With summer vacation upon us, it’s a good time to start thinking about how you’re going to entertain the kids on long summer drives, in airport lounges and plane rides, during rainy days, or on those 6 a.m. wakeups on a weekend morning when you just need an extra hour of snooze time.
And while none of us want to overdose our kids on a numbing amount of screen time, there are some well-developed apps and games out there that incorporate some learning into kid friendly packaging. From low-cost to no-cost apps, and spanning the range of art, music, science and language, there are plenty of affordable and educational apps that ignite kids’ imagination and teach them a few skills in fun, engaging ways.
So if you’ve got some room for a little screen time in your summer plans, take note of these popular learning apps for kids of all ages that even us parents can feel good about.
Reading & Language
Duolingo – My 12-year-old requested this free app and has since enjoyed picking up a few phrases and words in Spanish. Just one of dozens of languages you can choose from! You can personalize your lesson plan to your pace and learning style, and practice as much as you want before moving on. There are games, rewards and motivations for little learners too, all packaged in fun. Bueno!
Audible or E-readers – For the tweens and teens in your life, it’s even easier to give them some screen time you can all feel good about. Audio stories through an app like Audible, or using an e-reader app like Apple books, will lower your Chapters bills and offer your child new and old favourite books on the go. We loved listening to Harry Potter on the speakers during our last cross-country summer drive, and my oldest appreciates being able to tune out her siblings by tuning into a good book now and then with her headphones.
Music & Art
Garage Band – As fun for kids as it is for adults, this app for Apple devices features instruments and a full mini-recoding studio for endless creativity. Live Loops let’s your kid mix like a DJ, and the touch technology means they can play simulation keyboards or guitar. You can get really fancy and plug in and play your own guitar, bass or microphone, and of course, record their creations to share with everyone you love.
Blob Chorus – Our piano teacher introduced us to this addictive music app. The game is designed to introduce children to the concept of pitch and even improve their musical ear for different notes. Each of the blob monsters in the chorus sing a note, then the king blob sings his note. If you can identify the blob that sang the same note as king blob, you win and move on – and just keep increasing the size of your blob chorus if you or your kids think its getting too easy, which I promise, it’s not.
Colouring Apps – My kids have quite a few colouring apps on our devices, and they are really great for keeping them quietly occupied while unleashing their creativity. Most of them are free, and none of them are messy. My youngest really likes the UNICORN app (because, unicorns!) and colour by number apps like 8bit Painter, while my older kids like more complex projects like the mandala designs on Colorfy.
Science & Nature
Boat Watch – If you live on a Great Lake like we do, this app can answer a lot of questions while keeping your kids learning on a summer walk by the shore. This free app lets you see the name, type and destination of any cruise ship, cargo boat or ferry and even track their journey around the globe. Paid upgrades unlock even more features like nautical maps and alerts when your favourite boats arrive or depart.
SkyView–If you’ve ever wondered why this free app gets such rave reviews, you just need a clear night and a phone and you’ll be convinced too. Let the kids stay up until the stars come out, and then just point your device at the sky for some quick help identifying the stars, constellations and satellites above.
National Geographic – There are several fun and educational apps kids will love in the Nat Geo line up, but it’s their Weird But True app my kids really can’t get enough of. Formatted like a book on the go that’s full of bizarre and fun science and nature trivia, sounds, and an interactive format, this is one app you might find yourself swiping through long after they’ve gone to bed.
Learning & Brain Games
Chess – I was a little surprised when my kids took a liking to real Chess, and so we downloaded a few Chess apps to brush up on the rules and play more practically on the road. Even my youngest picked it up eventually, but we also like to keep a version of Tic Tac Toe and Checkers on there too for fun brain games we can all tackle with a little more ease.
Sudoku – We started out with big paperback books of Sudoku sheets, but it’s just as much fun, and a lot lighter to carry around, on their devices. Kids Sudoku is a great beginner app for introducing your child to this popular puzzle-based game of logic and math, but there are many others out there, and most of them free.
Khan Academy – If you have a kid or teen heading into summer school, or even if you just want your kids to brush up on a few math, science or reading skills before their return to classes in the fall, the Khan Academy app is for you. This comprehensive library of homework help is a priceless resource high school kids and their parents in particular will appreciate. Fun tips, trivia, quizzes, videos and feedback make this free app indispensible for the curious and bored alike.
So while we all know that summer isn’t supposed to be about screen time, it’s good to know there are some guilt-free and kid friendly apps out there when you need and want them – a practical win-win for modern families.