Top App Pick: DIY for Infectious Creativity

Mind-numbing time-waster games may seem to rule the world of apps, but we’ve been discovering other more productive things to do with our beloved devices…


DIY : Build. Make. Hack. Grow.

Number one with a bullet! We just love DIY. It’s an app but you don’t have to have an iPhone or iPad because they also have a fully functional website as well. Your child registers and fulfills projects (uploading photos of their work) to earn virtual skills badges. You can also watch tutorial videos, or just browse and look at other kids’ projects. Privacy is protected, kids are not supposed to use their real names or upload photos of themselves – they can pick their own animal avatar for their account (see below). As a parent, you register as well, so every time they upload you get a notification via email.


The Skill Badges are varied and intriguing. Animator, Astronomer, Baker, Beekeeper, Bike Mechanic, Biologist are just the first few on the lengthy list. The projects under each topic are well thought out – there are things that kids as young as 5 or 6 can do, but also more complex ones that should challenge teenagers.


DIY is entirely free*, and is mediated by some really great people. They post videos of their work too, the animation and special effects ones I’ve watched are amazing. They also leave encouraging comments from time to time on the kids’ projects, which was really exciting for my daughter.

(Another aspect I really liked was that the kids comment on each other’s work, and their comments are always complimentary and sweet. I don’t know whether the comments are heavily moderated or kids are just much nicer than grownups, but it’s a nice change from the awful trolling that so-called adults engage in.)

“Social networks today are about what you like, not what you do,” said Isaiah Saxon, a DIY founder and its Chief Creative Officer. “We want to create an experience for children that’s about what you make, and in turn makes these skills heroic.” (from New York Times article by Nick Bilton)

And just when I thought I couldn’t love them any more, they post a new project on how to build a Solar Theremin! These people are way too cool.

There’s something to interest everyone at DIY. My daughter’s been coming back to it again and again over the last three months: from snow forts to sewing to stop-motion animation to making stew. DIY has become my #1 suggestion for what to do on rainy days – I can’t recommend it highly enough!

* DIY is currently free, but in the New York Times interview the founders say they might start charging a small fee to join in the future


Oh Those Devices! Gentle Play Apps for the Very Young

I’m betting an awful lot of kids out there received some fancy gadget or another under the Christmas tree. If you’re looking for suggestions about what apps to put on them, Commonsense Media has posted this helpful list of educational apps, listed by device (iPad, iPhone, Android Tablet, Android Phone, Kindle Fire) and then by age.

In our house we’re marking our first anniversary of iPhone / iPad fun. We’ve done a few of the blockbuster competitive games – the ones that focus on working ever upward in difficulty, unlocking new levels, earning points or virtual cash, and always trying for a new high score – but I’ve never been too keen on games that are designed to get you addictively playing them for hours on end. I love the more calming apps, ones that don’t score, don’t have a timer clicking down, and don’t whip kids into a frenzy at bedtime. (or ever)

My favourite discoveries of the past year have been the non-competitive, more creative apps. Here are a few of the ones we have enjoyed… (iPhone/iPad apps)

Toca Hair Salon (Toca Boca)

Toca Hair Salon

Mick (Toca Tailor Fairy Tales)

Toca Tailor Fairy Tales

TOCA BOCA games!

There are lots of them, and they are all way cool. The design is unusual, the characters are funny and appealing, the activities are creative, gentle and non-competitive. (What a nice break from the majority of game apps!)

Some Toca Boca apps, like House, Store, and Tea Party, are designed for preschoolers, with age appropriate activities – simply moving items back and forth to accomplish simple tasks. I particularly like the House one, because it’s all about housecleaning!

Kitchen (Toca House by Toca Boca)

Toca House

Toca Robot Lab (Toca Boca)

Toca Robot Lab

The Hair Salon, Tailor, Robot Lab, and others are aimed at slightly older kids, maybe 5 – 8 year olds, but they are quirky enough to appeal to even older kids and simple enough to entrance the preschoolers as well. These are All-Ages Apps!

In our house Toca Hair Salon has been a particularly enduring favourite with my six-year-old, especially now since they’ve put out a new edition (Hair Salon 2). And I am particularly thankful to this app for diverting her from those dreadful beauty salon apps in which you put makeup on glassy-eyed, Barbie-like supermodels. Oorg.

Toca Tailor also deserves a special mention because it includes the intoxicating possibilities of taking a photograph of a fabric, texture, background, or person, and using it to create your clothing designs. (My daughter became entranced with taking a photo of the girl wearing a photo of herself wearing a photo of herself wearing a… )

(Check out Toca games here.)

My Playhome

My Playhome

This one is not a Toca game, but also great for preschoolers: My PlayHome – A simple playhouse where you move family members and objects around a house. Simple but compelling, and again, a gentle, stress-free app.

Future posts to come: art apps, music apps, math apps, science apps… I don’t presume to review every app out there, but whenever we come across a great one, I will certainly let you know!

Related RKOB Posts

The Land of Apps

More on Gadgetry

Websites and Apps for Kids – Recommendations

The Land of Apps

It is with no small sense of shame that I bring up the newest Amazement in our home: the iPhone. Shame because even as I try desperately to limit our ‘screen time’, both my daughter and I are drawn to the iPhone like moths to a flame. And shame because I do not want to turn this blog into some kind of plug for Apple products.

I am NOT telling you to buy one of these!

However… I know there are a lot of people out there getting these thingy-gadgets and I found this useful: a list of highly rated and mostly educational apps for little ones, c/o Savvy Mom.

As long as I set time limits (for both of us!), I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little fun time on the computer/tablet/phone. And I can see how a smart phone could really save the day in the case of delayed flights, long car rides, or endless waiting room waits.

If you’d rather not open the Pandora’s Box that is the App Store, remember that even the free basics you get with the phone can be highly entertaining for preschoolers. The Calculator is fun for kids intrigued and awed by numbers, and the Compass is perfect for treasure hunts! The Camera and Voice Memos are good for hours of giddy enjoyment! The Clock has a stopwatch feature, and Weather allows you to look up conditions anywhere in the world!

I can see the exclamation points sneaking in so it’s time to stop. Don’t worry, this blog is not about to turn into a tech geek blog – there are many, many, many others more knowledgeable than I about these matters, but I will pass along any useful lists or tips I come across.

All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.