Monday, June 4, 2012

Educational Apps for iPad and Android

I'm not ashamed of how tightly we maintain our budget, so I'll tell you flat-out that we wouldn't have been able to afford an ipad ourselves; our ipad was the Christmas gift from Matt's parents to our entire family, and a fabulously perfect gift it is.

My Android we can afford, but I'm the only one who has one, and I have the cheapest little data plan that I only turn on if I absolutely need it, and no texting or other nonsense.

So these major gadgets are not necessary for the educating of little homeschoolers...but they sure are nice! While I don't download every gimmicky little app, and I'm even more wary of spending money on apps, since the money comes from my limited crafts/homeschool budget, I have found a ton of educational apps that the kids and I seem to use almost every day.


The kiddos don't spend a lot of time with my Android. For one thing, it's my phone, not their toy, but it also doesn't have a ton of storage capacity, and I don't like to turn on my data plan. So my Android apps mostly consist of educational time-fillers for them, and I'm the one who uses Netflix and Instagram and Foursquare and all those other fun toys.
  • 50 States: The app is pretty much flashcards with facts about the states, but for some reason Willow LOVES it. A couple of weeks ago we used it to learn just about every state nickname while on a road trip to Michigan, and now Will wants to start on the state flowers.
  • Angry Birds: I suppose you could pretend that these apps teach physics, but the real treat is that they (and lots of other apps) are free for the Android, but cost money for the ipad or iphone. Fun, huh?
  • Draw!: It's an easy-peasy art app that gives Syd a creative outlet when she's otherwise bored out of her skull stuck someplace boring, like the doctor's office, or outside the gymnastics studio during Willow's classes.
  • Google Sky Map: It's good for telling us what star is so bright, what planet is shining there so close to the full moon, and what constellation that funny little group of stars is part of.
  • Piano Perfect: This is another easy-peasy app that gives the kids a little creative musical break, when noise isn't a factor while we're killing time.
  • Plumber: In this logic puzzle, you have to rotate pipes to get the water to flow. Willow doesn't have much patience for it, but Sydney excels at logic games, and she loves this one.
  • Poetry: I love poetry, and I'm pretty thrilled that the children, especially Willow, also love it. In this app from The Poetry Foundation, you can search through various categories of poetry, or you can spin the dial to read a beautiful poem chosen at random for you.
  • Unblock Me: Sydney loves this moving-blocks-around-to-find-a-path puzzle game even more than she loves Plumber.

The ipad belongs to the entire family, and we use it extensively in our homeschool.
  • Ball Fall Down Deluxe: I really love Crazy Machines as a physics tool for Willow, and Ball Fall Down Deluxe is just as good, because there aren't any goals--you just play! 
  • Beatwave: This a crazy creative non-linear app that Syd will sometimes get immersed in. Basically, a rhythm bar moves across a grid of mosaic tiles; when you tap a tile, the bar will then hit that beat, giving it its own tone.
  • Bob Books Reading Magic #1: I almost wish that I hadn't bought this app, since it was pricey and Syd's now tired of it, but back in that short time period when she really needed the extra practice simply putting together simple words and sounding them out, the app was very valuable. Now that Sydney has unlocked that part of reading, there are more advanced skills that she could master using this app, but since you have to start back with the first screen each time you play, she's too bored with it to be eager to play.

