Entertaining children isn't easy in these days in which you are not allowed to let kids get bored. Entertaining children so that you can slack off and watch the telly even harder. And the hardest thing of all is to entertain and educate, whilst grabbing back a bit of time for yourself. I have good news for you reader: your smartphone and tablet are your friends. Kids love playing good apps, and you can even buy tablets designed specifically for children - see our best kids' tablets for more details.
Latest entry: Artie's Magic Pencil.
There are literally thousands of kids' apps for Android, iPhone, smartphone, tablet and iPad. But not all apps are equal. Some will entertain your kids for only a short while. Others will push them to make expensive in-app purchases. And there are some 'kids' apps that aren't really appropriate for young people.
We've spent time trawling through many popular apps, and present here the best of what we found. But this is where you come in: we'd love to know which apps your kids love. Let us know in the comments below what great apps your kids love to play with and we'll keep updating this story with your additions. Indeed, we start with 9 great apps for kids recommended by readers.
You can jump straight into the other sections by using the contents above.
Best kids' apps 2016: Best apps recommended by readers
There are hundreds of further recommendations in the comments at the bottom of this story. Why not add your own favourite kids app?
Best kids' apps: Animals for Kids Forest
Recommended by dynoshaa. Animals for Kids is a funny educational game for all ages. Besides watching beautiful cartoon animals your task will be to clean the rubbish from their and see how the funny animals reward you.
Best kids' apps: Alphabet Flashcards
Hien Quang Tran and Vicky A both recommended Alphabet Flashcards - an educational app to help your child learn the alphabet using flash cards.
Best kids' apps: Math on the Farm
Recommended by Kalpesh Makwana Math on the Farm is a creative maths learning tool based on stories.
Best kids' apps: Zoo Alphabet for Kids
Armen Dashtoyan recommends Zoo Alphabet for Kids. This app for all platforms is a way to teach toddlers and preschoolers their basic alphabets in an educational yet fun-filled manner.
Best kids' apps: aMath Numbers Eng
LeonidK recommends aMath Numbers Eng, a fun maths-learning game that will be familiar to fans of Tetris.
Best kids' apps: What's The Sound?
A really cute game, the Yossi recommended What's The Sound? is a fun way to get small people identifying animals and more by the noises they make.
Best kids' apps: Colouring Pages for Kids
Recommended by Jacek, Colouring Pages for Kids is a great (and clean) way for your kids to express their creativity. And it won't require you to redecorate.
Best kids' apps: A Parcel of Courage
Recommended by an anonymous guest check this beautiful family-friendly book 'A Parcel of Courage'. This interactive reading adventure loaded with educational activities has four unique learning games enhancing logic, spatial cognition, photographic memory and more.
Best kids' apps: Cartoon Puzzle
Tomek Milek recommends LapsoBOX Cartoon Puzzle as a great game for kids aged five and over. Featuring amazing jumping puzzles, the app helps to develop brain power in your kids.
Those are our favourite reader recommended apps. Don't forget to scroll down to the comments at the bottom of the story for more than 100 more. And do let us know of any kids apps you love. Now, on with the show. And next is apps for babies.
Best kids' apps 2016: Best apps for babies
Best kids' apps: Sign and Sing Lite
if you're doing pre-speech Sing & Sign with your baby, this offers a visual dictionary. Great fun for parent and child and it helps with development, too.
Best kids' apps 2016: Best apps for toddlers
Toca Boca has a huge number of apps and even has a few app bundles available, including Toca Life Bundle which includes City, School and Town for £4.99. These games aren't just for toddlers at all: many primary school kids will love them too (indeed, our 8 year old tester loves pretty much all of them).
Best kids' apps: Toca Life: Vacation
Available for iPhone, iPad and Android
Vacation (sadly not 'holiday' in the UK English version) is the latest game in the Toca Life series. Like the others, it's a digital playset that lets kids pretend they're going on holiday. The main screen acts as a navigation tool so kids can tap on the place they want to play: the airport, the hotel, the beach, etc.
Just about everything you can see is interactive: suitcases can be opened and their contents rearranged; characters can be dressed up with clothes from hangers or in the shop, and can be accessorised. Our testers loved that the airport included an aeroplane where they could pretend their characters were flying to and from their holiday destination, and that they could feed them snacks and drinks.
