It’s not easy tracking down free educational apps for kids–or at least the good ones. And we have pretty stringest standards for what makes an app good. So we’re excited to launch our second back-to-school tech guide, starting with stuff you don’t have to shop for at all. Or at least not put down any credit cards.
Here, the best of the best in various platforms from preschoolers and early learners, right up through high school and beyond.
FOR EARLY READERS: Learn With Homer (iPad)
However you feel about the Common Core Curriculum, this iPad app does an outstanding job integrating them into an app that engages kids 3-6 more than any test prep session. It’s dynamic, fun, and the first 30 lessons are free.
FOR GENERAL PRESCHOOL SKILLS: PBS Parents Play and Learn (iOS, Android, Kindle, Nook)
What’s special about this is that it’s made specifically for parents to do with their kids. It offers more than a dozen learning games and activities focusing on math and literacy, and all of them available in both Spanish and English.
FOR EARLY READING: Storybots “Starring You” Storybooks (iOS)
These free interactive kids’ books, from the makers of JibJab, let your kid put their faces right into the characers in the story, making the lessons even more engaging. There’s a new release each month about topics as varied as weather, counting, trucks, and the alphabet.
FOR MATH PRACTICE: Math Practice Flash Cards (Android)
For a solid, basic math experience for kids in pre-K through 8th grade, this flash card app helps you add, subtract, multiply and divide. You can customize the values for each quiz and store and track your results, and we really like that negative values are accepted, which often isn’t the case in kids’ math apps. Just know that the answers are given in multiple choice form, and the free version is ad-supported.
FOR CREATIVE WRITING: Picturebook (iOS)
For kids who are discovering the art and joy of storytelling, this app makes it easy. Type your own story and select pictures to bring it to life. When you’re done, save it and you’ve created your very own e-book. Perfect for grade schoolers or creative preschoolers with a parent’s help.
FOR FOREIGN LANGUAGES: Duolingo (Android, iOS)
This highly rated app is as serious as Rosetta Stone or any college level course, with investors including the NEA itself. It’s designed to start with the basics and move you right up through proficiency in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian or Portuguese. And the gamification help makes it fun for kids or adults. Study trip to Western Europe, anyone?
FOR US HISTORY: History Here (iOS)
From the History Channel, comes this engaging app that points out historical sites and points of interest, wherever you are. Everything from museums to battlefields to architecturally significant buildings. Or just search by zip code or city to see what’s happening elsewhere–and then beg your parents to take you there.
FOR SCIENCE AND ASTRONOMY: The NASA App (Android, iOS)
Space nuts will be enthralled with NASA’s official and highly-rated app showcasing more than 11,000 images, NASA TV footage and live-streaming, mission info, feature stories and even Space Station sighting opportunities.
While we are all for spending the money on BrainPop and BrainPop Jr, their free videos are also favorites among our staff. The regular app is best for kids about 7 and up and includes a quiz at the end to support comprehension and retention; while kids up to third grade should enjoy BrainPop Jr. Each day you get one fun new film on topics as broad as the rainforest, the electoral college, Agatha Christie, basic probability, autism, or conjunctions. The subjects come to life in such a fun and engaging way, your kids will want to see more. Which they can, if you pay for the upgrade. Otherwise, make it a fun routine to watch a new one each day.
FOR ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING EDUCATIONAL: Khan Academy App (iOS)
You have hit the motherlode of educational content on the Khan Academy app, which brings much of the popular website’s content to your mobile device. You’ll have access to more than 2700 videos (and counting) for math, science, biology, chemistry, history, the humanities and more.
There’s no official Android app yet, but you can use an app like Viewer for Khan Academy at Google Play, which gives you access to the content on the Khan Academy website through a really beautiful interface.
For more great apps, gear and more, check out the rest of our Back to School Tech Guide 2013.
Photo Credit: iPad education in use