9 Features Found in the BEST Educational Apps for Kids
I have accumulated a short of list of app features that I feel are most appropriate for a successful learning experience.
Having played with countless educational apps for kids, I have shared about these features through this blog, as well as list of features I’d like to see occur more often. I’m sharing these with you here so that you know what to look for when choosing an educational app for your child.
Breaking Down the App Features
Settings for Appropriate Leveling
Kids tend to lose interest when they have to go through levels that are too easy to finally get to the part of the game that is right for them. When apps are being used in the classroom or for home learning, it is important that both parents and teachers are able to set the app according to the child’s needs easily and quickly. One way to do this is to look for an initial assessment of placement that goes beyond the student’s age or grade to ensure proper placement within the app. In addition, listing the skills the child is able to practice in the game helps parents and teachers easily set up the game to engage the student. You should expect this type of customization when using technology with children.
If you are looking for an app for children in second grade and below, narration should be a feature. At these ages, kids are generally not fluent readers. Giving the option to have the text read increases success and motivation to keep using the app. Directions or introductions should be read aloud to the child with the text highlighted as the narration occurs. I recommend that apps for older students have the option for them to tap to hear the text read aloud. Giving this choice creates a nice balance between encouraging independent reading and providing support. Children who are English language learners or who are on a lower reading level benefit from speech support.
More Than Questions to Answer
Learning is more than recalling information. There are a lot of popular apps have children answer factual questions but do not utilize other skills, such as creativity or problem solving skills. Instead of having kids focus their energy on activities to memorize and recall information quickly, add in activities that promote depth of understanding, creativity, critical thinking, real-world applications, or problem solving. Creating a virtual model, making a recording, playing a strategic game, or building something new are all ways to add depth.
Good Music AND a Mute Button
The music in the app should be more than eight bars that repeat. Kids may not balk at the repetitive electronic background music, but it’s fair to say they don’t always enjoy it, and I’m fairly certain you don’t, either. Quiet, melodic music produces a pleasant and calm energy, something that both you and your child will enjoy. The mute button should be obvious as well so that you can easily turn the sound off.
A Settings or Parent Page That Locks Everything That Isn’t Part of the Child’s Activity
In-app purchases don’t trouble me as much as they do many other reviewers, parents, and teachers because I have seen them done very effectively. What I do find distracting are ads, pop-ups, links, social media, or other unrelated visual components that distract the learning in the “kids’ space.” My suggestion is make sure these are locked up on a page that is only accessible by someone who knows how to multiply or follow advanced touch directions. (Remember, though, that children learn to multiply between ages 6-9, so if the app targets that age group, there should be another method to access the locked area.)
Bonus Material on the Settings Page
Inside the Settings section, you should be able to find valuable tools to help your child navigate the app. For example, helpful settings include the ability to check a child’s progress or customize the material, bonus material, and tips for how to extend the learning away from the app.
Accurate Information about the App
The app should focus on the content and skills it consistently promotes instead of skills it doesn’t primarily offer. Just because you have one small problem solving game in the app doesn’t mean it should be marketed as a problem solving app. Be cautious when reading the claims a developer makes about its app. Trusted review services, such as KinderTown provide an unbiased option about the educational features found in the app.
Good Flow to the App
Kids lose focus when they are encouraged to jump around between pages or have to tap Back buttons three times. Within the app, the buttons should be easily designed for going back and forth between pages, using home icons or arrows, for example. These icons help non-readers to navigate the app independently. If the app contains interactivity, make sure it is relevant to the content. If there are have hot spots or interactivity, make sure it is relevant to the content. If kids are practicing their letters, the app should avoid meaningless interactions such as having them tap the cow and listen to it moo over and over again. A more relevant interactivity would include saying the correct letter name and sound. Additionally, the app should lead kids in the direction they should go in the app. Offering too many choices means there may be less focus on the direct activity in which the child should be engaged.