Once again, this is an app with hours and hours of potential play for imaginative minds. And that makes the £2.49 price an absolute steal.
Best kids' apps: Toca Dance
Toca Dance has proven an instant hit with our testers, 4 and 8. And plenty of adults have enjoyed a play, too. In the £2.49 game you get to pick up to three dancers and dress them as you like from the wide range of outfits. Then you teach them routines by dragging your finger on the various body parts. You can move the arms and head independently, and drag the body to make the dancers jump and crouch. Different routines can be assigned to various coloured dots, and the system is brilliantly designed that even young children can use it.
There's a variety of music to choose between and once you're done, you can watch the final performance. Even this is interactive - you can cheer, set off fireworks, throw flowers (or tomatoes) and save the video to your camera roll afterwards. It's not yet available on Android - just iOS.
Best kids' apps: Toca Life: City
In City, which costs a very reasonable £2.49, kids can visit different locations around the city and interact with practically everything. From the apartment to the food stalls and clothes shop, kids can decide which people to 'invite' and - depending on the location - give them different clothes, hair styles, food and more.
Best kids' apps: Toca Life: School
The most recent entry in the Life series is School. There are five locations: School, Youth Club, Home, Cafe and Playground. As with Life: City, kids can interact with everything and our testers called it "the best game ever" after playing it on an iPad for half an hour.
Best kids' apps: Toca Boca Hair Salon 2
All the Toca Boca games for kids are great (except Toca Band, which will drive parents round the bend), but Toca Hair Salon is seriously a must-have on any family's phone or tablet.
Best kids' apps: Toca Boca Kitchen 2
Kids love messy play, but you probably don't like clearing up afterwards. With the second version of Toca Kitchen, kids can chop, fry, bake and now blend food and force-feed it to the new Kitchen characters. Our three-year old tester particularly like blending up pears and Monster Beets, laughing out loud when the sour flavour made the characters spit it out on the screen.
A recent update added peaches, strawberries, watermelon, onions, spaghetti, rice and octopus legs along with ketchup, soy sauce and a deep fryer appliance.
You can enable a 'vegetarian mode' and there are no annoying links (as you get in some freemium games) which take you away from the app to the app store. Well worth the £2.49 price.
Best kids' apps: Toca Blocks
Toca Boca's newest game is Blocks. It's a little like Toca Builders, but instead of 3D, this is a 2D world. You still navigate around using a central ball, but as well as building with different blocks you get three different characters which you can pick to explore the worlds you make. It's not quite as intuitive as some of Toca's other apps, but once you show your kids how to place and remove blocks, and how they change when you put different blocks on top of each other, they'll have a lot of fun.
Best kids' apps: Little Big Foot
An interactive children’s story app, currently available for £2.99 on iPad from the App Store. Little Big Foot tells the story of a young Big Foot as he travels from the safety of his home in search of an adventure, with dozens of engaging interactions, beautiful illustrations and animations. It's a great, magical world for kids up to five years old.
Best kids' apps: Puzzle Fun for Kids & Toddlers
In Puzzle Fun for Kids, your child gets to lay puzzles in four different ways. Every time a puzzle is completed or a piece is placed a fitting and fun sound is played. With loads of puzzles, cute graphics and different difficulty levels, your little one gets to practice problem solving and motor skills - and they should enjoy it too. There is 4 types of puzzles and a total of 40 fun challenges that awaits the child, and it is a super cheap app.
Best kids' apps: Forestry
Playing funny and educational mini-games, in iOS-only app Forestry your child will help forest dwellers to build a house, gather food stuffs, pick up berries, go swimming and, of course, prepare for sleep. A fascinating and useful game Forestry can also serve as great memory and attention trainer for your kid. (And it can help at bed time.) It is free, but with in-app purchases, so keep an eye out.
Best kids' apps: Sago Mini Road Trip
Designed specifically for toddlers and young children from 2-5, Mini Road trip is made by Sago (the sister company of Toca Boca). Kids can enjoy the fun of a whole road trip from packing a suitcase (complete with wacky items such as a chocolate cake), choosing a car (there are lots, including a shoe and a gherkin) and stopping en route for petrol and at a car wash. There are six destinations, although only three appear at any one time, which is a little confusing. There are no rules for driving, so kids can pick up the car and fly through the air if they like. It's great value at £2.29 with no ads, but it's only for iOS at the moment.
