15 Fun, Free Educational Apps to Keep Your Kids Learning on the Go
If you've ever cued up an episode of Peppa Pig at a restaurant, then you understand that a tablet is capable of providing your child with hours of entertainment when crayons just won't cut it. And as a former student teacher, I'm asking you not to waste that time. Sure, YouTube has your back with endless videos about dinosaurs and trucks, and hopefully you've picked out some quality go-tos on Netflix or Hulu (cough My Little Pony), but if you want to avoid turning your children into screen-addicted zombies, you'll want to break up that time with some interactive learning apps.
You don't have to spend a fortune to fill your tablet with apps that support learning, teaching, and interactive play. In fact, you don't have to spend anything at all. There are a good number of quality apps that are completely free, and even paid apps regularly offer free download promotions at various times throughout the year. Make a habit of checking AppAdvice Daily regularly for offers. Once you download an app that was on promotion, it's yours to keep, even if it goes back up in price the next day.
I filled an iPad with hundreds of learning apps for my students using this strategy. Here are 15 of my favorites, plus some creative ideas for how to use them.
Remember this classic parts-of-speech game from your childhood? It's available in a free app. Kids supply the words, and then a ridiculous story is revealed.
Similar to MadLibs, SparkleFish is an audio-completion game that supports speech development and vocabulary. Kids can record themselves supplying parts of speech, and then hear the story read back. Younger kids can practice fluency by recording the word a few times until it sounds right, and older kids will have fun brainstorming descriptive words.
This must-have app is an all-you-can-read eBook library for kids. It also has thousands of books that include audio. To improve fluency and comprehension, read a book once through with your child, allow time for your child to practice reading along with the audio, and then ask him or her to read it back to you.
This interactive game gets kids moving while teaching descriptive concepts. Kids use the cameras on their devices to take pictures of items found in a scavenger hunt. This requires that the adult review the pictures at the end, making it a great teaching tool.
While this sight word game is designed for young children, it's so engaging and adorable that you might end up using your child as an excuse to play it yourself.
Lippa Theater: Story Maker
This puppet theater app is a great way to teach story elements and support students who struggle with writing. It is particularly helpful for visual-spatial learners, and anyone who needs a little extra motivation for the written word.
This nonprofit organization aims to collect interviews with people everywhere that leave a legacy for the future. It also regularly publishes edited excerpts that reflect our shared humanity. This app is a great way to support writing and other literacy projects. Kids can interview their families and write their stories, or view other peoples' interviews and adapt them into stories. The possibilities are endless, and we think it's pretty cool to be a part of this archive.
The Math Learning Center Apps
A number of simple math apps for any operating system are available free from The Math Learning Center. While they might not be as attention-grabbing as a game or video, they're still more fun than flashcards, and the visual representations of math concepts support understanding.
This engaging math app is full of sounds effects and silly characters, which makes it feel like more of a game than a learning app. But kids can use it to practice math facts and operations.
Other Learning Apps & Games
BrainPop offers a free educational movie with a corresponding quiz every day. The whimsical robot cartoon makes any topic fun, and the quiz checks for understanding. Also check out BrainPop Jr. for younger kids.
LumiKids Park by Lumosity
This award-winning app is filled with learning games for toddlers. It is the ultimate companion to the carseat.
Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame
Social and emotional learning are often low on the priority list at schools because of limited resources and time, which is why it's important to work on these skills at home. This app is also great for educators and psychologists to use with kids. It teaches kids how to take control over their emotions in a way they can understand, and builds executive functioning skills.
Toca Kitchen Monsters
This interactive game explores cooking and inspires creativity. It makes a great cause-and-effect game for toddlers who like to think outside the box. Toca has a number of apps to cover every topic of pretend play, but not all are free.
PBS Kids Video
For the moment when you need an instantaneous babysitter: This app is easy to navigate and features hundreds of kid-friendly educational videos.
Paper by FiftyThree
Everyone loves to doodle, and this app isn't just for kids. It's so intuitive to use, it can make anyone feel like an artist. My own creations on this app were a hit on social media, and I can't even draw a stick figure that has all of its limbs properly attached with pen and paper.
None of these apps can replace quality teaching or parenting, of course, but they can support learning. I recommend using these apps with your child at least as often as he or she uses them alone. Teachable moments are everywhere, and technology brings them to the surface. Just don't forget to have fun!