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16 great educational apps to get kids ready to go back to school — handpicked by the experts

Image Credit: Aurimas/Flickr

Ah, summer vacation. A time for kids to relax, have fun… and forget everything they learned during the school year.

Fortunately, there are a wealth of educational apps that can help keep kids brains engaged and lessen the impact of summer learning loss. But, with so many available, it’s difficult to know what’s actually worth downloading.

With that in mind, GamesBeat reached out to teachers and education experts who know their way around the mobile marketplace. They’ve selected some of their favorite iOS and Android apps to help keep kids learning, and having fun, over the long summer vacation.

Below are the 16 apps they picked. Some cost a few dollars, but most are free to download and use straight away.


Pet Bingo

Who it’s for: Ages 4-10
Pricing: $1.99 on iOS, $0.99 on Android
Available from: Google Play, iTunes
In a nutshell: Collect pets while practicing math facts

Pet Bingo

Above: Best remember your math facts if you want to keep your pets happy.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

Pet Bingo gets kids to practice their addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication skills and adapts to their progress as they go.

“Knowing your math facts is a necessary skill for being successful in math, and this app presents learning in a fun way to make knowing math facts automatic,” said Google certified teacher and education technology specialist Juli Kimbley.

Kids can earn pets and pet food by completing the challenges, and adults can keep track of progress in the “report card.”


ChatterPix Kids

Who it’s for: Ages 6-12
Pricing: Free
Available from: iTunes
In a nutshell: Get kids talking as they bring inanimate objects to life

ChatterPix Kids

Above: You can bring everyday objects to life with ChatterPix Kids

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

ChatterPix Kids turns any doodle or photo into a talking message. Simply draw a line where you want the mouth and record your message. Kind of goofy, but any app that gets kids speaking and listening is good, right?

K-5 teacher Terri Eichholz recommended Chatter Pix, having used it in class. She pointed out that kids using Chatter Pix should maybe be taught that “talking mouths look kind of creepy on top of noses and even creepier on pin-sized heads.”


Tynker

Who it’s for: Ages seven and up
Pricing: Free for basic version (iOS only), $4.99 for Tynker Premium
Available from: Google Play, iTunes
In a nutshell: Learn to code by playing games and solving puzzles

Tynker

Above: Tynker is great way for kids to start coding.

Image Credit: Tynker

Tynker is a great example of an app that teaches kids to code. They can start out solving puzzles, move on to remixing ready-made games, then create projects of their own.

“The iPad app allows kids to intuitively build small programs by stacking command blocks on top of each other,” said Raj Sidhu, creator of the Code Monkey Island board game. “Coupled with its colorful environments, simple objectives, and helpful debugger, Tynker makes for an engaging resource for kids ages seven and up.”


Penultimate

Who it’s for: All ages
Pricing: Free
Available from: iTunes
In a nutshell: Unlock the writing potential of your iPad

Penultimate

Above: Penultimate offers what is described Evernote describes as “the most natural digital handwriting experience.”

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

Penultimate is a free app that offers what publisher Evernote describes as the “most natural digital handwriting experience” available on the iPad. Penultimate automatically disregards palm movement on the screen; only intentional marks appear.

Perfect for taking notes, keeping a journal, or sketching, Penultimate notes will sync to your Evernote account for posterity.

French teacher and Teaching with iPad founder Steve Lai thinks Penultimate is a great way for parents to share the process of writing and spelling with their kids. “Parents can use this app to quickly write words directly on the iPad screen for their kids to read,” he said. “On the flip side, parents can dictate words and have their kids spell them.”


Presidents vs. Aliens

Who it’s for: Ages nine and up
Pricing: $0.99 (with a free “Lite” version on iOS)
Available from: Google Play, iTunes
In a nutshell: Shoot aliens and learn your presidents

Presidents vs Aliens

Above: Yep, that’s Ronald Reagan.

Image Credit: Google Play

Not many apps let you fling U.S. presidents at invading aliens, so when one comes along it kind of stands out.

“This game is several games in one,” said Juli Kimbley. Children can “learn facts about the presidents and the order in which they served and practice that information in fun ways. They can find the president who succeeded another president, recognize which president is which, place them in order, and eliminate the aliens from the board for another fun challenge.”

