Old Favourites for Little Ones – Top 5

We were having a bit of a virtual clear out this weekend – also known as ‘deleting stuff off the iPad to make more room’ – and with quite a few apps and games aimed at a younger audience going in this latest round of housekeeping, I thought it might make a good post to share with you a Top 5 list of old favourites suitable for younger gamers, up to around five-years old.

Talking PierreNumber 5 – Talking…Tom Cat, Pierre, Ben the Dog, Roby the Robot…

All of these apps proved popular with young HopperBoy (from age 2+ I’d say). They are very easy to navigate and have options for them to do cheeky things, like dance, jump out on one another or ‘squirt’ you with water from the taps. Most kids seem to like the fact that they will repeat what you say to them, in their own funny voice. These apps are produced by Outfit 7 and follow similar patterns for each character – the only draw-back, in my opinion, is the in-app purchase options to dress up the characters, that kids will often see and want to add to the basic game.

Minion Rush Game

Number 4 – Despicable Me: Minion Rush

Very similar to Temple Run game this is a great Minion-themed version for children – running through familiar scenes from the films. With fun extras to use as you go, such as the freeze gun, this is a nice alternative to the adult versions of the ‘running’ games. There are additional challenges you can complete as you go along – collecting bananas, going certain distances without collecting coins, using freeze-ray six times, etc. – that give older kids something to aim for. For younger ones, they can get some finger-eye co-ordination practice as they leap the obstacles.


Number 3 – Fun ‘Physics’ Games

There are a lot of these games around, where you use basic ideas such as gravity, changing states from water to steam to ice, etc. to complete the levels in little puzzle games. Two of our long-standing favourites of this type of game were Sprinkle Junior (and if you like it – there is a grown-up version, which I also recommend) and Where’s My Water?Sprinkle Jr

Sprinkle Junior is aimed at under 5s (best suited 2-4 years I’d estimate, as it could be too easy for some older ones and there are only around 20-levels which might not prove challenging enough for more experienced baby-gamers). The player takes on the role of a mini-fire fighter who use their water hoses to tackle little hut fires and save their friends. In early levels, the players need to work out how height and angle of the hoses affect the distances the water will travel – later on, you might have to blast away obstacles first to reach the fires. It’s a good introduction to puzzle-solving games and isn’t too hard, or too easy and so holds attention well. If this looks too easy, then go straight for the original to challenge them further.

Where's My WaterOnce they’ve mastered Sprinkle Junior they can graduate to the slightly more difficult Where’s My Water? from Disney games. There is a ‘lite’ version of this that you can try, to see if your child enjoys it enough to make the purchase. In this game, you use your finger to create paths through soil to direct water to various machines, as you try and get it back to the tank for Swampy’s shower, without losing too much along the way. It is the game that spawned a hundred copies – but this is still the best and has plenty of levels and new add-in content (without additional cost) which should keep them going for a while.

Are they old enough Logo

Want a second opinion on app age ratings?

Check out the Are They Old Enough? site, which gives you a lot of detail on game content, as well as a ‘voted for by parents’ age range guide for many games, apps, TV shows and movies. Here’s the link to the Where’s My Water? page.


Puppet Pals - Kids GameNumber 2 – Puppet Pals

Any budding directors or actors out there? Puppet Pals is a great little app that allows your child to build their own sets, move characters around the stage, add voice-overs and then record them in the app to replay as mini-films. As well as a large range of existing character templates, they can also use their pictures from their tablet files to make new characters with friends and family! It is lots of fun watching the stories they create with you 🙂 This was a free app, so even better and is a good way to get their creative juices going, practicing story-telling skills as well as letting them flex their dramatic skills. Interesting for older ones, as well as little ones.


Number 1Anything Toca Boca!

The Toca Boca app series is one of the best and as the collection continues to grow all the time, there’s probably even better stuff now than there was when we discovered them four years ago. Although you pay a small amount for each app, you benefit from no in-app purchases and third-party ads – plus most of them have a ‘free trial’ or ‘lite’ option, which means that you can see whether it is interesting for your little one or not, before you purchase.


Several of the apps take a favourite kids game – such as ‘playing shop’ – and add a neat electronic twist, giving you ‘Toca Store’ where you can layout items in your shop for sale; decide how much to charge for each, take money from customers and use a little till. ‘Toca Doctor’ takes your child’s medical make-believe play to a whole new level, with little illnesses and minor injuries for them to investigate and treat.

