Must-have apps for your kids

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You might think that new smartphone or tablet is yours, but if you have children — especially young ones — odds are they're going to spend about as much time on it as you do.

Whether they grab it when you're not looking or you use the device as a way to keep them amused while in restaurants or waiting rooms, kids have a way of getting their hands on technology. And, increasingly, parents are buying their young kids devices of their own.

Not all apps are meant for all age ranges, though. If you're looking for something appropriate for your child, we've got a few recommendations for the four main age ranges that will let you relax, knowing they're not being exposed to anything inappropriate — and might actually teach them something in the process.

Preschool


MarcoPolo Ocean

Photo Credit: MarcoPolo Learning

MarcoPolo Ocean (Free) - The entire MarcoPolo line of educational apps are worth checking out, but this aquatic-focused one resonates particularly well with many young ones. Kids can create their own ocean, while also learning about the marine ecosystem. Better still, there are no in-app purchases or upgrades to have to worry about. (Available on iOS and Android)

Toca Pet Doctor

Photo Credit: Taco Boca

Toca Pet Doctor ($2.99) - Teach young children empathy as they assist 15 different cartoon animals with different ailments, like the inchworm that ties itself in a knot. It's entertainment that will give young kids a sense of pride in accomplishing something, but won't frustrate them in the process. (Available on iOS and Android)

PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Photo Credit: Loud Crow Interactive

PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit ($3.99) - Books on smart devices generally aren't appealing for children, but PopOut! has a strong track record of creating engaging books that kids can enjoy. There are several reading options: Just look at (and interact with) the pictures while they listen to the narration, read the story themselves or opt for assisted reading. In that last category, kids that get stuck on a word simply have to tap it on screen and the app will read it aloud. (Available on iOS and Android)

Elementary

BrainPop Featured Movie

Photo Credit: BrainPop

BrainPop Featured Movie (Free) - BrainPop is an integral part of many elementary school lesson plans these days. If your kids don't have a subscription to the main site (and you don't want to pay for one), this app lets them watch a different entertaining and educational video each day — and take quizzes or play some of the app's games to reinforce the lessons they've learned. (Available on iOS and Android)

YouTube Kids

Photo Credit: Google

YouTube Kids (Free) - Whether you like it or not, your kids are likely going to start getting into YouTube as they get further into elementary school. And there are a lot of things on that site you might not want them to stumble upon. YouTube Kids, though, filters out potentially objectionable content, letting young ones explore videos in a safer environment (though, since no system is perfect, you'll still want to monitor their viewing habits). There are also parental controls in the app allowing you to set a time limit per day or turn off the search functionality to create an even safer viewing environment. (Available on iOS and Android)

Minecraft - Pocket Edition

Photo Credit: Mojang/Microsoft

Minecraft - Pocket Edition ($6.99) - One of the most enduring interactive games for kids, this world-creating title encourages creativity and lets players work collaboratively to create lands entirely from their imagination. Kids can play the game itself, which features enemies or monsters, or just let their dreams run wild in a free-form mode.

Tweens

Pokemon Go

Photo Credit: Niantic

Pokemon Go (Free) - It's not the social phenomenon it was when it first launched, but there's still a big player base for this Nintendo-inspired app. Developer Niantic just released a significant update, infusing the game with several new Pokemon types. And parents will like the fact it's a game that kids have to get off of the couch to play. (Available on iOS and Android)


The Room Three

Photo Credit: Fireproof Games

The Room Three ($4.99) - Puzzle games are often hit-and-miss affairs in smart devices, but "The Room" has kept its quality high in each new installment. It's a game that's challenging, but not impossible — and it's a graphical showcase. For the puzzle-lover, there are hours of entertainment to be found here (and, for that matter, with its predecessors). (Available on iOS and Android)


Jet.me

Photo Credit: Jet Networks

Jet.me (Free) - This is the phase in life where kids generally begin the lobbying effort to join a social media platform. If you're not ready for them to be exposed to everything on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, Jet.me is an option worth considering. It's a social network just for kids, where only approved friends can see posts and photos. Most importantly, there are a number of antibullying protocols built into the app to keep kids safe. (Available on iOS)

Teens

Sit With Us

Photo Credit: Carolyn Hampton

Sit With Us (Free) - Bullying in high school is a serious problem — and some kids can quickly feel isolated. This app, created by a 16 year old who felt rejected after eating by herself for all of seventh grade, creates easy to locate safe zones where anyone is welcome in the lunch room, letting everyone from the new kid to the class oddball socialize with others — and maybe make a few friends along the way.

Periscope

Photo Credit: Twitter

Periscope (Free) - Livecasting is as much a part of online life for many teens as social media. With Periscope, they'll be able to showcase pieces of their day-to-day activities to friends and the internet at large. Periscope is also a good tool, though, for teens to be able to see how people live in other parts of the world — and keep up with their favorite celebrities. (Available on iOS and Android)


Facetune 2

Photo Credit: Lightricks Ltd

Facetune 2 (Free) - Selfies are part of life for teens, but rather than taking dozens and dozens of pictures to get that perfect shot (chewing up the phone's memory), have 'em try Facetune 2. The photo editing software is built for selfies with loads of filters, lighting fixes and even a tool that can help remove acne from a picture. (Note: Some elements are only available via in-app purchase.) (Available on iOS)