Thoughtful Feedback to Support All Learning
If the app only provides positive feedback for the right answers, kids are not able to practice learning from their mistakes. The app should use incorrect answers as part of the learning process. For example, there should be a visual aid to help comprehend a math problem, such as a grid that coordinates with the multiplication problem. The activities should be structured to have a broader learning goal. Kids love challenge and will spend much more time on an app that delivers an engaging experience. Providing challenge in a structured, supportive environment will be an ultimate win for the child and his learning experience.
Overall the app market has become very competitive, and only apps with the greatest features and child-friendly design tend to make it to the top. Use these features as guidelines to help you choose the best apps for your children and trust KinderTown to help you find the apps that meet these criteria.
Tags: control, features, music, settings, speech
3 Creation Apps to Try with Your Kids
Try these creation apps with your kids; creative play and activities play a central role in a child’s learning and development.
These type of learning experiences help build connections in the brain that foster problem solving and communication skills. Often when kids are actively involved in the learning process they are more likely to remember the learning behind it. For example, you may remember the details of a volcano model that you made and how it erupted because you were actively engaged in the creation experience.
Create something new with virtual trash. Use the spray paint tools to decorate a tin can, a plastic cup, or an old jar to produce a new look. Then use springs to create arms, buttons for eyes, or silly string for hair. Save it to your camera roll when you are finished. Unleash your creativity and then let your child try some offline creative tinkering with similar objects. This app is easy to navigate and it’s easy for kids to work together to make creations. Duckie Deck Trash Toys is appropriate for children ages 3-6 and costs $2.99.
Art Maker by ABC’s Play School offers an engaging scrapbook-style environment for children to create, narrate, and imagine. Children can choose from a variety of backgrounds with characters and objects to which they can add, resize, and manipulate. Each picture can be assembled into a storybook or transformed into an interactive video as your child narrates and moves the images. His creation can then be saved in the app to view again. A very informative “for parents” page gives tips and ideas to help you get started. Art Maker is $2.99 and appropriate for children 3-6.
Toca Builders is a virtual 3D playground where kids use characters to build and create their own unique world. Each character has a different way of contributing to creations in the virtual world. For example, Jum-Jum loves to spray paint (a favorite feature of our child testers) and Connie can lift and move blocks. Your child can create several different play-based worlds within the app that he can add to or adapt later. The app does not include any words or dialog so be sure to take some time to discuss the characters and their abilities, or perhaps create a story about the characters as your child manipulates their world. Toca Builders is a Minecraft inspired app but appropriate for children ages 4-8. Children can demonstrate their creativity as well as spatial relationships within a 3D environment. Be sure to check out their “for parents” section within the app for more ideas. The possibilities are endless for your child’s imagination in the Toca Builders world.
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3 Top Book Creation Apps
Tags: 3d, characters, communication, creation, problem-solving, scrapbook, virtual
The 7 Types of Educational Apps
Many educators and parents are searching for educational apps that provide the best virtual environment for learning to take place. Generally, this means apps that deliver meaningful content with an in-depth experience incorporating discovery and challenge.
These apps are often “free-play” or “choice-filled” games that encourage kids to engage in their own learning. Apps that integrate depth of content and choice empower learners and construct understanding. These apps have activities designed to support the child as they progress and master tasks. This keeps your child in the ideal zone for learning , building on past concepts and challenging them to try something new. Feedback is often provided for parents or teachers through email to let you know how your child is progressing.
However, a lot of educational apps don’t fit this ideal or only offer one of the types of learning experiences listed above. Often they don’t offer children independent choices, and they stay on the surface of educational subjects instead of diving into deep thinking. Is there value in these types of apps, or should parents and teachers not use them? Just because an app doesn’t meet the ideal doesn’t mean there isn’t value in the other experiences. Completing math drills, reviewing grammar skills, or playing puzzle games can support your child’s overall development, too.
To help me make sense of the different types of educational apps and the learning experiences they provide, I have created 7 overlapping categories. Sounds like a lot? It is. Keep in mind that many apps fit into two or three different categories because each provides something a little different to a child’s learning experience.