The Counting Kingdom

Who it’s for: Ages 6-8
Pricing: $9.99 on PC/Mac — iOS price not yet announced
Available from: Steam
In a nutshell: Magic, math, and tower defense

The Counting Kingdom

Above: The Counting Kingdom combines magic, math, and tower defense.

Image Credit: Little Worlds Interactive

So, The Counting Kingdom wasn’t actually recommended to us, but this math and magic game was just too darn irresistible not to include in our round-up. The fact that it’s recently been announced as one of the “Pax 10” — a list of the best indie games around chosen by 50 industry experts — demonstrates its pedigree.

Developed with teachers, The Counting Kingdom has kids play as a wizard, using math spells to defend the realm from invading monsters. Developer Little Worlds Interactive says it believes in “making educational games that kids want to play.”

The Counting Kingdom isn’t actually out on iOS until later this year, but it is currently available for PC and Mac via Steam.


Photo Mapo

Who it’s for: Ages four and up
Pricing: $0.99
Available from: iTunes
In a nutshell: Create beautiful annotated maps of your summer travels

Photo Mapo

Above: Photo Mapo turns photographs into a geography lesson.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

Photo Mapo is a neat little app that turns photographs into what look pages from an explorer’s notebook. It’s perfect for kids travelling around this summer as they can create lasting reminders of the places they visit.

“Photo Mapo is a free iOS app that should not be overlooked,” said Terri Eichholz. “It offers 13 different styles, and you can determine what shows on your ‘postcard’, such as the zoom level of the map, the date, or the latitude and longitude. “


Easy Blog Jr.

Who it’s for: Ages four and up
Pricing: $3.99
Available from: iTunes
In a nutshell: Blog before you can even write

Easy Blog Jr.

Above: Easy Blog Jr. lets kids blog before they can even write.

Image Credit: The Easy App Company

Easy Blog Jr. gets very young children using language and recording their thoughts. It allows them to post photos, video, and voice-over photos to Blogger, with no reading or writing required. In a neat touch, it features audio help and prompts voiced by a child.

“The reason I think this app has value is that it helps younger children develop their language composing skills without having to do any writing,” said educator and technology access activist Phil Shapiro.

“They need to organize the thoughts that speak into the app to accompany the photos they take. This gives them ‘writing’ practice without doing any writing. Immensely valuable for people with learning disabilities or motor coordination delays.”


Endless Alphabet

Who it’s for: Ages 3-7
Pricing: Free with in-app purchases on Android, $6.99 on iOS
Available from: Google Play, iTunes

Endless Reader

Who it’s for: Ages 3-7
Pricing: Free with in-app purchases
Available from: iTunes

Endless Numbers

Who it’s for: Ages 3-7
Pricing: Free with in-app purchases
Available from: iTunes

Endless Alphabet

Above: A monster from Endless Alphabet.

Image Credit: Originator

Josh Allen, instructional technology facilitator at Papillion-La Vista Schools, Omaha, picked out the Endless series for special attention.

“Endless Reader is a perfect follow-up to the critically acclaimed Endless Alphabet,” said Allen. “Once kids learn their letters, they need to work on sight words, right?”

“When you download the free Endless Reader, you get six teaser words that will give you a good feel for how the app works,” he explained. “Click on any word and the cutest, craziest looking monsters mess up all of the letters in that word. When you begin dragging the letter, it turns into a wiggly monster whose only language is that of a letter sound. Kids love it!”

Allen pointed out that the apps aren’t without their flaws, such as the fact that the letter sounds in Endless Reader don’t always match the words they’re in (such as the ‘e’s in the word “please”). However, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

“If you have kids in the 3-7 year old range, check out the entire Endless series,” said Allen. “The apps are so well crafted and the in-app purchases bring extra content and enjoyment to your devices. Your kids will love being able to help the monsters build words, sentences and numbers!”

Lego Movie Maker

Who it’s for: Ages four and up (younger kids may need help)
Pricing: Free
Available from: Google Play, iTunes
In a nutshell: Make movies with your Legos

Lego Movie Maker

Above: Make the next great Lego movie at home.

Image Credit: Lego

Lego Movie Maker lets kids unleash their inner Spielberg, turning their Lego bricks and figures into stop motion animations. The app lets you add soundtracks, color filters, dialog cards, and sound effects to your animation.

