3 amazing apps for kids

Image credits: iStock and Oo Gin Lee

With thousands of educational apps in the marketplace, it can be hard picking the right ones for your kids. Here are 3 that are worth downloading.

Pleco Chinese Dictionary (iOS, Android)

Pleco Chinese Dictionary

There are many Chinese-English dictionaries out there but here is one that my family swears by. ‘Pleco’ has over one million downloads and lets you get your translations for free. Single word definitions are easy but many dictionaries out there often stumble when it comes to lesser-known Chinese idioms and phrases. Not with ‘Pleco’, which has an amazing 130,000 Chinese word database and 20,000 examples of how to use a specific word correctly in a sentence.

Instead of messing around with the tiny Chinese keyboard on your phone, ‘Pleco’ has a simple drawing tool that lets you write out the word with finger strokes on the touch screen. Don’t worry if your handwriting is bad because the app is smart enough to offer suggestions based on what you scrawl.

But the killer feature is that you can aim your smartphone camera at an unfamiliar Chinese word or phrase to get its pinyin equivalent, kind of like Google Translate. There is even an option to get the meaning in English if you purchase an add-on.

You can also listen to the pronunciation by a native Chinese speaker to make sure you have the correct intonation. Can’t figure the correct stroke order of the character? There’s a solution for that too with animated diagrams showing you the right way to write it.

There is also a built-in flashcard system (available as an add-on) that allows you learn new vocabulary by creating flashcards based on dictionary entries. ‘Pleco’ is a lifesaver for the Chinese language learner.

Autodesk SketchBook (iOS, Android)

Autodesk SketchBook

Used by professional artists and budding amateurs alike, ‘Autodesk SketchBook’ is one of the most recognised free drawing tools out there. Choose from a wide variety of digital pencils, pens, markers and brushes to let your child bring his or her imagination to life through a combination of outlining and colouring.

These brushes are customisable so the user can adjust the thickness and opacity of each brush stroke. You can also zoom in to specific areas of the drawing to add finer details, and record the drawing process like a video to show others how you do it. Budding artists can also use this to get tips from experts and peers on how to improve their strokes.

Because it’s digital, kids can easily undo errors on the spot and keep practising until they are satisfied with the final product.

Layering lets users superimpose their art over a background of their choice, and even edit both the main picture and the background separately.

A cool feature for younger kids is the ability to import a black-and-white image and then use the app to colour the drawing, much like a digital colouring book. Many manga artists swear by Copic markers which let them blend different colours together to create more vivid and lively images. ‘Autodesk SketchBook’ also has digital Copic markers though you’ll need to purchase them in-app or be a SketchBook Pro member to access them.

Phonics Studio (iOS)

Phonics Studio

Recommended by a speech therapist, this amazing phonics app is a great learning tool for kids who are learning to pronounce their words. I used this on my five-year-old and she was simply fascinated by it. The self-learning app lets you choose an alphabet for your child to try out. Within each alphabet, there is an array of sounds associated with it. For instance, there are three choices of core sounds for the letter ‘B’ – ‘ball’ (beginning), ‘lobster’ (middle) and ‘cab’ (end). There are also two blended sounds for ‘B’ – ‘bl’ as in ‘block’ and ‘br’ as in ‘broccoli’.

After selecting the sound, your child is shown a series of pictures with the corresponding words. Your child can hit the play button to hear the recorded pronunciation for each picture and then hit the record button to start his or her own recording. You can play the recording and “mark” the pronunciation as correct or wrong. I found my child trying countless times to “get it right” by re-recording her pronunciations until I marked them with a tick.

The app records your child’s attempts and tracks their progress for each phonic sound, so you can see at a glance which sounds require more practice.


Oo Gin Lee is the founder of Gloo PR. He is a father of three girls aged 14, 11 and five.

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