Ten Apps for Learning, Thinking, and Imagination
Kids really love iPads. They learn a lot from them too.
While you don’t want time spent on tablets to take away from other kinds of learning, there can be great benefits in developing vocabulary and other skills. Screen time can also be an opportunity for social learning, if we play with apps in collaborative ways.
Here are ten very good apps for active learning and open-ended thinking, generally for younger learners:
1. Anything Toca Boca
I’m cheating here, because this isn’t just one app…but these are all very good. In Toca apps, you can be a hairdresser, cook, stable hand, chemist, or choreographer…or make up stories with characters at homes, schools, or shops. Quirky, fun, and very open-ended. Age 3 and up. (Free-$3 in Android; $4 in iOs)
2. Bugs and Buttons
(Little Bit Studio)
These beautifully-designed apps explore math concepts through games: counting, sorting, patterning, computation and more. Those who are squeamish about bugs may not appreciate this series, but our kids think the insect characters are charming. Kids 7 and under, depending on their level of math skills. ($3 in Android, $4 in iOs)
3. Endless Learning Apps
These apps explore literacy, numeracy, vocabulary, and other topics. These are great because although it’s aimed at kids 5 and under, the vocabulary includes higher-level words – like “gargantuan” and “cooperate” – that are not often encountered in other vocabulary apps. The meaning of words are explained and illustrated with little videos. The quirky characters and stories are interesting to primary-school of children as well.
In Android, apps are available individually for free, but with in-app purchases to add content. In iOS, you can do the same, or choose Endless Learning Academy, which offers a monthly subscription ($7) with access to all of the apps in the series.
4. Space, The Earth and other Science Apps
These apps explore science concepts like the human body, plants, simple machines, space, weather and more through interactive images that respond to touch in sometimes unexpected ways. Words are minimal, allowing parents or teachers to add comments and vocabulary at the right level. Rated for 5 and under, but they are likely interesting for a few years beyond that. ($4 in iOs)
5. My Playhome
My Play Home is a cross between paper dolls and a virtual dollhouse. Your people can move between rooms to explore and move around the objects in them. If you get the other apps in the series (My Play Home School, Stores, and Hospital) your characters can travel around the whole neighbourhood. If you have these apps installed on 2 devices, two people can play together in the same room. ($4 in Android, $5.50 or $4 in iOs)
6. Wonster Words
(77Sparx Studio Inc.)
Silly stories and visuals teach vocabulary, letters, phonics and spelling in this quirky app. For free, it comes with 15+ free words and a rotating word of the day. The starter version is free. You have to pay ($1.39) to access each additional set of stories, or you can pay a monthly subscription ($11) or one time fee ($21) to access them all. My son spent hours and hours playing with these.
Puzzingo is a vocabulary app from the same developer, and offers a complex variety of words on a broad variety of topics.
7. Winky Think
This app offers a series of visual-spatial puzzles that are not too difficult for beginning problem-solvers, but definitely require some thinking to get through them. Spinlight also produces very good alphabet and numeracy apps for preschoolers. ($4)
8. Super Duper Storymaker
(Super Duper Publications)
A versatile app for writing and illustrating stories, which can be shared via email or printed. It comes with over 800 images to drop into place, you can draw yourself, or you can add your own photographs. It also has a voice recording feature so stories can be listened to. Possiblilities are endless! A free version is available so you can check out the basics, but doesn’t allow you to save. (Full version is $6.99)
(Family Education Network)
Poptropica offers interactive comics, where viewers have to read and think their way through a story to solve a problem. You can personalize your own character who can travel back in time, break out from jail, build your own Island or battle zombies, monsters, robots, pirates, Vikings, thieves, and Greek gods. Around 20 adventures are available to explore. Age 5 and up (some grownups find this game entertaining too). And it’s free.
10. Brainpop Jr.
Brainpop Jr. offers animated movies on a broad variety of academic topics – science, literacy, social studies, health, and more in an amusing and visual format. For free you can see a different movie every week, or you can subscribe ($5.99 per month) to see them all. Age 4 and up.
What are your favorites? Please feel free to add suggestions in the comments!