Breaking Down the 7 Categories
1. Playful Learning
These are the apps that I tend to enjoy the most. They are silly, funny, and open-ended. Just because the educational content doesn’t take the center stage doesn’t mean that your child isn’t learning through play. Play is primary mode of learning for most young children. These apps mirror the free play your child enjoys at home, such as pretending in the kitchen, driving trucks, building with blocks, or playing dress-up. You want these educational apps for your kids because they encourage creativity and lead to more creative, playful experiences away from the app. For example, after playing with a virtual science lab for kids, my daughter asked if she could freeze soap bubbles to see what would happen to the solution. Good examples of this type of app would be the apps made by Toca Boca and Dr. Panda. Try out Toca Lab for a playful science lab your children will love!
When reviewing an eBook for educational content, not just a good read, I look for the experience to encourage learning through listening and observation. eBooks that use meaningful interactivity (not just tap to see what happens) for extra practice and play also fall into this category. It is always exciting to find stories that use interactivity to connect learning experiences and vocabulary to real life. Your child benefits from hearing stories read aloud in order to develop vocabulary, an understanding of story lines, and a love of books, especially during the pre-reading years. Auryn HD- Teddy’s Day, Cinderella by Nosy Crow, and Goodnight Moon are some of my family’s favorites.
These apps usually generate a question and ask the child to choose between three or four choices. I wouldn’t encourage this kind of app for play time, but why not use them for homework and extra practice? Especially if you are replacing the time your child is spending with sheets of paper and pencils, the use of these apps can have many more benefits. They’re great for fluency, test prep, and direct one-step content practice. Be present when your child uses this type of app because often they can choose the wrong answer several times, which creates a less beneficial learning experience. Try out Todo Math and Bluster! Deluxe as examples of workbook/worksheet types of educational apps.
4. Puzzles and Traditional Games
There are now many puzzle, memory, matching, and other classic early learning games available in app form. These apps have the potential to support cognitive development in the same way as traditional games, such as encouraging reasoning skills through a game of Go Fish or developing spatial skills through a classic puzzle. I still believe it is beneficial to dust off the traditional puzzles once in a while, but these apps are really fun for kids, too. There are extra benefits of developing social skills when they include multiple children. Try these apps made for more than one child.
5. Theme Experiences
These apps let your child delve into themes that really interest them. If your child can’t get enough of dinosaurs, why not grab a few dinosaur apps and let them explore? This is similar to going to the library and grabbing a few books. Your child is absorbing so much of their passion that it is hard to keep up, so include iPad apps in their quest for new knowledge. Check out the Science and Social Studies categories in KinderTown to find apps that correlate to your child’s current interests. Barefoot World Atlas, appropriate for ages 4-8, and Geography Drive USA, ages 6-8, are favorites in my house.
6. Interactive Encyclopedias
This one is easy – you get to see videos and images and even play games right in the app. Do I need to say more? These are beneficial because your child is exploring topics of interest. For example, if your child is struggling with understanding the life cycle of plants, an app like this might be the way to make the connections to the content they need. ABC Aquarium is an excellent example of this type of app, appropriate for the youngest learners.
7. BYOC for Kids – Build Your Own Content
These apps are less game-like in structure and have more of an open design that allow kids to create their own unique activities from scratch. The benefit of these apps is building what you want instead of only using pre-made offerings. Create your own machine, design your own work of art, or build a virtual world. These apps are beneficial for parents who want to create a special experience for their child above and beyond traditional learning. Try out Pettson’s Inventions Deluxe, Faces iMake – Premium!, and Toca Builders for engaging experiences that are sure to tempt you to jump in and create alongside your child.
A variety of app options provide an opportunity to search for what is going to suit each child best. There is much more out there than the “gold standard” that gives a valuable learning experience for your child. KinderTown can help you discover the latest and best educational apps for your child.
