Welcome to our list of the best free games for children on both tablet and PC. These have been carefully picked to make sure they are appropriate for kids.
We hear a lot of bad stuff about kids playing games. Back in the 1980s, we were told Pac-Man would herald the end of society, resulting in kids roaming maze-like streets, desperate for a fix of glowing dots.
Naturally, that didn’t happen. And in these more enlightened times, there’s plenty of research to suggest gaming is – in moderation – a useful activity. Video games promote problem solving skills and imagination. They are an active leisure pursuit, versus the passivity of television.
Still, it’s important to ensure your kids are playing games that are suitable. This round-up is designed to highlight 20 great games for kids, aged 5–11. They’re complete as-is experiences, low on violence, and tend to combine immediacy and depth. Most of all, though, they’re great fun to play – whatever your age.
10 great children’s games for Android tablets and iPad
These days, kids are more likely to first experience computing and gaming on a tablet than a home computer. To that end, our tablet selection skews a little younger.
According to Google, everything listed here is rated 3+, and so should be safe for even very young children. Apple is more conservative – it rates the games 4+, apart from Super Stickman Golf 3 and Spaceteam, which are 9+. The games are also all simple to control, easy to get into, and fun to play.
A note on IAPs and ads: Free games need to be funded somehow. Several items in this selection offer in-app purchases (IAPs) for in-game currency, and some have ads. In the former case, disable IAPs at a system level on your device before handing it over to a youngling; with the latter, play a game yourself first to check the ads within are OK.
1. Sago Mini Friends
This sweet-natured set of mini-games encourages creativity, dexterity, and puzzle solving. It starts with you selecting a colorful character, who then explores a neighborhood of cartoon houses.
Knock on a door and you’re invited inside for an animated, entertaining playdate. This might involve dress-up, hammering nails into a birdhouse, or enjoying a tasty snack.
Everything’s bright and cheerful, and the game promotes empathy, with one friend looking glum if spoils aren’t evenly shared.
2. Lego Creator Islands
In all honesty, we’re sure most parents would be happier seeing kids playing with real Lego rather than virtual bricks on a tablet. But when the real thing isn’t an option, this official game’s a nice substitute.
It’s based around the titular islands, on which you collect bricks, to ‘buy’ Lego sets that are constructed with a few taps. Over time, you’ll accrue houses and vehicles, and cute blocky critters that roam about. As an added bonus, there’s no chance of painfully stepping on a plastic brick.
3. Toca Kitchen 2
If you’ve a child who regularly uses a tablet, chances are you’ve already installed some Toca Boca games. They’re a smart mix of education and play, and Toca Kitchen 2’s no exception.
As you might expect, this one’s all about cooking. The game invites you to make meals – however you like. Devise your own recipes, and foist your creations on a colorful cast of characters, whether you’ve carefully constructed a burger, or decided to microwave a melon and cover it in sauce.
4. Llama Spit Spit
Llama Spit Spit is an oddball shoot ’em up, featuring a flying llama blasting crazy cartoon enemies with a mix of spittle and high-powered weaponry.
The controls are incredibly simple, meaning even younger players can get on board. Power-ups and collectable llamas (with their own background imagery) keep things interesting over the long term.
5. Disney Crossy Road
The original Crossy Road cleverly reworked Frogger, with blocky characters hopping across chunky endless landscapes, trying to avoid a dunk in a river or getting flattened by a train. But the masterstroke was a raft of unlockable characters.
Disney Crossy Road is much the same, but uses Disney characters that often radically overhaul the game’s visuals and gameplay mechanics. Over 100 figurines are there to be found, and although IAP lurks, playing and collecting coins in the in-game worlds is all you need to snag them all.
6. Frisbee Forever 2
You’d think flinging a plastic disc about would make for a rubbish video game. Fortunately, Frisbee Forever 2 is more akin to a set of rollercoasters, with you guiding your disc through gates, collecting stars along the way.
There’s a hint of Nintendo about this breezy arcade experience, with its vibrant visuals, smart level design, and a basic control system suitable for all. And although there are freemium underpinnings, you’re rewarded with in-game currency for every second played – even if an attempt at a level ends in failure.
7. Fruit Ninja
In the fast-paced Fruit Ninja, your digit becomes a virtual sword, hacking pieces of fruit lobbed on to the screen in two, and attempting to avoid cutting into game-ending bombs.
It’s ideal fodder for a tablet, since you can make pleasingly large swipes across the display. But also the game offers local multiplayer, so two kids can zealously pit their fruit-slicing skills against each other.
With its tiny isometric worlds you spin with a finger, and landscape-flipping mechanics, Mekorama brings to mind Monument Valley. But this game has no Escher-like optical illusions; instead, it concentrates on straightforward pathfinding as you help an ambling robot reach its goals.
It’s a charming, thoughtful, tactile experience, and on a tablet is suitable for parent/child play, with you working through the puzzles together. Once you’re done with the 50 built-in levels, you can download more from the internet, or make your own.
9. Super Stickman Golf 3
For many kids, golf won’t excite. But the Super Stickman universe doesn’t partake in normal golf. Instead, you’re thwacking balls across larger-than-life side-on courses – massive castles; laser-strewn bases; floating islands.
Although it’s a fun solo game, which makes the most of bigger screens (through you being able to see more of each course and therefore aim more precisely), it also has superb multiplayer modes. You can play turn-by-turn matches with friends, or try your hand at frenetic, madcap ‘race to the hole’ skirmishes.
