As summer approaches, my husband and I will be looking for ways to keep our kids happily occupied – whether we’re at home, camping or on an extended trip.
While electronics rarely are our first choice, they do come in handy. But it’s tough to narrow the field from thousands of apps to a handful that will fit on your phone, tablet or laptop AND still allow you to feel like a responsible parent. Most of the people I hang around are more tech savvy than I am, so I sought advice from parent friends, teacher friends and kids.
The following is a completely unscientific compilation of free or inexpensive apps and websites that your kids might like (and that you might even feel good about letting them use in smallish doses).
Don’t take my word for it, though. This is a starting point. Please do your own research and make sure you feel comfortable with any app or site you’re allowing your child to use. If you would like more ideas, one site I have found valuable is www.commonsensemedia.org. It gives reviews of apps, movies, books, music, web sites, TV shows and games while allowing you to filter for ages 2-18.
ABCya. Pre-K through 5th grade. There are more than 300 games here – all broken down by grade level and activity type. Free (to avoid ads, pay $6.99 per month). www.abcya.com
ABC Mouse. Ages 2-7. It’s an online “learning academy.” This site helps children learn basic reading, math, science, art and colors. Try free for one month; $7.99 per month thereafter. www.abcmouse.com
Disney Junior. Fans of the Disney staples like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Doc McStuffins, and Miles from Tomorrowland will enjoy the games and videos on the this site. Free. www.disneyjunior.disney.com
Funbrain. Preschool-8th Grade. Educational games, online books, and comics. This site offers more than 100 fun, interactive games that develop skills in math, reading, and literacy. Free. www.funbrain.com
Go Noodle. K-5. Many schools are using this Web site to get kids moving with hundreds of silly songs and dances. You can use it at home, too. Free. www.gonoodle.com
My Playhome. Ages 2+. (And My Playhome School, My Playhome Stores and My Playhome Hospital.) Each of these apps is a massively interactive iGeneration dollhouse. $2.99 each. www.myplayhomeapp.com
NASA Kids Club. 7+. Kids can learn all about space here through games, videos and more. Free. http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forkids/kidsclub/flash/index.html
National Geographic Kids. 3+. Games, photos, articles and videos make this a great choice for kids who love nature. Free. http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/
Nick Junior. Ages 4+. If your kids like Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol or Bubble Guppies, this is the site for them. Fun games and videos. Free. www.nickjr.com
PBS Kids. Ages 4+. There are lots of fun and educational games and activities for kids on the PBS website. The best part? They feature favorite characters like Curious George and those from Sesame Street. Free. www.pbskids.org
Quiver. Ages 2+. An augmented reality app. Kids can print coloring book pages on a normal printer, color them in with normal crayons/markers or colored pencils and then train the rear facing camera on a tablet or phone on the drawing. It will spring to 3D life with movement, and even sound. www.quivervision.com
Scratch. Ages 8+. Kids can program their own interactive games, stories and animations and share their creations with others in the online community. Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. Free. https://scratch.mit.edu/
Scratch Junior. Ages 5-7. Young children learn to code. They program their own interactive games and stories and learn to solve problems, design projects, and express themselves creatively on the computer. Free. www.scratchjr.org
Stack the Countries. Ages 8+. Parents need to know that Stack the Countries is an educational geography game teaching and quizzing kids on the countries of the world and their shapes, neighbors, landmarks, capital cities, languages, flags, and other geographical facts. $1.99.
Stack the States. Ages 8+. A U.S. geography game that helps reinforce learning around state information. Kids can study the information first, using included state “flash cards,” or they can dive in and learn by trial and error. 99 cents.
Starfall. For the younger set, 4+. This learn to read site is divided into different reading categories. Many of the functions are free. Pay $35 annually for a family membership to get extras. www.starfall.com
Tynker. Ages 7+. Kids learn fundamental programming concepts as they animate characters, fly drones, control robots, and publish apps. Free. Coding and Minecraft courses available starting at $6 per month. www.tynker.com
2048. Ages 8+. A math-based puzzle game that involves strategy. Easy to learn, but tough to master. Good for kids and adults. Free. www.2048game.com