Tags: creation, ebooks, games, interactive, playful, puzzles, types, virtual
Mud + Mess + Math = Educational Fun!
Young children seem naturally attracted to activities that end up messy. Sometimes, though, creating the messy fun with them can be educational, especially if you think of ways to control the mess. Select an outside area that can easily be hosed down, put on old clothes, and you are ready to create your own Messy Mud Pie Café!
- large basin of water
- measuring tools – teaspoons, tablespoons, measuring cups, liquid measures, kitchen scale, bathroom scale
- old pie pans, muffin tins, or small flat containers
- rolling pin (optional)
- natural “decorations”, such as flowers or twigs (optional)
To create your mud pies, combine approximately 75% mud and 25% sand in a large container. Slowly add the water until it is moist and moldable. Use the rolling pin or just your hands to roll out the mud into pies. Form the “pies” in a muffin tin, old pie pans, or small flat containers. Decorate them with items from your backyard such as flowers, twigs, pine cones, or stones. Put them in the sun to “bake.”
Talk about the time it will take for the mud pie to “bake” (or dry out). (Parents, you might consider creating your own mud pie ahead time and letting it dry to show an example of a baked pie.) Record the guesses. Then check back in at regular intervals, such as 30 minutes, 1 hour, and half a day. Take a picture at different intervals to record how the mud pies are baking.
While the pies are “baking”, consider the following activities:
- Measuring mud. Use the remaining mud to explore different weights and measures. Have your child measure specific amounts of mud. For example, ask your child to measure 1/4 cup of mud and place it in a container. Help your child fully fill the measuring cup and level it to obtain the exact measurement. Then ask your child, “Can you measure ¾ cup of mud?” Place the two containers next to each other and compare the amounts of mud. Which container of mud is more? Which is less?
- Weighing mud. Next, try weighing some mud. First have your child estimate the weight of a particular amount of mud. Then use a scale to weigh the mud. Was your child correct? Next select two different amounts of mud and estimate their weight based on your first measurement; then find the actual weights. Was your estimate more or less than the actual amount?
- Measuring water. Use the remaining water to find volume with different-sized containers. Pour the water into the containers and estimate which container holds more water. Next pour each container into the liquid measure. Was your estimate correct?
Be sure to allow lots of time for free play in addition to your education time with your child. Enjoy the messy fun together!
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Tags: activity, math, measurement, offline, outdoors
End of Summer Activity: Hammering Cotton Balls
What child doesn’t enjoy the act of smashing and breaking? Try this easy activity with your child and enjoy the hammering together and develop gross motor skills in the process.
Hammer Away: Master hammering skills with a toy hammer to smash water beads, hammer golf tees into the bottom of an egg carton, mounds of clay, foam trays, or into the ground. Place flowers (wild flowers, dandelion weeds, etc…) between a folded piece of paper to hammer into flower prints. Try the recipe for making baked cotton balls and have fun crushing them into pieces. (Science)
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup water
- Food coloring
- Cotton balls
- Medium bowl
- Small containers
- Aluminum foil lined baking sheet or pan
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Mix together the 1 cup of water and the 1 cup of flour in the large bowl.
- Spoon the mixture into the smaller containers.
- Add a few drops of food coloring to each container. Stir and mix well.
- Place a cotton ball into each container.
- Coat the cotton ball completely in the mixture.
- Scoop the cotton ball onto the baking sheet.
- Repeat to make to several cotton balls.
- Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes.
- The cotton balls will have a hard coating on the outside when ready.
- Allow the cotton balls to cool thoroughly.
- Let the smashing begin!
Note: If the outer coating is too hard or thick the smashing may require a real hammer. This can be done as a demonstration by an adult or with a small hammer that the child can manage easily at the parent’s discretion.
