Mar 13th, 2013

When I bought my first Android tablet (the original Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1), I never guessed that my then 2-year old son would be so keen to it.  Call me naive but I thought I was getting this high-powered computing device to do cool things like Skype, consume media of all types (movies, TV shows, e-books) and even play the occasional game.  Instead, I found myself letting my son use it as a gaming machine more often than I used it as anything else.

Famigo Sandbox

Naturally, I wasn’t going to hand this full-functioning tablet over to a toddler that could get himself into all kinds of trouble.  So the first thing I had to accomplish was locking the system down so that he couldn’t do any harm.  This included PIN locking the Play Store (which you can do from the settings menu in the Play Store) to creating a “sandbox” on the tablet.  “Sandbox” refers to the process of locking a user into a single area/app with access to limited functionality of the phone/tablet.

To accomplish the “sandbox”, I found an awesome app called Famigo Sandbox that was built specifically for this process and was incredibly easy to setup.  Famigo sets you up with a 7-day trial and then asks $4.99 for the app.  There are alternatives to Famigo out there.  A quick search pulled up an app called Sandbox Kids Corner which allows a ton of features such as GPS tracking, limiting play time of an app, restricting SMS and calls to individual numbers, etc all for the awesome price of FREE.  As with any sandbox app though, you need to investigate the permissions you are allowing the app to have and be comfortable giving the app/company that much control over your device.

Now onto the games; a process that required careful vetting to make sure I wasn’t exposing my son to anything inappropriate for his age (in both content and ability).  It didn’t take long to find a lot of great games. Over the past year and a half I’ve compiled a the list of kid friendly games from my son, as well as my 11-year old niece and 10-year old nephew, ranging from pure time-wasters to educational gems. For this article, I’ve narrowed the list down to the top 10 games for toddlers to teens (and even big kids too).

Amazing Alex (#10)

Amazing Alex

This puzzle/logic-based game definitely favors the teens over toddlers as it can be quite challenging.  Yet, don’t discount it just because it can be a little tough.  My son (almost 4 years old now) LOVES to play this game and it often provides an opportunity for me to play with him when he asks for help.  The object of the game is to create different contraptions using only the parts provided to accomplish a simple task (like getting a ball into a basket).  The free version is ad-supported (which I always try to avoid in the scenario of handing the device over to a toddler).  The HD version is $2.99 and doesn’t have any ads.

Toddler Tapping Zoo (#9)

Toddler Tapping Zoo

This app is as advertised.  You tap on the animal and it makes the animal noise.  If you tap on the animal’s name, it speaks the name for the child to learn.  Great for learning and very easy to use!  The app costs $.99 and has 60 animals to learn about.

Subway Surfers (#8)

Subway Surfers

One of the latest crazes my niece and nephew showed their cousin.  Now he can’t stop playing it.  In the style of Temple Run, the game-play starts you off moving and you don’t stop “surfing” until your character runs into an obstacle.  Stay away from the officer and grab those coins as you go!  It’s a Google Editor’’s Choice app and is FREE.

Kids Connect the Dots – (also, Kids ABC Letters, Kids Learn to Read (Preschool), Kids Number and Math) (#7)

Kids Connect the Dots

Intellijoy should be commended for their devotion to children’s learning apps.  While “Connect the Dots” was my son’s favorite and really helped him learn to trace and count, their other games provide additional learning tools for young children.  The free version has 25 puzzles while the paid app offers over 250 puzzles for $2.99.  Each of the app lists above is free and has a corresponding paid app with additional content ranging from $2.99-$3.99.

Color & Draw for Kids HD (#6)

Color and Draw HD

In the early days of tablet play my son often just liked touching the screen.  That’s where this app came in as a great way to “interact” without having to accomplish any specific goal.  The app offers photo decorating, coloring book pages and blank canvas modes for your little van Gogh all at a reasonable price of $1.99 for the tablet version.

Fruit Ninja (#5)

Fruit Ninja

The ultimate time waster.  The fruit flies across your screen and you use your finger to swipe and cut the fruit into pieces.  My of my son’s early favorites and a time eater for long trips.  There’s a free version as well as a THD version that is only supported on Tegra 2 devices.

Cut the Rope (#4)

Cut the Rope

Another puzzle/logic-based that relies on creative thinking.  Literally you cut the rope on the candy and try and collect stars before the candy ends up in On Nom’s mouth.  Honestly a toddler is going to be a little young for this game, but clever marketing and a cut little monster has my son’s attention.  There’s a free version and an HD version for $1.99.

Angry Birds The Original, RIO, Seasons, Space, Star Wars (#3)

Star Wars Angry Birds

The original time waster(s).  I’ll never forget the day my son grabbed my wife’s phone, turned it on, clicked on the Angry Birds app and shot his first bird across the screen.  He was just about to turn 2 years old and no one showed him how to play Angry Birds, he just picked up the phone and did it.  It wasn’t for a few more months until he learned that different birds had different “powers”.  He didn’t care, he just loved flicking birds.  Now, the fusion of Star Wars, Angry Birds Space style physics and a marketing machine like no other, my son’s in love all over again with Angry Birds Star Wars.  The free versions are all ad-supported while paid versions exist without the ads.

Where’s My Perry? – (also, Where’s My Water?) (#2)

Where's My Perry?

Another puzzle game.  The good news is this once was geared a bit more towards children.  Combine that with the love of Perry from the hit-show Phineas and Ferb and you have a real winner.  It’s simple, get the water to the drain by clearing a path with your finger so that Perry can complete his mission. The free version provides 80 puzzles while the $.99 app provides over 400 different puzzles.

Train Conductor 2: USA (#1)

Train Conductor 2: USA

Considering the hype machine behind Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and Where’s My Perry, I would call this game a dark-horse winner of the #1 spot in my Top 10 list.  But it’s here for one simple reason.  No matter what new game I show my son, he always comes back to play this one.  There are trains coming from all directions on four different tracks.  Use your finger to divert the train onto the right track without having any collisions.  The game actually helps toddlers learn through the matching of letters and numbers and even a bit of geography thrown in.  (Yes, my son now knows where Miami, Nashville and New York on a map.)  The paid app includes five additional levels.


That’s my Top 10 apps for toddlers to teens.  What’s your top 10?  Hit up the comments and let me know what I missed/snubbed!

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