  • Brushes: This is an extremely sophisticated drawing and design app that I purchased for my own use, but I'm still learning how to use it to do what I want. The kiddos, however, have jumped right in, especially since I've shown them how they can use it to take a photograph and then graffiti it--fun!
  • Creatures of Light: From the American Museum of Natural History, I just could not be more impressed with this app, released in conjunction with a special exhibit at the museum. You don't know how many times I have been SO jealous when wonderful special exhibits come to museums that are nowhere near me, and the associative materials that the museums put out in conjunction with the exhibits are often lousy, a couple of worksheets or a few photographs. This app, however, is a meaty, hefty, informative app, a real virtual companion to the special exhibit.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica: I actually pay $1.99 a month for this app, but I consider it indispensable for ready-reference. 
  • Glow Sketch: Sydney loves this simple glow-in-the-dark drawing app.
  • Google Earth: We probably use this map app every single day. Reading about Pennsylvania? Let's look it up! Watched a movie about Rio? Let's look it up! Heard about some cool dinosaur discovery on the news? Let's look it up! It drives me crazy that landmarks and iconic places only seem to be catalogued in the system half the time, so that you never know if you're going to zoom in to The Great Wall of China or the Great Wall Chinese restaurant across town, but every time I do have to do the extra research to look something up by latitude and longitude instead of keyword search, I do bookmark it so that at least I won't have to do THAT again. The kiddos are fascinated just browsing the maps, and I'm a pretty big fan of looking up stuff like Disney World, or the Kennedy Space Center, or Paris, that look really neat in satellite imagery. The best thing we've ever done, however, is look up Mount Everest: 
That mountain is TALL!
  • GoSkyWatch: If we've got the ipad when we're out and about, its larger screen makes this sky map more useful than Google Sky Map on my Android. 
  • How to Tie Knots: For fine motor skill building or just nerdy little kids, I love this app, which teaches specific knot tying with ropes of different colors and a kind of multi-step animation that really makes it do-able.
  • iTunes U: It's mostly been me who's played around with this app in the past few weeks--I keep adding class packs!--but I do have a couple of very do-able unit studies marked that I plan to set Will up with later this summer, to give her a try at an independent study.
  • Kindle: What would we do without Kindle?!? Or rather, what would we do without Kindle plus a service in our public library that allows us to check out digital books? I keep our Kindle full of library books for people both big and little, along with tons of free classics. It works well, since Willow will often reads more adventurously on the Kindle (mind you, she reads constantly, but sometimes gets into a rut), since there's a limited number of titles available there.

  • LeafSnapHD: It doesn't always work--the collection of trees from my specific geographical area is on the light side--but when it does work, it's the best kind of ready reference, in that it's immediate and relevant.
  • Little Speller Three Letter Words: The girls don't love this app, but since it's right at Sydney's reading level, and since Willow is just now learning phonics herself, I'll sometimes have them play it as part of their schoolwork. And anytime they get to play the ipad for schoolwork, that's GOOD in their eyes!
  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary: The corollary to Encyclopedia Britannica; EVERYONE needs an excellent dictionary at hand, and the fact that this one will pronounce words for you is priceless.
  • NASA HD: We use this app for ready reference on space science topics (the planets section is particularly excellent on days when we're making our Solar System cookies), but we also watch launches and live footage on NASA TV and I'm very fond of the adorable NASA radio station, Third Rock.
  • National Geographic World Atlas: This app is definitely more map-style than Google Earth, and I prefer it when I want an actual map of a place, rather than the admittedly more fascinating satellite imagery. I also like that you can download maps to use offline, since I don't have a data plan with my ipad, either, and so many apps crap out if you're not connected.
  • NOVA Elements: I really want that pricey The Elements app to go with our reference book of the same title, but it's...well, pricey! NOVA Elements is a better kid-sized app, anyway, with a clickable period table, a bite-sized summary of each element that doesn't overwhelm, and a fun elements building sandbox.
  • Place Value: This Montessori-style app is very simple--it tells you a number through the thousands, and you build that number using Montessori-style number cards. It's not gimmicky or super-crazy-fun, but the materials mimic our own Montessori math manipulatives, and it's that kind of one-skill practice that I really like for learning math.

  • Pluto Piano: The screen turns into a seascape, with fish-shaped notes swimming by on a staff; kids pick out the proper melody for a song by tapping the highlighted fish and avoiding the ones that strike false notes. I'm not in love with it, mostly because the app will sometimes ask you to purchase new songs, and it will give push notifications unless you turn them off, but it's allowed to hang around since the kiddos play it pretty regularly.
  • Presidents versus Aliens: From the makers of Stack the States, this app is too hard for Willow, but she loves herself some presidential trivia, so she and I play it together, me with Encyclopedia Britannica pulled up on my computer for ready reference.
  • Puzzle Grid Triangles: This logic game is a lot like tangrams. Syd loves it.
  • Puzzle Planet: Syd also loves this jigsaw puzzle app. When she tires of the few puzzles that it comes with, however, I plan to delete it, because additional puzzles cost $.99 each.
  • Scribble Press: This is a fabulous children's drawing app--there are loads of colors and thicknesses and effects, presented in an organized way that allows children to use them thoughtfully. Syd and I often use this to play a game in which I write a simple sentence on the app's drawing paper, then she reads it and illustrates it.
  • Skype: The girls regularly connect with Matt's parents, also on their ipad, with Skype. It's fun for the kiddos to show of their latest dance moves, or the newest painting on their bedroom wall.

