Time is ticking. Summer is coming. For many parents, the third week in May provokes feelings of both excitement and dread. “Yay! Summer is out. I’ll have more down-time with my kids.” we say. “Oh no, summer is out. My kids have a ton of free time, what do I do with my kids?” we also complain. Kids are exciting. They are creative and fun, silly and imaginative, but they are also easily bored, especially kids in the 21st century. So, what can parents do with their kids this summer?

This article is two-fold: the first part answers the question, “If I choose to give my kids screen time, what are the best apps for kids?” The second part lists fun, engaging programs & activities kids can do away from the T.V. or tablet.

The other day I was in my three year old’s room organizing his bookshelf. I smiled while dusting, looking over all his books. That kid truly has a library. I could hear him behind me rummaging around, looking for his trains or his Buzz Lightyear. Once I determined it must be in his closet, I opened the door, found what he needed, and gave it to him. As I did, I noticed his giant bin of play clothes in the corner of his closet. Besides books, that kid also has a lot of play-clothes. He and I might dress up as builders, Parisians sipping tea in berets, or super heroes in capes. But unfortunately, a lot of his play clothes go unused. Playing dress-up or creating puppet-shows require imagination, something many folks consider a dying ability in our modern day.

In the age of smart phones, tablets, smart-watches, and instant streaming, children spend a lot of time in front of screens, and technology is here to stay. So while pediatricians agree that screen time should be limited, should there be limits on how they spend their screen time? There is a difference, for instance, between a mind-numbing game (like Snake) and a mind-enriching game. If you are interested in directing your children’s screen time towards more edifying games and apps, we’ve compiled a list of the best educational apps for kids with explanations as to what makes them educational.

I sat down with Adrian Johnson at the Broadmoor Branch of the Shreve Memorial Library for a list of educational apps for kids, but more importantly, I wanted his wisdom on what makes an app educational.

Jessica: So Adrian, what makes an app educational?

Adrian: It needs to be something that is interactive, as opposed to simply watching a T.V. show. Kids need to learn how to do something, not just be entertained. We want them to be interacting with the information, like matching shapes or answering questions.

J: And how do you decide whether or not to use an app?

A: Determining the usefulness of an app can be tricky. There are a lot of options and app descriptions are often not super detailed. I recommend trying to evaluate the company or app developer. If they have a website, they are more likely to be legit. Often you can search a particular company and see the apps they have. If there are many educational apps, there is a better chance they will be legit. If there is only one or two amongst a bunch of different types of apps, quality will likely suffer. Many well-known companies have mostly paid apps, but there are often lite or free versions of some apps. This can give you a chance to try it out before you buy other apps from the company. It is easier to browse apps available in the app store on a computer. You can select many helpful criteria for sorting them such as “Free,” “Educational,” and “Kids” which makes finding appropriate apps much easier.

Adrian’s & Jessica’s List Of The Top Educational Apps For Kids

Using Adrian’s recommendations, I have compiled a list of some of the best apps for kids age 10 and under.

Starfall

by Starfall Education

Age: 5 & Under

What they provide: This is a reading app for kids. Stories have audio buttons that read out-loud to kids while they look at the highlighted words at the bottom of each page.

Why it’s educational: Starfall focuses on phonics where learners don’t just see letters, they also hear them.

Price: FREE

Lazoo Zoo

by Lazoo

Age: 5 and Under

What they provide: This app company creates apps for kids to draw, paint, and create. The games ask players to “draw squiggle lines to make the car move” or “draw hair on the people.” This is a great app for the artist in your family.

Why it’s educational: This is a responsive game. Kids have to listen and follow instructions. The company motto is to “encourage self-expression and empower a child’s imagination.”

Price: FREE

Duck Duck Mooseo

by Duck Duck Moose

Age: 3+ (Note: Some apps are for ages 3-5 and others are for ages 6-8)

What they provide: This app company has over 23 educational games in the Apple Store. The games incorporate a lot of music (think Little Einsteins), and they recently partnered with the non-profit Khan Academy, whose mission is to provide high-quality education at no cost to anyone, anywhere.