Some of our other favourite Toca Boca apps are:

Toca Hair Salon – wash, blow-dry, cut, colour and more – with lots of different characters to choose from, including animals, this provided endless opportunities for creating whacky styles!

Toca Kitchen – you guessed it: there’s a fridge full of food and all the equipment you might need to conjure up a culinary masterpiece (or even more fun, mix together the strangest ingredients or don’t cook them well and your computerised guests are not going to be happy).

TOca Band

And my personal favourite! Toca Band – a variety of crazy-looking creatures make a range of different sounds to various rhythms, that you can easily blend together to make interesting tunes. Move them from one level to another to change the tune they play. As much fun for grown-ups as it is for kids, just make sure that you let them have a go 🙂

You can find out more about Toca Boca, their ethos and apps here: http://tocaboca.com/

Phew! That was a trip down memory lane. Hope you’ve found something good to share with your mini-gamers here – If there’s any great apps you think should have appeared here, then let us know in the Comments below.

Minecraft Servers – How do I use them?

Following on from the ‘Minecraft Servers – What are they?’ post, this article aims to help you understand the basics of Minecraft servers and how you can use them. This information is for the PC/Mac version of Minecraft only. I understand there are a few family-friendly servers for the Pocket Edition and Xbox versions of Minecraft, the vast majority of servers work with the PC/Mac version, which is what we’ve been using.

Server Basics You Need to Know

Before you join a public server, there are some basic things you and your child need to know:

  • Spawn Points: Just as in ‘normal’ Minecraft, when you join a server game your player will usually spawn (start) at a set point in the world, this is often referred to simply as ‘spawn’. The spawn point may be in some kind of lobby area, with lots of signs telling you about the world and rules for playing (if appropriate) or it may be in the centre of a main playing area, such as a city. You can usually type the command /spawn to return to your spawn point within the game. On some servers you will spawn in an area the first time of use only, so that you can read information about using the world, they will then allow you to set your own spawn point for future visits, or might set one for you that means you don’t have to read the rules every time you play.
  • Speaking of ‘Rules’: Nearly all servers will have some rules to follow as to what you can and cannot do. The family-friendly servers tend to have a big list of strict rules, which will include things like bad language and virtual bullying and/or ‘griefing’ (see below). Make sure you read all the rules thoroughly, especially if you’ve got younger Minecrafters – they might find this bit a little dull and need your help picking up the key bits relevant to them. (When you first join some servers – like Cubeville – they make you to walk past lots of signs with the rules on and then you have to read FAQs at the end, before you can go into the world).  If you don’t follow the rules, you can be banned temporarily or even permanently from the server. Having a little pad to hand, where you can jot down specific commands for that server can also be handy and save you having to open up FAQs in the text chat box all the time!
  • Griefing: A potential issue on public servers is griefing. Griefing is a term used to cover activities like demolishing other players’ buildings or stealing their stuff (anything from harvesting their crops to stealing from their chests). A lot of the servers we’ve come across — but not all — use special plug-ins to stop griefing. Typically these plug-ins will let you lock your chests, doors and furnaces, as well as protecting buildings or outside spaces for any patch of land you claim as your own, which stops anyone else from breaking blocks or building within your claimed area. For added protection, griefing is usually forbidden in the server rules and so anyone caught griefing will be warned and then banned. The ‘Admins’ and teams who run the servers can also often assist with returning missing items or reverting a building back to the condition is was in before griefing occurred. Phew! 🙂
  • What is the difference between a server and a world? A server is usually a single public location which hosts several ‘worlds’ that you can move between, simply by logging in to the one server. For example, if you go into the Hypixel server, you go into a main central area, where you’ll see lots of other Minecrafters running around, and you can select which specific mini-game world you wish to visit from there. To move between this main central area and the other worlds you go to specific points, that are clearly labelled and teleport from there into the game you’ve chosen.
  • Text Chat: Minecraft has built-in text chat (the ‘T’ key), which is the default way that your kid will communicate with other players. Chat can be public or private (one-to-one). To use this function your child will need reasonable reading and typing skills – chat can move quite quickly, with mods and other players offering tips to you via this message panel. It’s not essential for them to be able to use it fully, but it will help them get the most out of the game. If you’re around, you can always help them out, or one of the things we’ve done it use the ‘typing practice’ programs to help speed up HopperBoy’s typing, which will make it easier for him to communicate during online play. Bad language? Most of the family-friendly servers employ automatic filtering to prevent swearing in text chat. As with all online chat, make sure you remind your kid never to give out personal details when chatting, although they are in a game, they are still strangers.
  • Voice Chat: Some servers can link up with voice chat servers such as MumbleTeamSpeak or Ventrilo which enable players to speak with one other while playing. We’ve not ventured down this route at all – I’d be happier for him to improve his typing skills! If you do want to use this option with your child, you will need to look at what safe guards you can put in place to be careful about who they’re talking to, and what they’re talking about…
  • Using Server Commands: Server commands are a big part of server gaming and will help you get the most out of online playing. To use them you’ll need to give various commands to the server as you play, usually by pressing the / (slash) key, followed by the command name and, sometimes, some extra text – e.g. /home teleports you to your home point (as you’ve set in the game). The commands vary from server to server, but you pick them up quickly – the notepad mentioned above can be useful for this! – also, there’s usually a command, such as /help that brings up a list of all the usable commands for that server if you get stuck.
  • Using mods: We’ve got a few mods loaded up for Minecraft, but a lot of the servers don’t allow the use of mods inside their worlds – perhaps for cheating, but also because of compatibility issues. In general, we’ve just logged in to the server using the ‘vanilla’ profile and avoided any issues.


