NEW YORK CITY — As summer approaches, students are beginning to dream of months free from the tyranny of class schedules — even as parents begin hunting for ways to keep young minds from atrophying from too much TV and video gaming.
The good news is there are plenty of educational apps that will help school-aged children have fun while they learn.
“Pre-schoolers' and toddlers’ learning is done best with characters that are familiar to them,” said Barr, a former teacher.
Kids in the upper single-digit years can connect to apps through their interest in animals and science while those 10 and older require a bit more to be engaged.
“The apps need to be something they’re personally invested in,” Barr said. “Otherwise it’s ‘Oh mom, I don’t want to do that' because they are at that sort of tweeny age.”
Barr rounded up a few of her favorite educational apps for DNAinfo New York that will help make learning a painless exercise this summer.
For Ages 4-6
“Dinosaur Train A-Z” $1.99
This app, which is based on a PBS show of the same name, uses familiar characters to teach young children about spelling.
“Young kids who love Buddy the dinosaur can use the app to practice reading and the alphabet but it also integrates that whole natural history component that’s really essential to the show,” Barr said.
“The kids get to touch and feed and X-ray the dinosaurs and there are 26 of them. I think from an educational standpoint it’s taking the prehistoric time frame and making it really accessible to kids. Dinosaur Train is also bilingual."
For Ages 4-6 and 7-10
“Grammar Wonderland” (pre-K and elementary), free
This app comes in two different levels to keep students challenged as their skills increase.
“For the younger kids, it emphasizes parts of speech through different kinds of word play," Barr said. "Sometimes it’s fill in the box, sometimes it’s pop the bubble. It’s a lot of different learning experiences to get around language."
“‘Grammar Wonderland’ extends itself to the older grades. It’s about identifying parts of speech and really choosing grammatically-correct sentences. The interface is designed for older kids. It’s less character graphics and it’s in a map format that’s great for that older group."
For Ages 5-8
Scholastic Storia, free
Though many parents may have a tendency to think of Amazon or Kindle first when it comes to e-reading apps, Barr says the free Scholastic Storia app is a colorful alternative that allows users to pick five free books.
“You can choose any e-book for kids in grades K-3. Storia is designed for those younger ages,” she said.
“There’s a really nice range of picture books, early reader books and also some beginning chapter books and some chapter books for your third-grade — more advanced — readers."
For ages 9-11
Mathmateer, free or 99 cents
Older children often need incentives in order to focus on a lesson, especially when it comes to math, Barr said.
Mathmateer is a math-drilling app that uses a space-flight theme to get kids excited about learning how to use money and do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Kids choose a rocket that they are able to enhance and customize more and more as their performance in the drills improves.
“After you finish math practice, you get to pick the parts, launch your rocket and try to beat your personal best for how long your rocket has stayed in the air. Not only is it math practice, but there’s also some science and physics thinking behind what’s going to make your rocket aerodynamic,” Barr said.