Why it’s educational: Each app enhances different levels and types of learning. Some games focus on letters and help children read phonetically. Some games read to kids and provide words at the bottom of the screen for kids to read-along. One of the best games is “Puzzle Pop.” It shows a completed picture of a puzzle, mixes it up, and kids have to try to reassemble the picture.

Price: FREE

Relation Shapes

by Vizu Vizu

Age: 5 and Under

What they provide: This app company creates games that promote visual and spacial learning. Players are given pictures and have to use a set of shapes to create the same picture.

Why it’s educational: This app is wonderful for preschoolers. It’s important for kids to know their shapes, but it’s more impressive if they can use certain shapes to create something new. Kids have to problem-solve to figure out how to make each picture.

Price: FREE

Bloxels

by Pixel Press Technology

Age: 9-11

What they provide: This app provides coding skills for kids ages 7 and up. Players make video games by putting square, block pieces together. Since each colored block represents something like water or land, the player ends up building a world with blocks.

Why it’s educational: It offers an early lesson on coding for young kids. Kids get to create and build their own game.

Price: FREE

I ended my conversation with Adrian grateful for his research. All of these apps seemed great for kids, but I still had one lingering question. With angst in my voice, I asked, “Are apps good for kids, even if they are educational?” He concluded by saying they are good educational supplements. “They shouldn’t be the main source of learning. The best mode of learning is through one-on-one interactions between parents and children.”

For educational screen time with a twist, I met with Kasie Mainerio, the Principal of University Elementary where this summer she is providing a cutting-edge program for kids in grades 1 through 5. Her program aims to bridge the gap between computer screens and social interaction. In doing so, University has partnered with Keith Hansen from Twin Engine labs to create what is called Minecraft University. Keith and the teachers at University collaborated on the curriculum where they will use the popular online game Minecraft as a central part of their program. When students participate in this curriculum, they will receive guidance from certified Caddo teachers demonstrating how to code as well as spend time collaborating with other kids who are playing. If Minecraft University is not a fit for your child, University Elementary is also offering, “Bricks4Kidz,” another program that uses physical Legos to encourage kids creativity, problem solving, and team building skills.

On the last leg of my journey to find fun, engaging programs & activities kids can do away from the T.V. or tablet, I scheduled a phone-date with principal and educator, Mary Harris. Mary is the principal at South Highlands Elementary. I asked, “Mary, what should parents do with their kids this summer if they want to limit the use of technology?” Her answer will not surprise many of you. “Read to them,” she said. She recommended going to the park. Kids can run around and burn off energy, and then sit down on a blanket and read a few books, she advised. Reading is a time for freedom, but kids should still review and practice skills they learned over the school year. When going on vacation, she recommended parents provide magnetic games. Most games come in little metal tins, and are full of magnetic shapes that kids can use to make various designs and patterns; where other boxes fold out into game boards. Kids can also do word searches and crossword puzzles. This helps students read, find new words, boosts vocabulary, and provides a great way to encourage family discussion and problem solving. She recommended students also spend time writing this summer. “If you want to connect technology and writing, have your children open a Word document to write a quick paragraph about what they’re doing and seeing on their vacation. Reference materials such as pocket dictionaries and thesauruses are also highly recommended to help with spelling, vocabulary, and general interest. Once a story is written, they can call a friend and read their paragraph out loud or rewrite it on a postcard.” She concluded our phone conversation with a simple suggestion: Just spend time talking to your kids this summer. Go back to the basics: ask your kids lots of questions. Indeed, parental interaction is the best form of education for kids.

Be proud, Shreveport-Bossier! There are many folks working tirelessly to provide fun learning environments for your kids this summer. Whether it’s SPAR maintaining our parks, Minecraft University, Shreve Memorial Library’s “Fantastic Performer” program, or Red River Wildlife’s nature programs, there are endless options for kids. Please check out these venues, and get involved with your kids. There are lots of books, T.V. shows, and educational apps that teach children information, but nothing motivates a child to learn more than when a parent is engaging with them. Learning is relational. It happens when parents sit down and build with Lincoln Logs and Play-Doh. It’s digging and planting a garden. It’s reading a book on a rainy day or on a blanket in the sunshine. But, whether it’s a “T.V. kind of day” or a more interactive one, there are many educational options for your kids this summer.