Want to give your kids a boost as they enter the classroom this fall?
Thousands of educational apps are available for smartphones, tablets, and other digital devices, covering a wide range of subjects including math, English, and science.
Not only are these downloads fun to tap and flick through — to help keep students engaged in the subject matter — but parents will appreciate the relatively inexpensive investment (if not free altogether).
Available for both iOS and Android (unless otherwise specified), the following is a look at a handful of recommended educational apps for elementary students, and perhaps a couple for middle- and high-school tweens and teens, too.
* Designed for kids age 6 to 8, Knowledge Adventure’s $4.99-cent Math Blaster: HyperBlast2 HD ($4.99) is a space-themed arcade game that challenges kids to solve math problems in eight areas, each with multiple difficulty levels. You’re a space cadet who hops on a HyperCycle, a flying motorcycle of sorts, and when you face off against a one-eyed, six-armed robot, you’ll be asked to tap the correct answer to math puzzles, be it addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and more. Also check out ABCya.com’s Math Bingo($2.99; for iOS) and MoBeyond’s Math Bingo – TheBrain Teaser (free; for Android).
* For kids in high-school, the free Desmos Graphing Calculator (iOS and Android) is one of the most comprehensive (and highest rated) math apps you can have installed on your phone or tablet. Consider it a next-generation graphing and scientific calculator that lets students plot graphs (polar, cartesian or parametric); create tables for any equation (from lines and parabolas to derivatives and Fourier); add sliders, adjust values, and animate graphs; play with stats including best-fit lines and parabolas; and more. No Internet access required.
* Ideal for students of all ages, Dictionary.com – Dictionary & Thesaurus is a comprehensive and easy-to-use reference app. Whether it’s in the classroom or while doing homework, this freebie even works when there’s no Internet connection available. Access more than two million definitions, synonyms and antonyms, including word origins and history, example sentences, and pronunciation. Fun features include Word of the Day, The Hot Word, smartwatch support, and the ability to shake your device for a random word.
* Ideal for middle-school students, Mindconnex’s Shakespeare in Bits apps include the original 400 year-old plays – such as Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Julius Caesar (each for $14.99 apiece or $49.99 for all 5) – but they’re all animated, voiced by professional actors and with translations (into modern English), analysis, summaries, biographies and relationships, and study notes. When the plays are running, text is highlighted so you can easily follow along or pause at any time.
* If you didn’t know physics can be fun, try your hand (er, or finger) at Dan Russell-Pinson’s Monster Physics ($1.99; for iOS), which lets kids build and operate their own working contraptions – be it a robot, car, plane, rocket ship, helicopter, or tank – with the nearly 70 parts you can use to create your masterpiece. Along with the various parts (such as propellers, wheels, and wings), there are different materials (including wood, metal and rubber) and they’ll obey the laws of physics. Along with the free play, Monster Physics also includes 50 missions and other challenges for kids.
* For middle- and high-school students and now also pre-school students, the recently-updated Khan Academy (free) allows you to learn almost anything by tapping and watching the library of more than 10,000 videos. This smart resource covers a massive number of topics, ranging from science and math to humanities. Each video is about 10 minutes long, including a growing number of them with interactive exercises. The iPad version now offers 150,000 exercises with instant feedback. Khan Academy also recently added 21 mobile apps for children ages 2 and up from early-learning app maker Duck Duck Moose.
LANGUAGE STUDIES, GEOGRAPHY
* For language studies, a “must have” app is Duolingo, a free download (iOS, Android, Windows) that makes it fun to tackle French, Spanish, German, Italian, English, and many other languages. With bite-sized lessons, you’ll start off matching words with pictures, hearing what they sound like and saying words into your phone or tablet. Duolingo also rewards you with XP (experience) points and hearts. Cool, n’est pas?
* To help get kids excited in Geography and History, Google Earth offers a virtual rendering of the entire planet — including the ability to zoom in down to street level using 3D satellite imagery. Use your fingertips to pinch, flick and tap to spin around the globe from outer space, tap through layered data, read informative articles, and explore historic landmarks and natural wonders.