Six of the best: educational apps for kids
This pick of fun-to-play apps will actually teach them something too
So it's back to school time and you want to make sure that at least some of that tablet time is spent learning something.
As apps become more advanced and involving, the line between game-playing and education becomes ever blurrier - and all of the apps in this selection will ensure your child learns while having fun at the same time. These apps are aimed at primary school (and precocious pre-school) kids and none of them come in at more than a fiver.
The Foos: Code for an Hour
This is just one of a slew of apps that aim to teach kids how to code, and it's also one of the simplest. The educational side of things is layered beneath a gaming interface - guide the game's monster characters through the storyline by dropping in visual code elements from the Scratch progamming language. It's a fun way to expose kids to the basics of programming - they'll thank you for it when their Facebook 2 app earns them their first billion.
For really young ones who are still learning their alphabet, this is a great choice. It consists of four games, three of which are based around learning the phonetic sound attached to each letter, while the fourth challenges learners to spell three letter words. The quickfire presentation and manic soundtrack has a feel of Nintendo about it, which is no bad thing (though you won't be able to get the cutesy music out of your head).
Marble Math Multiplication
Those old wooden marble mazes didn't go away, they just got upgraded into app format to take advantage of motion sensitive controls. This app combines that tilt-and-roll marble maze gameplay with learning - you have to roll the ball towards the correct answer for the multiplication sum shown on screen.
This app does a quite remarkable job of introducing the core concepts and methods of algebra without ever really feeling like a maths program. At the start, there's no sign of formulae, 'x=' or anything else scary-looking - instead common maths notation is replaced with a series of images and simple gameplay. Before they know it, kids are suddenly working with algebraic logic - and enjoying it as they unlock levels and get new high scores.
Like a kids version of Portal, Thinkrolls 2 blends scientific principles with get-to-the-end-of-the-maze gameplay to addictive effect. It's pitched at children from three to nine years old, with two skills levels setting the difficulty. Getting from the start point to the end of each maze requires problem-solving skills as well as developing an understand of scientific principles such as density and force.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Friends – Play & Explore
This is effectively a pop-up book in app form, bringing that famous peckish caterpillar and a host of Eric Carle's other creations to life. While reading through the story, eight different mini-games are playable, with a focus on educating children on facts about the animal kingdom. Confident readers can choose to read the story themselves, while younger ones can choose the 'read-to-me' option.
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