12 things your child can do with a smartphone

Smartphones and kids
Whether they’ve got their very own phone for the first time or just love to commandeer yours, there are learning experiences aplenty at your child’s fingertips. We’ve rounded up 12 screentime activities you don’t need to feel guilty about.

1. Go geocaching

Most of us associate screentime with being shut up indoors, but geocaching – a kind of high tech treasure hunt – is brilliant for getting your child outside.

The idea is that you use your phone’s GPS to track down a geocache: a container that has been hidden by a member of the public, who has posted its coordinates online. On finding the geocache, you record your details on the logbook inside it, and hide it again in the same place.

Many geocaches also contain a small treasure, such as an item of stationery, keyring or little toy, but if you take something away, etiquette says you have to replace it with something for someone else to find, so make sure you take some swag with you on your geocache hunt.

2. Listen to an audiobook

Listening to audiobooks has many benefits for children, helping them become better readers, get used to the rhythm and flow of stories, and access books that would be beyond their reading age.

Websites like Audible have huge ranges of children’s books to download to your phone, and many libraries loan children’s audiobooks free of charge. They’re perfect for beating boredom on long car journeys, or just for giving your child some quiet time at home.

3. Master spellings, times tables and more

There’s no need to feel guilty about screentime if your child is learning something new at the same time, so why not download some educational games-based apps?

We’ve rounded up the very best children’s apps for mastering spellings, times tables, phonics, addition, subtraction and more. Many of them have multiplayer functions, so siblings can compete against each other, and kids will also enjoy trying to beat their own highest scores.

4. Become a junior photographer

Kids love taking photos with mum or dad’s phone, but rather than letting them snap an endless stream of selfies, why not take the opportunity to teach them how to make their shots more professional?

They can experiment with using different filters, practise taking panoramic and macro (extreme close-up) photos, and even take underwater pics if you have a decent waterproof case.

They could also try their hand at photojournalism and use a camera phone to document their summer holiday or weekend activities.

5. Track their activity

Child obesity is a constant concern, and screentime is often cited as one of the reasons today’s kids are less active than in previous generations, but smartphones can actually help your child get out and about and move more.

Most phones have inbuilt fitness trackers that record their activity level throughout the day (and if not, you can download an app), and children will get a kick out of challenging themselves to do their daily steps or see how many kilometres they’ve walked.

6. Keep tabs on your child

When your child is old enough for their own smartphone, installing an app that lets you track their whereabouts will give you peace of mind if they’re out and about alone or with friends.

There are lots of family finder apps that will link your phone with theirs and show you their location on a map so you’re not worrying about where they are and what they’re getting up to.

7. Get involved with household tasks

Everyday life is full of learning opportunities for kids, and adding a smartphone to the mix could make your child a more willing helper.

They could look up a recipe on the phone and follow the instructions to bake a cake, take charge of the weekly shopping list using an online supermarket, plan a route for a daytrip, check the weather forecast before a family outing: there are so many possibilities.

8. Make their own movie

If your child is part of the YouTube generation, chances are they’re obsessed with making home videos, and using a smartphone allows them to become the director of their own mini movies.

Stop-motion animation is a particularly satisfying activity for them to get stuck into, using Lego minifigures, playdough models or even their own drawings: check out our guide to three animation activities they can try at home.

9. Borrow a library book

Having a phone on hand means your child need never be without reading material (although to avoid eyestrain, it’s probably best to limit the time they spend reading on their phone).

Many libraries hire out children’s e-books that can be accessed on your phone. We also love the Me Books app, which brings together a collection of hundreds of kids’ books, comics and magazines, from Biff, Chip and Kipper to The Beano, and is recommended by the National Literacy Trust.

Readly is a magazine subscription app that gives you access to hundreds of titles (including lots of kids' magazines) on your tablet or smartphone for £7.99 a month.

10. Listen to a podcast

Podcasts are great for filling quiet moments, and there are some fantastic ones out there for kids that pack an educational punch, too.

Our listening list includes Fun Kids Book Club, Fun Kids Science Weekly, philosophy podcast Pickle, CBeebies Radio and the brilliant science and technology themed Wow in the World.

11. Tackle homework

Learning to use the internet for research is a vital skill for primary school children to master, and having a phone at their fingertips gives them access to a virtually unlimited information trove.

They can also use the calculator to check their maths calculations, look words up in online dictionaries and thesauruses, check their spellings – and unlike the family computer, a phone is portable and always connected.

12. Keep in touch with friends and family

It’s often argued that spending too much time on screens is affecting children’s ability to communicate, but let’s not forget that the number one purpose of smartphones is communication – and there are lots of ways for your child to tap into this.

Video calling programs like Skype, Facetime and Viber are great for letting your child keep in touch with friends and family the world over, and as they get older, they can put their written communication skills to the test, sending emails and online messages.