Math: The word alone strikes fear into the hearts of too many kids — and frankly, too many parents. That’s why we think it’s so important to find the very best math apps for kids to share with our readers, so we can help our kids get a great start in preschool, brush up on basic skills in grade school, or move forward in ways that are so much fun, kids might not even suspect they’re learning.

We don’t know many children who love to drill concepts to the tune of a ticking clock. (Okay, I was one of them, but that’s a rarity.) But we do know plenty of kids who love to play games, show how much they know, and get competitive with their friends. With that in mind, here are the best math apps I’ve tracked down after looking at tons of them, to help your kids do just that.

Best Math Apps for Preschoolers

Best math apps for preschoolers: Shiny Circus app

Shiny Things apps
Shiny Things offers a progressive series of math apps that focus on a whole range of early skills. Start with Shiny Picnic to learn matching and sorting. Then move on to Shiny Party, which covers shapes, colors, parts and wholes. Shiny Bakery incorporates number sense, counting, and sequencing, and Shiny Circus deals with measurement: length, width, area, distance, and mass. All together, these four apps provide a broad math foundation for toddlers through preschoolers. (Available on iTunes for $2.99 each)


Best math apps for preschoolers: Motion Math apps

Motion Math apps: Hungry Guppy and Hungry Fish
Motion Math also offers a series of math apps, ranging from preschoolers up to older elementary students. Hungry Guppy is a great place to start for preschoolers learning number sense, counting, and beginning arithmetic. Then kids can move on to Hungry Fish to learn and practice addition and subtraction math facts. (Hungry Guppy available on iTunes for $3.99; Hungry Fish available on iTunes for $1.99, on Google Play, on the Amazon Appstore, and on Windows for $3.99)


Best math apps for preschoolers: Kids Numbers and Math app

Kids Numbers and Math app
Kids Numbers and Math is a simple, bright and cheerful app that helps visual learners grasp the concepts of number sense, matching, maximum and minimum, as well as beginning arithmetic. (Available on iTunes for $0.99 and on Google Play for $2.99 and on Blackberry Appworld for $1.99)


Best math apps for preschoolers: Dexteria Dots app

Dexteria Dots app
Kids can use their Fruit Ninja skills to slice, tap, and combine dots to solve problems. Dexteria Dots can help younger kids learn number sense, relative size, and basic arithmetic, along with practicing their fine motor skills. (Available on iTunes for $0.99)

And for more ideas, be sure to take a look at our 12 favorite educational apps for preschoolers.


Best Math Apps for Early Elementary

Best math apps for kids: Operation Math app

Operation Math app
The Operation Math app from Spinlight Studios (the same developer behind the excellent Alphatots app) turns learning and practicing math facts into spy missions. Solve equations to progress through the game and earn cool gear, including addition and subtraction facts from 1-20 and multiplication and division facts from 1-12. (Available on iTunes and on Google Play for $2.99)


Best math apps for kids: YodelOh Math Mountain app

YodelOh Math Mountain app
Also from Spinlight Studios comes the YodelOh Math Mountain app, which covers the same objectives as Operation Math, but with alpine flair. Great for learning and practicing the whole range of math facts, with a old school carnival game feel. (Available on iTunes and on Google Play for $2.99)


Best math apps for kids: Number Bonds App teaches Addition and Subtraction

Number Bonds App: Addition and Subtraction
More and more schools are adopting the Singapore Math curriculum, and the Number Bonds App: Addition and Subtraction helps reinforce those fact families. Even if your school isn’t using Singapore Math, this app can be a smart way to help kids visualize addition and subtraction facts. (Available on iTunes for $1.99)


Best math apps for kids: King of Math Junior app

King of Math Junior app
The King of Math Junior app is the precursor to the King of Math app we featured in last year’s back to school math apps. But don’t be fooled by the word junior: This app covers a huge range of concepts, from basic math facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, all the way through measuring, comparing, fractions, and geometry. It can take kids from early elementary math skills up to those covered in the later grades. (Available on iTunes for $2.99 and on Google Play for $1.99)


