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Amazing Apps For Kids (6 and up)

When it comes to digital devices, parents are still struggling to find the perfect balance between ensuring the tech-savvyness of their children, without compromising other important aspects of their development. I discovered five beautiful apps for kids that pair a contemporary aesthetic with some sort of educational value. Apps that aim to do a bit more than just keep your kids occupied. Some apps even taught me a thing or two. Give them a try!

 

David Wiesner’s Spot

Behold the ultimate world-within-worlds app! With David Wiesner’s Spot, you’ll find yourself wandering around in five different spaces: Lower Rugg – a tiny world beneath an armchair; an intergalactic space station; Oceana Prime – an underwater world; Mekanikos – a world of robots; and Katzaluna, a world of cats. Each space has its own story – you can for instance follow the two cute aliens trying to find their friend in the under water environment, enjoy the cat parade or search for the fluffy dust bunnies. Throughout the exploration users encounter several hotspots. Some simply enrich the experience by providing additional details to the scene, others work as transition gates for the other worlds. And this is actually one of the greatest features of the app: the pinch and zoom technique. The transitions make it seem like the new space was simply a very small part of the older one. Using similarities in shapes, colors and shadows users can experience spectacular shifts such as transitioning from the spilled sugar crumbs on a picnic cloth all the way to the outer space and into the blinking world of robots.

With Spot, David Wiesner fulfills his ambition to create something that’s story-centered – a product specific for the iPad that is neither a book nor a game. The process of creating spot was an organic one, explains David in the behind-the-scenes interview, “The pace of working in the digital world is such that I was creating the art as the app was being made from it. The story elements evolved as I worked. Ideas and images would pop up and force me to look at what was happening, and the exciting thing is that connections and possibilities would reveal themselves. Almost like improvising – which was okay! I wasn’t trying to force something on it, and I’m happy about that.”

However the true potential of Spot is hidden in the how-to-use companion book, David Wiesner’s Spot: A Parent & Educator Guide. You can dive in and explore the app by yourself, but in a classroom setting or together with your child, the narrative shows its full potential. The themes such as “things are not always what they seem” or the “role reversals” (e.g. alien planets are not hidden in the outer space but in the microcosmos) are a great tool for starting discussions, unleashing the imagination and ultimately connecting with the children’s minds. This is why this app for kids can indeed educate and pose questions in a way that neither books nor games can. Clearly, Spot is one of the best advocates of why iPads should be integrated in children’s education, which is confirmed by the many awards it received in 2015 from parents, teachers and new media specialists alike.

 

Toca Nature

Rediscover the wonders of nature with this gorgeously looking app! Showcasing a spectacular and original design, Toca Nature prompts parents and children to work together to create and explore a self sustainable environment. Or, as play designer Mårten Brüggemann describes it in the behind-the-scenes material, “Toca Nature does not aim to replace the experience of going into an actual forest; instead we want to amplify the mysteries and magical moments that could be experienced in the wild. In Toca Nature the forest is in your hands – you create it and you explore it. From big to small, Toca Nature simulates a world that is alive in itself but dependent of your care”.

The game play is based on two main interactions: creating a world and exploring it. The initial ecosystem has to be constructed first. Then, when the proper conditions are met, the animals – bear, fox, hare, woodpecker, deer, wolf and beaver – come to populate your world. Each animal has its own food and should be fed individually. Therefore children can easily learn the basics about the circle of life and what happens when you overpopulate a space with a species. The ultimate goal of the app is for kids to create a balanced environment and take care of it. Each animal lives best in a specific forest, although their paths can occasionally cross. The various types of foods have specific growing conditions. Animals will hint at what food they like most though they will accept other types of food as well. Just as in real life, the children are also bound to discover that animals are not always reliable. They have a will of their own. Nature can, after all, be quite surprising!
Awarded App Store’s Best of 2014, Toca Nature favors another great way for parents and children to connect and interact and to work together.

 

Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System

Remember those tedious text books and wordy encyclopedias meant to initiate us in the basic workings of our solar system? I do! Tidal waves of information entering my ears but not a single drop of knowledge sticking. Well, luckily, the next generation of curious kids now stands a better chance at learning these things. All thanks to Professor Astro Cat and his travels through space! The adorable app teaches children the basic things about the solar system in a fun, interactive, easy to process and remember way. The Earth, Sun, Moon, and the planets, the Kuiper and Asteroid belts together with the space travels will become beyond familiar for the little ones. The subjects are presented in such a cool and exciting way, it will be a piece of cake for kids to relate to them. For instance, the app compares planets to fruits making it very easy for children to visualize and understand the differences in their sizes.