So, I think that’s it for the basic ‘things to know’ – let’s get onto a server!


Joining a Public Minecraft Server

Joining a public Minecraft server is actually quite easy – certainly easier than loading mods can be!!

  1. Open the Minecraft game launcher and click ‘Play’ to run the main Minecraft game.
  2. When you reach the main title screen, click ‘Multiplayer’.
  3. In this new screen you will see any servers you have previously loaded up to link to. If it’s your first time, then it will obviously be empty, but you can click ‘Add Server’ button to add the server.
  4. On the new screen you can type in a Name for your server, to easily identify it. You should then type in the server location (IP) such as ‘mc.hypixel.net’
  5. Click ‘Done’, to go back to the main page.
  6. You should now have a server that you can highlight and then click ‘Join Server’ to take you straight through to the game world.


Troubleshooting Public Minecraft Servers

Compatibility – The first and most obvious issue might be that the profile that you’re trying to join the server with is too high or too low for their version. i.e. if the main Minecraft game is now running on 1.9, but the server is set up for 1.8.3 and you go in on that profile, it won’t allow you on.

This can be easily resolved (in a similar way to how you create the right profiles to use various versions of mods), by creating a new user profile from the Minecraft launcher to add to your drop-down list on the main page:

Screen shot 2016-03-29 at 19.24.20

On this screen, click ‘New Profile’ button in bottom left-hand corner.


Screen shot 2016-03-29 at 19.26.51

On the next screen, it will normally say ‘Always Use Latest Version’ in the ‘Use version’ drop-down box. This is where you should click and select the correct, compatible release version of Minecraft to match with the server you want to join. To help me remember which is which, I update the profile name to include the release number after my name. Click ‘Save Profile’ when you’ve done this.

If you now log back in to the Multiplayer Game – as per instructions above – the server game should be ready and waiting for you to join! 🙂

Screen shot 2016-03-29 at 19.28.23


Whitelisting – This is where a server is protected by a ‘whitelist’ – essentially a list of usernames that are permitted to join the server. If your name is not on that list, then you will not be allowed to join.

In order to join a whitelisted server you need to apply to have your Minecraft username added to their list (usually via a form on their website). Sometimes it will clear in a few hours, others take a few days. You will need to make a separate application for each Minecraft username that you wish to add. Once you’re on the whitelist, you should be able to join the server via the same process outlined above.

Whitelisted servers do offer an extra element of reassurance that the users are known to the server administrators.


That’s it for now! Hopefully with the above instructions you’ve got everything you need to join multiplayer Minecraft worlds on public servers. As this is quite new for HopperBoy and me, we’ll be trying out some of the servers we’ve found in the next few weeks and drop some reviews on here to let you know what we think.