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Time-Killing Apps for Kids (and Adults)

We all want our kids (or the kids in our lives) to spend their down time learning and exploring, ideally outdoors and in a manner that doesn’t involve being glued to a screen. But, of course, there are times when that’s just not realistic—whether it’s on an airplane, in the car on a road trip, or in the waiting room of your dentist’s office—and having access to an iPhone or iPad loaded with apps that’ll occupy them for a chunk of time is the greatest gift. Here, a few apps we love for keeping littles busy—plus three more for you, once you’ve finally exhausted all those Snapchat filters.

Ages 2-4

  • Sago Mini Superhero

    Sago Mini Superhero

    Sago Mini develops a bunch of great apps for toddlers, and this is just one of them: Jack the rabbit, fueled by carrots, has super-rabbit powers that enable him to do things like help ducks get around town and share treats with octopuses.

  • Sago Mini Planes

    Sago Mini Planes

    Another game from Sago Mini, this aesthetically pleasing virtual world allows kids to fly jets through more than six different whimsical habitats. (And there’s more where this came from: The just-launched Sago Mini World gives access to all of the toddler-friendly Sago Mini games, in a single app.)

  • Artie's Magic Pencil

    Artie's Magic Pencil

    Designed to teach the basics of drawing and animation, Artie and his magic pencil (with kids’ help) are tasked with rebuilding their monster-destroyed world, one triangle, square, and circle at a time.

  • Intro to Colors

    Intro to Colors

    Better on a tablet than an iPhone, Intro to Colors is a drawing app that engages kids through color matching games, mixing colors, painting, and exploring. It’s not necessarily addicting, but for the artistically inclined kid, it can be fairly absorbing.

  • Toca Pet Doctor

    Toca Pet Doctor

    The Neopets-esque Toca Pet Doctor introduces you to fifteen adorable, cartoon-ish animals who all need attention. Made for 2- to 6-year-olds, activities are geared around helping the animals with various needs, be it a puppy who needs a bath or a worm who’s managed to tie itself in a knot.

  • Monster Mingle

    Monster Mingle

    This app lets kids design their own monsters—from eyes to horns—and explore different islands to find foods to feed their hungry creations. Once they’re built, the experience is free-flowing; the user-controlled monsters swim, fly, talk, and sing with other monsters on the islands.

Ages 5-7

  • LOOPIMAL by YATATOY

    LOOPIMAL by YATATOY

    Adults beware: This one might get you hooked, too. Gorgeously designed and kind of mesmerizing, LOOPIMAL allows young kids to explore animation, computer sequencing tools, and music composition—which sounds a bit like the app equivalent of smothering cheese on broccoli to get them to eat vegetables. (Tip: Make sure your kid has headphones—the sound effects are great, but still.)

  • Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System

    Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System

    A zany twist on an educational app, Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System is probably best for kids on the older end of this age spectrum, who might have learned the space basics in class. A gamified version of physicist Dominic Walliman’s illustrated kids book, littles join a very smart cat (and his mouse sidekick) on a galactic journey.

  • Stop, Breathe & Think (for Kids)

    Stop, Breathe & Think (for Kids)

    Designed for kids five to ten years old (in collaboration with meditation teacher Susan Kaiser Greenland), this beautiful app is designed around emotion-based “missions,” starting with emoji check-ins that lead to soothing (narrated) activities with animated creatures. Their app for adults is great, too.

  • Arthur’s Big App

    Arthur’s Big App

    It’s Arthur! In-app games take place around Elwood City (after class) with Arthur, Buster, Francine, and Muffy. PBS has a whole suite of apps, all of which are pretty great for this age group.

  • Jelly Jumble

    Jelly Jumble

    This one can be kind of addicting: With a 14-chapter interactive story, Jelly Jumble follows Oliver and his blue monster friend Soran as they navigate various matching games that are challenging enough to be fully captivating.

  • Boomerang

    Boomerang

    So this is more of a streaming service than a game app, but it’s a game-changer for right-this-minute kid entertainment. With a $5 monthly subscription, you can access more than 1,000 episodes of classic cartoons from Scooby-Doo, to Looney Tunes, to Yogi Bear.

Adults

Let’s face it: Time-killing apps for adults are called Twitter and Instagram. Here, a few alternatives to consider for when you really, truly want to do nothing.

  • 2048

    2048

    This free app doesn’t look like it could absorb you for a whole afternoon, but trust us: It’s crazy addicting. You’ll intuitively stumble onto a strategy for combining tiles to reach the elusive 2048—but not without some patience and a few crushing failures.

  • ESP Trainer

    ESP Trainer

    Very basic and oddly beguiling, this app—developed as part of a NASA program by physicist Russell Targ—is designed as advertised: to strengthen your psychic abilities. All you do is guess which of four colored tiles is the correct choice, until you get it right. Then repeat, hopefully with fewer guesses as you progress. (And, if you aren’t feeling it in a particular round, you can simply pass).

  • Snake '97

    Snake '97

    It doesn’t get simpler than this: a straight-up replication of the rudimentary snake game you used to be able to play on old Nokia phones. Oddly enough, it’s stood the test of time; there’s the nostalgia factor, plus the same (pleasant) mind-numbing feeling you get when you focus on something silly for two minutes.

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