If you’ve several kids with devices, Spaceteam’s a delightfully bonkers way to have them all yell at each other in a vaguely productive manner that in theory helps them work as a team. Specifically, a ‘spaceteam’ in a ship trying to outrun an exploding star, with control panels designed by a sadist.
Once devices are connected, instructions appear on your screen – but the controls may be on someone else’s. So you’ll have people yelling nonsense like “someone turn on the dangling shunter”, while figuring out if their own screen has a ‘spectrobolt’ slider. Just like in Star Trek.
PCs are inherently more complex than tablets. Whereas even very young children can grasp how a touchscreen works, figuring out mice, trackpads and keyboards may take longer.
That’s why our selection of PC games skews a little older, although there’s still fare to suit a five-year-old. Note that several titles are browser-based, although none require plug-ins. We recommend Google Chrome for best results.
1. Cube Slam
Pong was one of the earliest home videogames. Cube Slam is Pong in your browser – only in 3D, and you get to play against a bear (or a friend – but the multiplayer option is flaky).
You face your furry opponent, moving the bat left or right to deflect the cuboid ‘ball’, aiming to smash the bear’s shields. Win enough times and the game introduces power-ups, invisible balls, and extra blocks on the table that make the ball bounce around unpredictably.
2. Quick, Draw
For children who enjoy doodling, Quick, Draw should prove fascinating. The idea is to sketch – against the clock – something recognizable enough for Google’s Neural Network to identify.
In each case, you’re told what to draw. But this game isn’t about drawing photorealistic objects. Instead, you must quickly figure out the key visual clues that describe something. Which is probably a good thing, unless you can scribble a realistic rhinoceros in 20 seconds.
3. World’s Biggest Pac-Man
Pac-Man’s one of the most recognizable gaming icons around, and the original game is simple enough that even young kids can get to grips with it. However, its single maze quickly becomes dull – hence our recommendation to instead play World’s Biggest Pac-Man.
This online effort has hundreds of thousands of mazes, which you venture between by sneaking out of exits. Other than that, the original game’s compelling mix of munching dots and avoiding a quartet of spectral pursuers remains intact.
This indie hit takes the basis of Pac-Man and a slew of other ancient arcade games, and then smashes them into an endless bout of modern neon craziness.
Again, the basics are simple enough for any kid to understand: march about mazes, grab a key, and make for the exit. But the game’s chaotic nature (the maze’s denizens appear as intent on blowing each other up as taking on the player) ensures it’s relentless raucous fun.
5. Little Alchemy 2
It would be a stretch to call Little Alchemy an educational game, but textbook smarts may help you crack the logic at the core of this match-and-discover puzzler.
You begin with a handful of building blocks, which when combined create new things. Sometimes, discoveries are obvious – add water to more water and you get a puddle. But some are more whimsical and funny, like when metal and a pigeon become a plane.
It’s ideal fodder when your kids want to play games, but you’d prefer them to relax and think for a bit.
6. Contre Jour
This lovely physics puzzler began life on mobile, but its landscape-warping nature works well in the browser.
The aim is to get trundling protagonist Petit to a glowing exit. This involves click-dragging malleable hills to influence Petit’s movements, or using catapults and dangling tentacles to fling him about.
Petit’s endearingly grumpy demeanor, combined with great-looking visuals and clever level design, makes for a family-friendly puzzler sure to have kids scratching their heads figuring out all the solutions.
Play Contre Jour online. The game is also available in paid form on various mobile platforms
7. Escape Goat
The clue’s in the title here – a leaping bovid wants to reach the exit. But doing so requires brainpower, plenty of dextrous jumping, and the occasional help of a friendly mouse.
Mostly, you’re aiming to reach and butt switches that shift rocks and create tunnels in cunningly designed single-screen challenges. But planning’s often required to collect keys, and not get squashed when walls start moving.
Oddly, when you send the mouse on a mission, you can teleport to its position. Quite why the goat can’t teleport straight to the exit, we’ve no idea. Goats never were the brightest creatures.
This side-on dungeon crawler with a distinctly Indiana Jones vibe became a big indie hit on handhelds, but started life on the PC. Today, there are various ways to play early incarnations of the game for free.
Although this take is rougher than modern iterations, it remains engaging. You explore caves, bounding about, grabbing bling, and duffing up monsters. Each game is unique – caves are randomly generated, and a single error can bring your quest to an abrupt end, with you impaled on spikes or killed by snakes. So tread carefully and look before you leap.
9. VVVVVV: Make and Play Edition
One for kids who are a bit older and twitchier of thumb, this take on gravity-flip platformer VVVVVV is a special free edition. Like the paid release, it features a little chap who darts about and can leap from ceiling to floor by tapping the jump button.
His aim is to escape from a maze comprising dozens of single screens full of spikes and roaming enemies. This free edition includes maps created by fans – and the means to build your own.
10. Super Crate Box
This one’s also in the twitchy thumbs category, and finds a little pixelated chap leaping about, trying to grab crates. All the while, he must blast creatures spilling into the screen, lest they hurl themselves into the flames below and emerge from the top furiously angry.
The game is fast-paced, entertaining, and has plenty of weapons and arenas to unlock. And although it’s a shooter, we can’t imagine many parents will be too concerned about their kid taking a cartoon bazooka to a conga of green monsters.