Tags: activity, motor skills
Back to School Math Apps
This app practices early childhood math concepts through games and videos. Parents, the app will prompt you to select your child’s age and then will adjust the options available for your child. Each concept is segmented into learning modules situated along a path in the woods. For each module there are 3 educational videos that explain the concept to children. They are short and appropriate for the age level of the child. Then your child can complete the practice games. The practice games focus in on early learning concepts such as tracing and counting numbers, basic geometric shapes, ordinal numbers, patterns, and more. The characters in the videos and games are well developed and appealing to young children. This app is subscription-based with various options for monthly or yearly payments. Additionally, there is a free 7-day trial option. Parents, you are able to set up multiple profiles and have each profile be a unique experience for the child. Another great feature to accompany the app is free printable worksheets available on their website to follow up your child’s digital practice. This app is a worthwhile investment for building early learning math skills and is appropriate for children ages 4-8.
Todo Math is a free app designed to practice early childhood math skills. Todo in Spanish means all, which indicates that this app is designed to inspire play with all the early childhood math concepts. It includes 18 multi-level games and has two different types of play: free choice and mission. In mission mode, the app gives a brief overview of each game and guides your child through each game one at a time. In free choice mode, all games are presented, and your child chooses which one they would like to play. It includes multiple levels of math games and includes adaptive play, which means the games automatically adapt to your child’s skill level. Parents, you can sign up for a parent account, which will provide you with a more detailed look at how your child is progressing through the app. Compared to most apps, Todo Math does contain a worthwhile amount of free content to provide practice in many areas of math for children ages 3-6.
Park Math by Duck Duck Moose provides practice in a variety of math concepts without sacrificing depth of learning or fun. Park Math is an extremely thoughtful app that moves users seamlessly through counting, addition, subtraction, sequencing, patterning, and comparing while being developmentally appropriate and engaging. Cheery music and a child’s voice accompany the game play throughout the app. Unlike many of the math apps in the app store, Park Math does not simply have children answering questions or tapping on objects. Park Math integrates three levels of learning into a park theme to practice and investigate math concepts in a meaningful way. Addition and subtraction are practiced in a story problem format, and counting skills are developed in the context of one-to-one correspondence. Thank you, Duck Duck Moose, for creating this engaging and educational environment. Park Math is appropriate for children ages 3-5.
Tags: addition, back to school, childhood, comparing, counting, development, early, free, math, patterning, play, sequencing, subtraction
Back to School Learning Activities
Back to school time is upon us and KinderTown has some fun educational activities for your 3-8 year old to complete at home. Most of the activities can be completed in 10 minutes with little to no preparation.
Bingo Board #3
Draw shapes together, talk about a family photo, or make popcorn. Check out the latest Bingo Board to find these educational activities and more. Also included on the Bingo board are 3 recommended educational apps for your preschooler including a free app.
Bingo Board #2
Have a preschooler at home? Or a child between the ages of 3-6? Try this Back To School Bingo board with your child. The activities are perfect for at-home learning and designed to use very few materials. Mark the activities off as you go and reward your child for their work. The Bingo boards are easy to print and use and can be hung on your fridge or bulletin board.
Bingo Board #1
To use the Learning Bingo Board, simply complete any activity and have your child mark it off in some way. Color the square or use anything else that you have around the house to mark the squares, such as stamps or stickers. Decide on an incentive or reward for completing the board that works for your family or child. Check back soon for more activities!
Be sure to download KinderTown, the Educational App for Engaged Parents, to find additional educational apps to support your child’s learning. KinderTown is dedicated to improving early childhood education by empowering parents with the tools to support their child’s learning. KinderTown only includes apps that have substantial educational value as determined by an objective review process conducted by childhood educators. Search by age, device, or subject area.
Tags: activity, back to school, home, language arts, math
End of Summer Activity: Homemade Zip Lines
Race homemade rockets, airplanes, birds, or your own creation on homemade zip lines. Discover how the length and steepness of the line affect how the items move.
- Paper tube
- Craft supplies (paper, tape, markers, paint, feathers, duct tape, glue, craft sticks, etc.)