Best kids' apps: Snail Bob
A game that is fun and captures the imagination, but is slow enough for younger children to play succesfully. Snail Bob is a physics-based strategy game, your goal is to guide the snail to the exit. Press buttons to control various mechanisms and the snail Bob, try to get to the exit as quick as possible. Rinse and repeat (hopefully long enough for Mum and Dad to have a break).
Best kids' apps: Peekaboo Barn (and Peekaboo Wild)
Simple, charming identify-an-animal games. Younger kids love these, especially as the developers release updates each Christmas that Christmas-ify them.
Best kids' apps: PocketPhonics
If you want to teach your kids the phonic pronunciation of letters and how to write them PocketPhonics is the only app you need, but only when you're not near pen, paper and a flat writing surface.
Best kids' apps: HiT Entertainment Thomas The Tank Engine games
There are so many rubbish Thomas games it's good to know that those by HiT Entertainment's are good and to be trusted.
Best kids' apps: Crayola ColorStudio HD
A great free app that turns any iPad into a colourful drawing pad, without ruining the wallpaper or table. Good times.
Best kids' apps: LEGO DUPLO Train
Your toddler will love to drive a colourful LEGO DUPLO Train from station to station. Choosing and loading wagons, building bridges, stopping at crossings, refueling and laying new tracks around pesky rocks. A toddler's dream.
See also: Best maths apps for children.
Best kids' apps 2016: Best apps for primary school children
Best kids' apps: Artie's Magic Pencil
Artie's Magic Pencil is designed to help kids learn to draw. It aims to teach the fundamentals of drawing to children aged three to six. It offers a relaxed and encouraging space for potential young illustrators who might need some coaxing into the creative world. Find out more about Artie's Magic Pencil here.
Best kids' apps: Monster Math
You're have to forgive Monster Math for lacking the 's' we would expect in the UK. It is, simply, one of the best maths apps we have seen - much better than your average flash-card based app. It takes the player through the adventure of a monster called Maxx. As Maxx explores new worlds, battles enemies and so on, your kids have to help him through the power of mathematics. It's fun and engaging, and - after an initial purchase - there are no nasty in-app surprises so you can let your kids play on their own.
Best kids' apps: LEGO® Juniors Create & Cruise
A game of imagination and building skill, LEGO Juniors Create & Cruise is aimed at children from ages four to seven years. Build your own truck, then use it to bring your cargo to its right destination, and collect coins to earn more LEGO parts. Fun, educational and satisfying. And that's just for the parents.
Best kids' apps: Hairy Letters
Hairy Letters is helpful in learning to write letters, and Alphabetic is sort of educational as you have to spot the each letter of the alphabet in increasingly hard animated patterns.
Best kids' apps: Buddha for Kids
An interesting app that focuses on history over religion. App maker Quelle Histoire creates apps that help six- and seven-year-olds learn about the lives of famous people - this case the Buddha. Your children will likely enjoy this app - and they will learn something too. Through 10 illustrated images, the children will follow Buddha from his first steps under the great tree at Lumbini to his Enlightenment near to the sacred town of Uruvela. And the kids stay focused because of games on each.
Best kids' apps: Little Things Forever
Find things in shapes made up of thousands of objects with this beautiful and addictive free app for children.
Best kids' apps: JetPack Joyride
A free game enjoyed by children from a surprisingly young age. You suit up with a selection of jetpacks and take to the skies on an exciting adventure.
Best kids' apps: Train Conductor 2
What child doesn't love trains? Train Conductor 2 lets them guide trains to their destination while avoiding disastrous collisions (or not, depending on the child in question). To play kids must simply drag each train to the correct track with the swipe of a finger. The free version of the game is no more, sadly.
Best kids' apps: Petting Zoo
Featuring artwork by illustrator Christoph Niemann, this is very silly but fun. And great to look at. You pet cartoon animals, they do funny things. What's not to like?
