This is an interesting target group for learning games, given that designing good games for young children is notoriously hard. It is, as the Mindcandy CEO Michael Acton Smith put it, that kids don’t want to play games designed for kids. My experience is the same: if a child is presented a choice between a typical children’s game and Angry Birds, nine times out of ten she’ll choose the latter.
But when a game for children is designed well enough, the situation changes. And in fact, the best children’s games out there are rather entertaining even for grown-ups.
Loopimal, Drawnimal and Miximal are visionary apps from the Finland-based Italian genius game designer Lucas Zanotto and his studio Yatatoy. These games are little design gems, where simple interactions, awesome characters and quirky humor lure you in, no matter what age you are. It’s no wonder Apple has featured these apps abundantly in their own marketing.
In Drawnimal, you use the app as a base for drawing funny animals, while the drawing itself is done on paper. In Miximal, you have a classic game of mixing up animal parts to form funny combinations – and also top up on your animal vocabulary as you get the right fit. Loopimal, one of my favorite learning apps of all time, is a funny musical app that actually also teaches you about one of the basic elements of coding: loops. All three form a delightful suite of apps that I recommend highly to both children and aesthetically-appreciative parents.
It was really hard to decide which list to put Minecraft on. And while insofar as I know, Minecraft was never intended to be a learning game, it definitely needs to be on one of those lists, given that after teachers, parents and users started to hack the game, it has become pretty much the most popular learning game of all time.
Loved by teachers and pupils alike, Minecraft is the “digital Lego” that enables you not only to build your own worlds but to learn anything from maths to the periodic table. There’s even a Finnish startup, TeacherGaming, that has leveraged very innovative ways to use Minecraft in learning.
Simple Machines is a great way to learn physical interactions. It’s a game where you get to manipulate various contraptions and devices. While it is well suitable for preschoolers, the production values and design are so well executed that this could well appeal to grown up players as well. It’s a way to explore “the playful side of physics”.
Barnyard is a great collection of minigames that are accessible for even the smallest of children. Kids under two years of age can already figure out how an iPad works pretty well, and they may get a lot out of Barnyard. The game includes minigames for colors, shapes, counting, the alphabet and more.
5. Toca Boca
Toca Boca is often touted as the most successful learning game company, even though it’s, in practice, not quite either. Toca Boca creates what I would characterize as very high quality virtual toys.
While the Toca Boca catalog does not have explicit learning goals, nor usually game-like structures either, they are some of the best childrens’ apps out there and are likely a good complement to any well-designed preschoolers’ digital learning environment.
Monkey Preschool Lunchbox is a great set of minigames ranging from color and shape recognition to even rudimentary logical deduction. The game is well executed and engaging. The six included minigames offer interactive lessons in size, puzzles, letters, counting, mathching and colors.
Gigglebug is a game and story wrapped in one. In it, your mission is to tickle Gigglebug and his friends to help grumpy animals become happier. Gigglebug is a great game for kids and also helps to learn to understand emotions.
8. Leo’s Pad
Leo’s Pad is a highly ambitious adaptive learning game and story. The story videos are about the young inventor Leo and his friends such as Gali. The youngsters, styled after classical geniuses, wind up in many adventures, which often include gaming elements.
The production values for Leo’s Pad are excellent, and it utilizes a highly developed adaptive engine by Kidaptive, that enables it to learn the player’s skill level and aim for the “Goldilocks zone”, or the flow channel, where learning happens at the optimal stage.
Osmo is an amazing collection of games and toys. While the games require the purchase of a physical camera mirror and tiles, it is worth the extra investment. With Osmo, children can learn about letters, numbers, draw pictures and create images using geometric shapes.
What sets Osmo apart from the other preschooler games is that you usually need to manipulate the physical objects in front of the iPad to complete the tasks. This brings an extra kinetic layer to the learning experiences.
More to follow.