- Fishing line or thread
- Create an original “racer” by decorating the paper tube as a car, bird, airplane, rocket, or other item with the craft supplies you have available. Allow to dry thoroughly if necessary.
- Locate two sturdy objects to which you can secure the fishing line.
- Secure the fishing line to one object.
- Thread the racer on to the other end of the fishing line.
- Secure the fishing line to the other object.
- Slide the racer to one end of the fishing line (the side that is higher).
- Release the racer and watch it zip across the line.
- Repeat and experiment with different lengths of line and by changing the heights of objects to which it is secured.
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Tags: activity, homemade
End of Summer Activity: Bird Feeder
Create a decorative, mobile-inspired bird feeder from items found in your back yard, recycling bin, and around the kitchen.
- Paper towel tube or a cardboard cereal box
- Several sticks of different shapes and sizes
- Corn syrup or molasses
- Basting brush or paint brush
- Bird seed
- 2 open containers (one to hold the bird seed and one for the corn syrup)
- Single hole punch
- String or yarn
- Oat cereal rings
- Fill one container ½ full with bird seed.
- Fill the second container with corn syrup or molasses (enough to paint with).
- Cut the paper towel tube into several rings. If using a cereal box, cut the cardboard into several strips and form into loops, securing each with tape. Make sure the plain side of the box shows on the outside of each ring.
- Punch a single hole into the center of each ring.
- Paint a thick coat of syrup onto each ring and then roll thoroughly in the bird seed.
- Allow the bird seed to set on the rings for about 10-15 minutes.
- Cut a variety of lengths of string or yarn. If using yarn, wrap a small piece of tape tightly around the end to help thread it more easily.
- Tie a knot at one end of a piece of string. Begin stringing a few pieces of oat cereal on to it.
- Slide the string through the bottom hole of a ring with bird seed. String more oat cereal onto the string and then slide the remaining string through the top hole of the ring.
- Continue to string with oat cereal or add another bird seed covered ring. Create different arrangements.
- Tie the completed strings to the stick.
- Hang the bird feeder outside and watch the birds enjoy a snack.
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Tags: activity, homemade
Back to School Reading Apps
Back-to-school time is here, and these apps are great to supplement your beginning reader!
Reading Train Learn to Read Books, Songs & Games is a uniquely designed app for emergent readers. No other app is as specifically tailored to the needs of beginning readers. Reading Train includes 200 books for children who are beginning to read. Children are typically at this stage of reading during their kindergarten or first-grade year, depending on their development. Many children progress quickly through these stages, while others need more time. This app would be an asset to those children needing more time at this level. The app has a kid-friendly train where children choose books based on their level and desired topic. Parents, you will need to assist your child during their first interactions with the app in order to create a user and guide your child to the appropriate level. The books offer three different options: Listen, Read, and Record. Children like the books, but the app does not offer enough entertainment value that your child is likely to choose this app freely. Children are rewarded with a songbook after reading books and completing review activities. Some children won’t have enough patience to sit through the longer song and may tap the screen in anticipation of interactivity in this area. Also, this app should not be used in isolation because children need to learn the valuable skills associated with handling real books, such as reading left to right and orienting the book correctly. There’s no real substitute for creating a love of real books! The app would be a great supplement to a literature-rich environment. Reading Train Learn to Read Books, Songs & Games costs $3.99.
Duck Duck Moose Reading is a solid phonics practice app for your beginning reader. Children quickly progress through five varied phonics activities, each focused on a specific set of letters. Games are entertaining to play and are designed to focus kids on individual sounds, letters, or both letters and sounds in the context of words. Kids earn animals to add to their zoo after each series of activities. Parents are given a progress report for multiple kids who log into the app. We’d like it if parents were able to customize which letters and sounds are given to each child to practice. Overall, this is a good phonics practice app with the high quality visual and touch screen design that Duck Duck Moose is known for. Duck Duck Moose Reading is perfect for children at the Kindergarten or first grade level and costs $2.99.
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Tags: back to school, books, letters, phonics, Reading