along with beautiful background music and more levels. If you get stuck, there’s always a reset option. The play pattern works — you “roll” a character with a swipe, through each maze. The more levels you unlock, the harder things get.
Dr. Panda, www.drpanda.com. Number of apps: 24
Example: Dr. Panda Café ($2.99 on iPhone, Android and Kindle). Chinese-based Dr. Panda has become famous among preschoolers for a good reason. The apps are a bit clunky looking, but always easy to use and rich in playful possibilities. This app is a bit like Diner Dash, only with a giant animated Panda running the kitchen. There’s a never-ending flow of customers to serve, and 25 food and drink recipes to prepare. This café is unique for another reason… there are no time limits, and the customers never get upset.
Duck Duck Moose, Inc., www.duckduckmoose.com. Number of apps: 28
Example: Draw and Tell HD ($free on iPad) for ages 2–12.
The title says it all with this well-designed creativity app for young children — the first to successfully mix a full featured drawing program with narration, by way of the iPad’s microphone. In the short history of children’s apps, Duck Duck Moose has more than it’s share of home runs. Note that Duck Duck Moose has partnered with the Khan Foundation, and now offers all their formerly paid apps, free of charge.
Edoki Academy, www.edokiacademy.com. Number of apps: 22
Example: Busy Shapes 2, ($2.99 on iPad, iPhone), for ages 4-up.
Graduates of Busy Shapes now have 100 additional puzzles to solve, with this second edition. This time the puzzles are presented on sliding platforms that move in front of or in back of one another. Timing is involved when one of the puzzles moves. There are also trap doors, time bombs and switches that require some logical thinking, plus trial and error, in order to solve. As with the first Busy Shapes, you can easily reset a level using the “redo” option.
FairLady Media, http://fairladymedia.com. Number of apps: 11
Example: Grandpa’s Toy Shop ($2.99 for iPad) for ages 6–9.
Designed by a Ph.D. in educational psychology, this set of apps playfully introduce school readiness skills. Stuff like spelling, math, reading charts and spatial reasoning. If you’ve used any of the Fairlady Media apps in the past, you’ll find the design of this app to be very familiar. The parent options let you toggle on/off each game, so you can customize the presentation for your child.
Nosy Crow, www.nosycrow.com. Number of apps: 19
Example: Goldilocks and Little Bear ($4.99 on iPad, iPhone) for ages 4–8.
UK-based Nosy Crow has set the standard for story telling apps, in part because they also publish traditional printed books. This app lets you read (and explore) the classic saga of Goldilocks from two points of view — either as Goldilocks, or as the baby bear. To switch points of view, you rotate the screen; a clever feature that never gets old. Besides offering a new “twist” on the well known story, early readers are helped by text highlighting, an interesting topic, quality illustrations and the same wonderful child narration that has set the standard for all storytelling apps.
Oceanhouse Media, www.oceanhousemedia. Number of apps: 97
Example. Hop on Pop: Read & Learn Dr. Seuss ($2.99 on iPad), for ages 3–8. This well-designed “read and learn” apps mixes a good story, great illustrations and solid reading skill reinforcement activities in one app. Missing are commercials or IAPs. As you explore the pages, you can discover hidden stars that lead to ten bite-sized structured memory and phonics practice activities. Oceanhouse Media’s apps are steeped in quality: from the authentic Seuss illustrations to the solid interactive design.
Sago Mini, www.sagomini.com. Number of apps: 25
Example: Sago Mini Planes ($2.99 on iPad, iPhone, Android) for ages 2–5.
If you’re looking for your child’s first app, pick one from Canadian-based Sago Sago (a subsidiary of Toca Boca, which is now part of Spin-Master Toys). This particular app lets you swipe through ten playful airplanes, which you can pack it with as many as three animal creatures. Because each plane has a limited number of seats, the app creates an excellent early number experience, known as 1 to 1 correspondence. The fail-safe airplane operation makes this an excellent starter app. You may also like Sago Road Trip and Sago Boats.
StoryToys, www.storytoys.com. Number of apps: 36
Example: Eric Carle’s Brown Bear Animal Parade ($2.99 on iPad, iPhone) for ages 2–5.
Irish-based StoryToys (which has recently merged with Touch Press) consistently makes apps that set a new standard in interactive design for children. And often they use US characters. In this case, you can help Eric Carle’s Brown Bear find his ten musical animal friends. This app follows the book’s “Bremen Town Musician” narrative; where the bear plods (with your finger’s direction) along a path, meeting and waking up other hibernating animal friends who join the choir.
Tinybop, www.tinybop.com. Number of apps: 13
Example: The Human Body ($2.99 on iPad, iPhone) ages 4-up.
Based in Brooklyn, Tinybop has earned a stellar reputation for making apps that respect children, by letting them explore their most common questions (and sometimes, fears). This app lets them explore their innards, without embarrassment. The result is one of the best human anatomy experiences you can find, with a working model of an eye, a heart and a nervous system.
Toontastic, https://toontastic.withgoogle.com. Number of apps: 3
Example: Toontastic 3D ($free on iPad, Android, iPhone) for ages 6–8.
Formerly called Launchpad Toys, Toontastic was purchased by Google to expand their mission to create powerful digital storytelling tools. This latest example of their namesake app is proof that they have succeeded, making it easy to create and save self-narrated puppet shows.
Toca Boca, www.tocaboca.com. Number of apps: 33
Example: Toca Life! Stable, ($2.99 on iPad, iPhone, Android, Kindle), for ages 3-up. There are many excellent Toca Boca apps that it’s hard to pick a favorite. The Swedish studio has consistently set the standard for taming the touch screen for kids all over the world. This particular app (Toca Life Stable) is the sixth in the Toca Life series — lets them make their own farm-themed puppet show, which can be saved and shared on Toca TV. Note that Toca Boca is now part of Spin-Master, a Canadian toy company.
Want more practical information about children’s technology? Consider an ongoing subscription to the CTREX database. Created in the spirit of Consumer Reports, it was designed by teachers to help other teachers use technology to empower children. It is an ideal resource for librarians, parents and grandparents. Learn more at www.childrenstech.com