The game is structured in five stages. By pushing different tabs and buttons, kids will explore the frontiers of our solar system and discover planets, moons, suns, spacecrafts and everything in between. Must-not-miss the absolute star of this journey: the ‘unzip’ feature, which allows young users to take a peak at the inside components of each planet. Another stage consists in tests meant to check what kids have learnt. Play the jetpack challenge made of of 10 questions and receive a fish for every correct answer – fish bones for every wrong one. The ultimate goal is earning stars and medals that later get turned into parts that build a rocket!

Based on the best-selling book ‘Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space’ inspired by a concept of illustrator Ben Newman, this whimsical app is the love child of Minilab Studios and Flying Eye Books. Every designed element, every piece of information seems to be made with the sole purpose of charming and educating children in the most fun way possible.

 

Lumino City

By far the most complex, cutting-edge, innovative and mind-blowing creative iPad app in this Top 5, Lumino City is simply stunning. Winner of a Bafta for artistic achievement as well as many more international awards, this jewel of a game deserves every single praise given to it.

The premise is simple: a little adorable girl is searching for her grandpa that has disappeared. In the hope to find him, she must enter the bizarre Lumino City and reset the order there by solving various puzzles. Due to the settings being created entirely by hand, the atmosphere of the game is highly tactile, which makes the whole experience extremely organic and perfectly fitting the iPad’s ‘touch environment’. The situations and the puzzles’ design are incredibly original and awe inspiring. Expect to create electricity with lemons, find boats on the top of mountains, encounter suspended gardens and windmills in the sky. And there is even a little dark room for developing photos.

As if that weren’t enough, the creators from State of Play Games came up with a companion app that provides more insight into how Lumino City was made. A masterpiece in terms of a behind-the-scenes showcase, this second app also allows users to play with the lighting and camera used to film the game, as well as switch back and forth from the Lumino City app to the Making Of.

Despite being such a fabulous app, there are some downsides to Lumino City that prevent us from considering it our top pick. The app was designed to be enjoyable for both children and grown-ups of all ages. This means it’s not 100% constructed with the kids in mind and it shows. The puzzles can prove quite challenging and frustrating even for grown-ups, let alone younger minds. The game can prove quite addictive and requires a playing time of 8 to 10 hours. Possibly even more for younger children. Having said that, this game is worthy of any second spent on it. Lumino City reinforces the idea that sometimes we do need real life objects to create digital artistry!

 

Dreii

Dreii is arguably the ultimate puzzle game. The goal is rather straight-forward: with the given pieces you have to build towers that reach the highlighted area. Careful though: the pieces have an extremely organic construction and are rather respectful of the laws of physics – a cylinder over a cube will roll over while misaligned cubes can tip over your entire construction. The difficulty level gradually increases but help can come from unexpected places from real-time players from across the world (if you’re playing online, that is).

One of the particularities of the game comes from its original and specific sound design, individually created for each character and inspired by archaic instruments and ancient melodies. All instruments were performed and recorded live with some of Switzerland’s finest musicians. The organic sounds beautifully compliment both the realistic movements of the puzzle pieces and the funny characters. Dreii is also the first real-time multiplayer iPad game making use of advanced physics and 3D rendering. It was featured at SXSW, Sonar, Cinekid and IndiCade and it won a European Design Award.

Despite having the same drawback as Lumino City and not being purposely aimed at children, Dreii does have incredible educational value. Your mind is constantly stimulated by the intriguing original puzzles, while the lack of a narrative structure does help in restraining its addictiveness, should you be concerned of the amount of time your child spends playing on the iPad. With its beautiful and innovative design, Dreii proves that you can always create a cutting edge and engaging experience with a simple basic concept.

By @ricutza

Former 2Pause.com editor and now guest editor Maria Dicieanu is our right honorable movie geek. She is the living manifestation of a multimedia app and loves trawling the world wide web for the finest music videos, likes to get her digital mitts dirty with conversions, uploads and video edits for Submarine Channel, and also flirts with transmedia-related journalism, reporting from festivals like Cannes, Berlinale and IDFA for European Cinema collective NISI MASA and Submarine Channel.

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