Andy Robertson has three children and has written about technology for families for 15 years. He is a freelance family technology expert for the BBC and recently wrote the Taming Gaming book for parents. The book is supported by a Family Video Game Database.
While we all know that smartphones and tablets are powerful devices for bringing learning into the home, app stores are so crammed with options it can be hard to find the best ones for our children.
That’s why we’ve tested a fair few ourselves in order to bring you our current top 10 apps that children will have fun using, yet encourage learning too.
We start with apps for young learners…
Click on the links below to find out more about each education app.
Gives children foundation they need for future math learning
DragonBox Numbers uses fun characters and simple games to develop a strong understanding of numbers. As the app puts it, it is designed to “give your child the foundation they need for future maths learning”.
With a variety of interactive challenges, the characters teach children what numbers are, how they work, and what you can do with them. This is wrapped up in a light-touch game that hides much of the learning away in a fun and intuitive game.
Kids will think they are just playing but by the end of each level they have taken a step towards a better understanding of numbers.
Building on the Numbers app, this teaches children of either 5+ and 12+ the basics of Algebra
Starting with a simple set of rules, players must balance various characters and objects by dragging them around to make them disappear. It sounds simple but surreptitiously teaches the fundamentals of algebra.
The 12+ version of the game offers best value as it extends children’s abilities further into algebraic expressions.
This includes parentheses, positive and negative numbers, fractions, factorisation and substitution. They will think they are just playing a game, but by the end of each section they are solving pure algebra equations.
Age: 5+ & 12+ Cost: Free Available onAndroid and iOS
The Human Body app is designed to introduce children to how the human body works.
Through a range of interactive chapters they learn basic human anatomy including the skeletal, muscular, nervous, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and immune systems.
Unlike a static book, each of the areas can be interacted with via the touchscreen to reveal more detail and animations of how they work. This includes detailed interactive models of the heart, brain, eye, stomach and mouth. A nice touch is the app’s use of the camera and microphone to demonstrate how the eyes and ears work.
Allows children to view stars, planets and night sky map
While many educational apps focus on reading, writing and arithmetic, Star Walk stands out for different reasons. It introduces learners of all ages to the night sky.
Simply take the app with you on a night walk and it follows your location and movement in real time. Hold the app up and it clearly depicts each star and constellation.
As well as an aid to locate well known stars, the app also provides additional information about over 200,000 celestial bodies. This extends the educational element of the app from inspiration about space and star gazing to a solid understanding of the universe.
Periodic table app presents information in an interactive way
Images of each element show them in their natural state and with examples of real-life applications. There are related podcasts and videos that can be accessed from within the app to expand this knowledge.
As a reference tool for use in school or as a way to enrich homework, you can customise the app to view the elements that interest you. There is also a simplified table for quick access to data that enables you to sort elements in order of increasing density.
An interactive slider shows how elements change state as temperature increases. Additionally, you can also explore the discovery of the elements through history.
Toca Builders offers an educational take on Minecraft-style building
Players are placed on an island and challenged to create a new world with blocks. They can jump, walk, roll and rotate the builder characters to use their different skills and complete different building tasks.
Whether this is used in free-play mode or with some tasks set by parents and teachers, it’s a great way to develop design, dexterity and problem solving skills. Bright colours and simple touch controls ensure this is easy to use at any age. You can even share creations with others online in a safe, moderated environment.
While many programming tools can seem overly complex and daunting to a younger audience, Daisy the Dinosaur helps children learn to code without those hang-ups.
A simple drag and drop interface enables young children to move Daisy across the screen while learning key programming techniques.
Working through the different games will teach children the basics of coding objects, sequencing, loops and events. There’s even a kit that can be downloaded after completing the game that enables children to program their own game.
iPad app aims to make coding fun and accessible for children
Swift Playgrounds is new app for iPad that aims to make coding fun and accessible for children. They solve interactive puzzles to master the basics of coding, or take on additional challenges to explore more complex coding and create programs of their own. There is no assumed knowledge here which means anyone can jump in and give it a go.
Visually engaging and with a range of different approaches to teaching coding, this is a great way to both inspire children to program and set them on the road to making that a reality. Because Swift is a programming language used to build real apps, children’s experience here could be put to use on projects to be released on the app store in the future.
A study app on Nintendo 3DS and 2DS that helps children practice their letters and sounds
For a UK audience this is particularly useful as it employs the phonics system used in primary schools. It also uses familiar characters from the books children read during lessons.
This synthetic phonics method is employed in the app to introduce each of the sounds of the English language. It’s available in three levels that track the different stages of development from level one to level six.
London A City Through Time is a rare combination of high end content, excellent presentation and clear navigation. It engages users by granting access to nearly 2,000 years of London’s history. This functions as a place to research the city for homework or a way to discover more about the capital in its own right.
Over 6,000 articles take in a wide range of topics, including museums, statues, buildings, streets, trades, people, parks and rivers. Each of these is colourfully laid out, including thousands of digitised prints and photographs. There are also over 30 documentary video clips from the Pathé movie archives.