By Bev Bachel
If your kids are 10 and under, there’s a wide range of educational apps that can help make their screen time more valuable. But with thousands of available apps, how do you know which are truly educational? “You can’t always trust the top downloads on the app store or Google Play,” says Colleen Russo, a Vanderbilt University education expert. Instead, she suggests starting with consumer review sites such as Common Sense Media, which rates apps based on their educational merit and how age-appropriate they are.
Russo also suggests looking for a well-defined interface. In other words, a good app for children should allow them to tap or trace outside the lines, and won’t leave them feeling frustrated if the app is unforgiving of their imperfect touch. “Also, apps will ideally notice if your child keeps getting something wrong and prompt him or her to revisit the original lesson,” adds Russo. Clear instructions are also a must, as is a parent/teacher section that explains the intended educational gains and the research behind the app.
Russo has spent time evaluating hundreds of apps, and the following are six educational apps (available in the iTunes or Google Android stores) that she recommends, along with why your kids (and you!) will love them:
Ages: 5 and under
Juggle. Kind. Quarrel. These are just a few of the words kids will have fun learning with the adorable monsters in this ABC and vocabulary-building app. Each word features an interactive puzzle with talking letters and a short animation illustrating the definition.
Nosy Crow eBooks
Ages: 3 and up
From classics like Cinderella to originals like Baby Aliens Got My Teacher, Nosy Crow ebooks offer a variety or reading opportunities for kids of all ages.
Gracie and Friends
Ages: 4 and up
This suite of math apps is based on research and funded by the National Science Foundation. The apps teach important math building blocks and allow kids to progress at their own pace.
Ages: 3 and up
Turn screen time into learning and decision-making time with Motion Math’s suite of fun problem-solving math games for kids of all ages. The Hungry Guppy game teaches pre-schoolers how to count and do basic addition using simplified touch-and-drag functions that are a perfect fit for their less-precise fingers, while the Cupcake and Pizza games teach kids ages 8 and up the math they need to know—everything from purchasing supplies to delivering orders—to own their own bakery or pizzeria.
Ages: 7 and up
Help launch kids into outer space by giving them access to NASA TV and thousands of photos and videos with this official NASA app. Gravity-defying, it’s jam-packed with information on astronomy and the U.S. space program.
Sid’s Science Fair
Based on the Sid the Science Kid show on PBS, this app teaches kids a variety of basic science concepts at three different science stations: Collection Inspection teaches kids the power of observation, Chart It helps them categorize and sort objects by color, shape, size, and other criteria, and Time Machine enables them to see specific processes in action, like a snowman melting, a flower growing, or an apple being eaten.
Freelance writer Bev Bachel lives in Minneapolis and uses her phone to talk, text and email friends and family around the world. She’s the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal
and Go For It!