This doesn’t mean spending your days playing Candy Crush or scrolling Facebook.
In fact, I’d specifically recommend against checking social media too often in lockdown, as it will make you more anxious. Instead, play some great games or get creative on your tablet or phone.
Smart phones and tablets are particularly important for children right now. If you spend a bit of time choosing and investing in apps, a tablet can become a high quality interactive learning environment. It can also become a tool for social connection, as children play with their friends and talk to family.
It’s worth paying for apps that don’t have in-app purchases. They are usually higher quality and their game play doesn’t rely on you making payments to progress. Your children will not need to ask you to buy more things, and you will end up spending less in the long term.
There are lot of ways for kids to get creative on a tablet. Photo: AFP
Here are my (and my children’s) top recommendations.
The best apps for young children are free play. Look for open ended sandbox style games. Sandbox means that they explore, without any expectation of progress.
Avoid the apps with a focus on stars and rewards. Research shows that rewarding children for an activity they enjoy will result in them become less motivated to do it. You don’t need to demonstrate to children how to use these apps once they know how to swipe. Just open them up and let them explore.
Great apps for young children include:
- Toca Hair Salon 4 (Android and IOS). Practice cutting hair and make crazy styles. Useful when all the hairdressers are closed.
- Toca Kitchen 1 & 2 (Android and IOS) Cook all sorts of food, delicious and disgusting.
- Toca Doctor HD (IOS). Play at being a doctor and heal minor injuries.
- And many other apps by Toca Boca. We haven’t found one we didn’t like yet.
- Dr Panda Daycare (IOS and Android). Play with baby animals in a nursery. Lots to discover, a swimming pool, trampoline and rocking horses.
- Dr Panda Hospital (IOS and Android). Care for the sick animals in a hospital, including keeping it clean and tidy.
- My PlayHome (IOS and Android): A virtual dolls house. Dress your dolls up, make it rain, open and close the cupboard and even jump on the bed.
- Sago Mini (IOS and Android): Sago Mini are for very young children, they are very gentle and include versions such as Zoo, Farm and Babies.
- Clipounets (IOS): Nursery rhymes in French with animated videos. Surprisingly popular and good for the youngest.
Older children still like the free-play apps, but they’re becoming capable of more complex games too.
By this age, tablets can become a social tool as children play together either on the same device or on several. There’s still no need for stars and rewards, and the sandbox games are likely to be the one with most re-play value.
We’ve been playing Minecraft in our house for six years with no sign of it letting up.
- Hopscotch (IOS) and Tynker (Android and IOS). These are easy ways to start coding, and you can use the basic app for free although you’ll need a subscription for more advanced features.
- Minecraft (IOS, Android and other platforms). The ultimate sandbox game, like virtual Lego and full of potential. Build, mine, farm and explore. Your kids can play with each other, either over the same Wifi or online via a free X-box live account. This app is worth every penny. If you have trouble getting going, find an introduction on Youtube.
- Terraria (IOS, Android and other platforms). Another game with hours and hours of potential playing, but more focused on achievements and defeating enemies.
- Kingdom Rush series (IOS, Android). Tower defence strategy games where you build towers to protect your kingdom from the invading hordes. Lots of strange and magical creatures to defeat.
- Bloons TD 6(IOS and Android). A tower defence game where you have to pop balloons using various constructions. Good for those who don’t like killing enemies, but still with the strategy element of all of these type of games.
- Book Creator (IOS). Write your own books, add illustrations – and then the app will read it back to you, you’ve made an audio book! This is one that just keeps coming back.
- Stop Motion Studio (IOS, Android, free). Make your own stop motion movies with anything you can think of. Lego, plasticine, cutlery, fruit, they could all star in their own film. It takes a long time to produce anything so may be more suited to older children.
- iMovie (IOS only, free). iMovie makes it easy to produce your own movie trailer. Take video clips, write in the words, and it adds in the music and drama.
- Epica (IOS only). Add images to your photos. You’re the star, show yourself emerging from an explosion or about to be attacked by a crocodile.
- Detective Grimoire (IOS and Android). Fabulous detective game where you collect clues to solve a mystery.
- Toca Lab (IOS and Android). Experimental science app. Combine elements to create new substances and fill in the periodic table. Experiment with boiling and freezing.
- Tiny Bop (IOS and Android). Whole series of mostly science and technology focused apps to explore, including Human Body, Robots, Plants, The Earth and Space.
- Machinarium (IOS and Androd). Puzzle game about a little robot in a metallic world. Lots of fun and beautifully illustrated.
- Cluedo and Monopoly (IOS). Just like the board games, except you can play them with friends and family wherever they are.
- Exploding Kittens (IOS and Android). Fantastically fun card game, made over into an app. Play across devices, either in the same room or across the world.
Apps for older children often seem to get very serious and educational, losing the play element, but there are some fantastic games around which adults will enjoy too.
Some of these are fun for adults too. Photo: AFP
The best games are like diving deep into a novel, full of plot twists, but you’re an active participant in the story.
- Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse (IOS and Android). Classic mystery point and click adventure, set partly in Paris. Lots of this is effectively a dialogue-led graphic novel with some puzzles to solve.
- Thimbleweed Park (IOS and Android). Retro point and click mystery game where you have to solve a murder.
- The Room series (IOS and Android). Puzzle games without much narrative, the focus is on solving the technical puzzles. Good for Escape Room fans.
- The Day of the Tentacle (IOS and Android). Bizarre idea, tentacles are taking over the world and you have to go back in time to stop them. But it’s fun, and lots of mind-stretching puzzles to solve, with some references to early American history.
- Don’t Starve (IOS). Hard-core survival game, if you die here you just die. You don’t get to save your progress and you can’t go back to your last save. You explore an uncharted land and gradually make yourself a base and craft the things you need for survival. Not for the nervous!
- Plague Inc (IOS and Android) Perhaps a bit too close to the bone for some, but playing can help children process what is happening. With Plague Inc you’re the virus, and you’re taking over the world.
- Kindle App: E-book app linked to Amazon. You can get this even if you don’t have a Kindle, and many books are cheap or free if you sign up to Kindle Unlimited.
- Audible.fr or Audible.co.uk: Audio books on subscription. Try The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a classic radio adaptation, or the Harry Potter books, unabridged and read by Stephen Fry.
- Theodore Gray’s The Elements and Molecules (IOS only): this is an amazing interactive visual app illustrating the periodic table. You can rotate all the samples to see what the elements really look like.
- Khan Academy (IOS and online): Videos to help you learn almost anything For something a bit different check out the Art of Storytelling course run by Pixar which uses their movies to illustrate how stories develop.
- Carcasonne and Settlers of Catan (IOS and Android): Popular strategy board games comes to tablet – and the best thing is, the pieces will never get knocked all over the floor.
- Zoom (IOS, Android, computer. Free): Talk to your friends and family all over the world, even if they don’t have an account. Keeping in touch is important.
Used with care, tablets can entertain and educate, as well as connecting children to the world outside.
They help children feel in control, as they are the one who chooses what to do, and they play the star of the games This is particularly important right now, when so much is outside their control, and indeed the control of all of us.
Dr Naomi Fisher is a clinical psychologist and experienced home educator. She is the author of a book on self-directed education – Changing Our Minds – to be published by Little, Brown in spring 2021.