“I have several students who love using it for Genius Hour [time set aside for kids to pursue their own passions in the classroom],” said teacher Terri Eichholz.


Write to Read

Who it’s for: Ages 6-8
Pricing: $6.99
Available from: iTunes
In a nutshell: Kids and parents create books together

Write to Read

Above: Parents and kids can “co-author” books with Write to Read.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

Write to Read is a “co-authoring” tool for parents and children to share. Children can take pictures and write or talk about their content, making up their own books to read and share. You can print, email, and post these books directly to social media from the app.

“Children can easily create their own books at their own level,” said Teaching with iPad founder Steve Lai. “Parents can choose to add a ‘corrected’ version, so the children can learn to correctly spell the words to the stories that they created.”


Klikaklu

Who it’s for: Perfect for adults and kids to share
Pricing: Free (with an optional paid upgrade)
Available from: iTunes
In a nutshell: Turn the everyday into a treasure hunt

Klikaklu

Above: Klikaklu lets you build photo hunts for your family and friends.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

Kliaklu (pronounced Click-a-clue) is a photo hunt game that makes use of your phone’s GPS, camera, and image-matching technology. Take pictures of the environment and get others to hunt them down — matching an image will unlock a clue and trigger the next image to find. It could be a great way of turning a familiar place into something a little more exciting this summer.

Terri Eichholz picked out Klikaklu, saying it “could be used by parents to create fun scavenger hunts for their kids.”

Eichholz used the app last year to make finding Christmas presents into a treasure hunt for her 11-year-old daughter: “I did a simple one using images from around the house. For each image, I input a clue with a letter. After seven images and clues, my daughter had to unscramble the letters to find her gift.” Apparently, it was a great success.


Alligator Apps: Sight Words

Who it’s for: Ages 3-9
Pricing: Free
Available from: iTunes
In a nutshell: Learn to recognize key words

Sight Words

Above: Sight Words is minimalistic but effective.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

If Sight Words looks simple, that’s because it is. But this simplicity is perhaps its main strength.

Sight Words contains 315 of the most commonly used words in the English language, helping children learn to recognize these by sight.  Add your own words, customize the word sets, record your own voiceovers and sounds, and change fonts and colors. All for free.

“From preschool to third grade, students can practice their sight words and can even customize cards by adding their own categories and flashcards,” said Steve Lai.


Hopscotch

Who it’s for: Ages eight and up
Pricing: Free
Available from: iTunes
In a nutshell: Inspired by Scratch, designed for iPad

Hopscotch

Above: Hopscotch uses a range of cute characters to help teach coding.

Image Credit: Hopscotch

Another well-respected coding app, Hopscotch lets kids use simple, colorful building blocks to create apps, animations, and games.

“Hopscotch has a great tutorial video [embedded below],” said teacher Terri Eichholz, “and that’s what really helped me. I have messed around with Hopscotch but never really knew what to do with it or how to break it down for the students.”

Watching and coding along to the video offers kids a great introduction to Hopscotch, which is free to download.

11 comments
ParrotFish Studios
ParrotFish Studios

Nice list! Sight word apps are really great for children. We have also developed one. An educational App, developed by a Special Ed teacher that can be used for any child learning sight words. The app is available on Google Play, Apple iTunes and Amazon.


A set of six games, 10 levels that use sound teaching techniques that develop skills that can be applied to all reading and learning situations. The games develop auditory and visual discrimination, auditory and visual memory, fine motor skills, one to one matching, fluency, and confidence to apply reading strategies in a non-threatening environment.

Please visit and download here to try: 
http://parrotfish.com.au/

Angela Eller
Angela Eller

My class loved learning through music with Common Core Rap app.  They were featured in the Orlando Sentinel, West Orange Times, and Daily Commercial.  16 educational song videos that  are perfect for all students – Content is built around Common Core concepts and provides unique, engaging learning experiences for all types of learners (audial, visual, kinesthetic).

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/common-core-rap/id880498165?mt=8

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/blogs/gone-viral/os-common-core-rap-20140710,0,4380663.post

Robert Scoble
Robert Scoble

That assumes we use iPads for anything but babysitting!

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