Best kids' apps: Wombi Treasures
Wombi Treasures is a basic but fun and graphically rich treasure hunt game for kids, available as iPad, iPhone and Android apps. It engages young children in scouring locations to find hidden artifacts, rewarding perseverance, and keeping kids gripped with their challenge. While the graphics are rich the gameplay is relatively basic but keps children excited to keep playing again and again.
Best kids' apps: Stack the Countries
A geography quiz (countries, flags, cities, landmarks) combined with a game to try to stack scale country outlines on top of each other without the pile falling over. Surprisingly good fun.
Best kids' apps: Dr Panda's Hoopa City
Hoopa City has fun and interactive educational values, letting kids role-play and use their imaginations. It's a character game for primary school children. It features Hoopa the Hippo. Kids must combine together elements to help construct cities. Children must build roads, houses, and more. It also features pioneering new mechanics so kids can combine elements to find secret combinations to unlock different building.
Best kids' apps: Dr. Panda's Toy Cars
An interactive game that lets kids role-play and use their imaginations. Children drive around two different cities, exploring the roads and discovering hidden surprises. Kids can explore by driving a fire truck, police car or even a boat.
Best kids' apps 2016: Best apps for teenagers
Best kids' apps: Magic Piano by Smule
Available on practically every platform, this addictive - and great-sounding - game lets you play well-known tunes without actually having any musical talent. You just have to tap vaguely in the right area of the screen at the right time to a) make it sound right and b) get a high score.
Best kids' apps: Virtuoso Piano
A useful free tool for music study/practice. Our teenage app fan told us she finds this app useful for finding a specific note, before auditioning for a drama or music performance. And for the post-Glee generation that is high praise indeed.
Best kids' apps 2016: Best apps for kids of all ages
Best kids' apps: Let's Create Pottery HD
Providing you can wrestle your phone or tablet from your kids, here's an app that you can enjoy just as much as they do. It won't teach you how to become a real potter but Let's create! Pottery HD is a great-looking and surprisingly fun game which everyone can enjoy. The full game costs £3.99, but if you're not convinced, try the free Lite version first.
Best kids' apps: Temple Run
You know that bit in every adventure film where the hero or heroine gets their hands on the treasure but has to navigate a maze of booby traps to get out alive? That's this game in a nutshell. It's free, and according to our panel enjoyed by kids aged from four upwards.
Best kids' apps: Bike Baron
Enough with the education. Let's finish with some fun. Bike Baron is the ultimate motorbike game for iPhone and iPad, and a firm favourite with children of all ages.
Best kids' apps: Monument Valley
One of the most beautiful and captivating games ever released, Monument Valley isn't cheap (for an app) at £2.99 but it will keep children and adults engaged for hours working our how to help the silent princess Ida through mysterious and mind-bending, fantastical architecture, uncovering hidden paths, unfolding Escher-like optical illusions of impossible geometry, and outsmarting the barking Crow People. Monument Valley is both surreal and serene exploration through and will surely go down in game history as one of the unique greats.
Best kids' apps: Dumb Ways To Die
Originally conceived as a public safety animation for an Australian metro company Dumbs Ways To Die morphed from a brilliant cartoon and maddeningly catchy tune that kids love to sing into an equally fun game of 15 potentially lethal possibilities. Kids love it and learn how not to get themselves killed at the same time. All together now: “Set fire to your hair, Poke a stick at a grizzly bear. Eat medicine that's out of date, Use your private parts as piranha bait.”
Best kids' apps: Minion Rush
You love Despicable Me, right? Minion Rush is a great action arcade game where the little yellow Minions jump, fly, dodge obstacles, collect bananas, ride the Fluffy Unicorn, and defeat villains in a variety of different missions. You can customise your Minion with costumes, weapons, and power-ups. Earning new locations and different Minions makes this free game a lot of fun for Despicable Me fans and anyone who likes bananas. There are in-app purchases available but not buying any doesn’t affect game play in any way.
Best kids' apps: Subway Surfers
Letting your kids have fun running around on train tracks doesn’t sound like safe advice but Subway Surfers is great fun when restricted to phone or tablet, and not real life. The aim is to help Jake, Tricky & Fresh escape from the grumpy Inspector and his dog. There’s hoverboard surfing (think Back To The Future) and paint-powered jetpacks to speed around on. Addictive.