Is an app truly educational? Or is it simply a mindless game packaged as a learning tool? It’s a question that you can often only answer after you’ve made the purchase. Doh. But here are five apps that actually warrant the educational billing. From science to logic and literature, the topics they cover vary, but each is highly interactive, stunningly designed and all but guaranteed to get your kid fully engaged.
Many apps promise to promote empathy and self-reflection; few deliver on the concepts as beautifully as Me by Tinybop. Think of it as a modern-day, multi-media version of Dr. Suess’s beloved All About Me. The app lets kids access and express their thoughts, dreams, worries and creativity through a great mix of drawing, writing and recording. Kids start by drawing an avatar of themself followed by a series of unexpected prompts that let them reflect and have fun. From there, they can go on to make more avatars — of their parents, siblings, friends and pets. Far from an end point, however, these creations are just the start: Kids can then make journal-like entries through writing, drawing and recording. Subtle prompts encourage them to consider likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams, not just of themselves, but of all the others in their life. Beautifully designed, cleverly intuitive and worthy of an amazing shared screen-time experience with parents, this is a winner.
This may be one of the best free apps out there for nature lovers. Compiling clips from the past 50 years of Sir David Attenborough’s career, Story of Life features hours and hours of amazing animal footage. BBC programs such as Planet Blue and The Life of Mammals are included in a series of short films curated by Sir David and others. But the app offers more than just video watching. Kids can also search by species, habitat or other topic if researching a specific animal. The coolest part may be Story of Life’s My Collections tool, which allows kids to create their own nature documentaries by editing together various Attenborough clips and re-titling the creation however they choose.
Like all apps by Avokiddo, graphics are absolutely top notch with their latest creation, Thinkrolls: Kings & Queens. The app takes place in a castle environment and offers a series of logic-challenging puzzles. So what makes this one exceptional, and, for that matter, worth the money, when so many free options abound? Call it the complete experience: Not only are the drawbridges and dragons, turrets and towers, exceptionally created, but the sheer variety of puzzles — more than 200 — make for an app that can be played for hours and hours.
If you can’t see Shakespeare performed live, this may be the second best option. This app brings The Bard to life with a science-backed approach to storytelling: As users read along, they can see the voice actors’ faces as they speak to the text in a video above. This audio, video and text-based approach hits all of your senses and reinforces the material as the reader navigates through the play.
With NAMOO-The Wonders of Plant Life, there is just enough interactivity to make the information easily digestible with animations that are straightforward yet captivating. Players can flick and swipe their way through interactions that teach them about plant life with beautifully designed illustrations. With NAMOO, learning is less opened ended, more directed, and kids will need to be reading at about a third-grade level to get the most out of it. Every part of the plant is broken down, from the root system to the stem and leaves, and each process of growth is shown in real time. Throw carbon dioxide at plant leaves and watch them throw oxygen back at you. Throw cold temperatures at them and watch how they are no longer able to absorb the oxygen. Give plants a perfect 70 degree weather and watch them thrive. The relaxing music in the game is a great touch, and is a big reason why I had a hard time putting this game down.