Best Math Apps for Later Elementary

Best math apps for kids: Thinking Blocks apps for older elementary

Thinking Blocks apps
Word problems can be a huge struggle for many kids, even those who know their basic math facts backward and forward. The Thinking Blocks apps help kids visualize word problems, make sense of what’s being asked, and set up the equations necessary to solve the problem. The series of four apps covers addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, fractions, ratios, and proportions. (Available on iTunes for free)


Best math apps for kids: Thinking Blocks apps for older elementary: Number Bonds App teaching Multiplication and Division

Number Bonds App: Multiplication and Division
Like the Number Bonds App: Addition and Subtraction, this app covers multiplication and division number bonds and fact families in the same kid-friendly format that helps reinforce concepts in the Singapore Math curriculum. (Available on iTunes for $1.99)


Best math apps for kids: Thinking Blocks apps for older elementary: DragonBox Elements app

DragonBox Elements
We’ve sung the praises of DragonBox Algebra many times before, so we were super excited to discover the new DragonBox Elements app that teaches geometric concepts in a similar, sneakily fun way. In DragonBox Elements, kids solve puzzles while learning about shapes, their properties, and the logic of geometry. Fun fact: The app name comes from Euclid’s Elements, the original framework of geometry. (Available on iTunes and on Google Play for $2.99 and on the Amazon Appstore for $5.99)


Best Math Apps for Middle School and High School

Best math apps for older kids: Quick Math Plus app

Quick Math Plus app
Our kids get so tired of drilling math facts, but it’s important to master them, since solving higher level math problems requires quick mental arithmetic. Quick Math Plus — also from Shiny Things, like the preschool apps above — is a great app to help older kids practice mental arithmetic in an app format that doesn’t feel babyish. This app covers all the math facts, plus exponents, negative numbers, and order of operations. (Available on iTunes for $1.99)


Best math apps for older kids: Mathemagics app

Mathemagics apps
Once kids have honed their mental arithmetic skills, the Mathemagics apps — Mental Math Tricks and Easy Algebra Fast — can help them learn and practice some cool mental math tricks and speed up larger calculations. Multiply and divide large numbers, square any number, calculate percentages, multiply polynomials, and manipulate quadratic equations — not just quickly and easily, but faster than friends and even teachers. Whoa. (Mathemagics Mental Math Tricks available on iTunes for $2.99, Mathemagics Easy Algebra Fast available on iTunes for $1.99)


Best math apps for older kids: Hands-On Equations app

Hands-On Equations app
Hands-On Equations uses scales and pawns to help kids visualize algebraic equations and remember that old adage about What you do to one side, you have to do to the other. Start with Level 1, solving for a single positive variable, and move on to Levels 2 and 3 build on the knowledge from Level 1. Instructional videos on YouTube introduce each lesson, and the step by step examples help build kids’ confidence. Because let’s face it — algebra can be pretty intimidating. (Available on iTunes for $2.99 and on Google Play for $2.95 and on the Amazon Appstore for $2.95)


Best math apps for older kids: Calculator # app is a fantastic alternative to buying one

Calculator # and Calculator ∞ apps
Before you shell out big bucks for a graphing calculator, give these two Calculator apps a whirl. Calculator # is free, but it still offers some pretty powerful functions, including factoring polynomials, 2D graphing, quadratic and linear equations, and trigonometric functions. Or upgrade to Calculator ∞, which can handle equation systems, matrices, Taylor series, regression and statistics. If all of this sounds only vaguely familiar and possibly a little scary, then you just might need these apps. (Calculator # available on iTunes for free, Calculator ∞ available on iTunes for $2.99)


More from our 2014 Back to School Tech Guide 
10 of the best organizational apps for parents
12 of the best educational apps for preschoolers
11 of the Best reading apps for kids
16 best science apps for kids of all ages