  • Smithsonian Channel: When the girls are in the mood to watch a video, but they're/I'm sick of the PBS Kids app, the Smithsonian Channel, although it doesn't have a ton of videos, always has something worthwhile and interesting to watch.
  • SparkleFish: The kids love this Mad Libs-style app so much that I even purchased a couple of extra packages of stories for it, and they still play with them, primarily for the pleasure of saying VERY silly things and having them read back in the context of the story. While I don't agree with those who claim that Mad Libs is all you need to teach grammar, the reinforcement certainly helps.
  • Stack the Countries: This app is the one that first made me realize the real possibilities of our ipad, back when it was brand-new. It teaches geography, and it's REALLY fun. Using Stack the Countries, Willow memorized pretty much all of the countries in South America, without even noticing.
  • Stack the States: I almost love this version better than Stack the Countries, since it's more relevant to what we tend to study.
  • This Day in History: This is a fun almanac that's updated daily, with links to relevant World Book articles for whatever notables there are from this date. And yes, you can scroll to find your birthday.
  • Tinkerbox IS a lot like Crazy Machines, in that there are puzzles and challenges. I really love programs like these that have terrific physics engines, because real-life free play with physics and engineering, with bouncing balls, and simple machines, and blocks and obstacles and ropes and such, can be hard to set up.
  • Wood Puzzle Map USA: Will's not often interested in puzzles, and this particular one is still a little too difficult for Sydney, but we're all so interested in geography that I'm hanging on to it for Syd to play when it's do-able for her.
  • World Flags: We often use this app to accompany our pin flag work, and as ready reference. My favorite part of it is that it plays each country's national anthem. How cool is that?!?
  • Web browser: The girls aren't permitted to simply surf the web without my supervision, but we use Google Images, in particular, quite often. From flower dissection diagrams to photos of jaguars to copy in one's coloring book, it's amazing how often looking up an image provides the perfect learning experience!

  • YouTube: My kiddos are not permitted to access YouTube without my permission, either, and in fact I have the app hidden in a folder--it's just too easy to accidentally encounter inappropriate content with YouTube. That being said, however, we use YouTube as a family all the time--jump rope videos, original Nintendo walk-throughs, ride cams at Walt Disney World, Morse code demonstrations, etc.; YouTube is a ready-reference, homeschooling dream.

And, of course, my kiddos' current favorite game apps: 4 Elements, Cut the Rope, and Jump Puppy. I swear, we DO do many other things besides ipad apps!


Miranda Jacobs said...

I managed to get in on an unlimited data plan prior to our cell company cutting that option. That being said, I generally use our wifi in the house on my Android. I get the worst service inside- can't even make calls! Sooo. I use Google Voice for free wifi texting. I'm finding the only actual use I get out of my data plan is the GPS directions. This new town is confusing.
My son is only 17 months but he's figured out how to unlock my phone and use the camera. I'm actually kind of looking forward to the day I can just hand him my phone in the car and trust he can occupy himself with his apps without calling China during the two hour trip to Grandma's!

kirsten said...

thanks for this list! we recently got an ipad and it's cool to hear of more apps to look up. i listed some of our faves recently, too.

you need brainpop! a free little movie every day, my kids LOVE it.

julie said...

Yeah, one of my favorite things about the ipad is that the kids can play with it on road trips without calling, texting, or (more embarrassing!) uploading photos that they've taken to my Facebook and Instagram accounts!

I took your advice, Kirsten, about Brainpop, and you were right--we love it! It's now part of the girls' actual schoolwork one day each week to watch the Brainpop movie of the week and then take the quiz--it's a great way to introduce them to a completely new concept every week, and occasionally there are are little experiments and projects that we can do afterwards.

julie said...

Another update: We've also purchased the grade-level sets for Splash Pad Math. The girls don't LOVE it, but it's got a terrific amount of variety in the drill problems, and I feel like it's good practice for each of them once a week or so.


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