We have always homeschooled. And in the house we schooled out of books. Lots of books. But living in 400 sq. ft. is not conducive to hauling around a library worth of reference, reading, and picture books It’s been a huge adjustment, going from a wall full of built-in bookcases, stuffed with all sorts of wonderful information/adventures, to a small shelf with two dozen books on it… an adjustment that I haven’t necessarily embraced.
Living in 400 sq ft isn’t conducive to hauling around a lot of textbooks and workbooks either. And while I’m not going to get away from using math books, and workbooks for some subjects like penmanship and bible study, there are other subjects that we would like to supplement more with some app (screen) work/review.
Last fall we purchased several Kindle Fires with the intent of downloading gazillions of highly educational apps, and the kids could spend an hour or so a day using these apps to reinforce math facts, learn geography, discover incredible facts about the world around them.
What really has happened is that I’ve spent hours and hours trying to find education apps like the ones that I had envisioned. And I’ve only found a couple because most apps are 90% arcade games, 10% review. I guess that I should clarify here that I’m not interested in my kids sitting in front of a screen for an hour to practice 5 or 10 minutes of math facts.
So, this page is dedicated to the educational apps that I have found that are both educational (no, really!), and that my kids find enjoyable (they are not ‘gamers’, so these apps are more learning than entertainment).
The apps listed here are for Kindle/android applications. We do not have an iPad yet (tho would like to get one so we can explore edu apps that are available on the apple platform); I plan on adding a page for ios apps – I won’t recommend what I haven’t tried. Many of the below android/kindle apps are available for Apple products, you just have to search them out.
I have included links to the apps on Amazon (these are affiliate links (you pay the same amt, I get a small kickback that helps with the fuel bill)), but if that makes you feel uncomfortable, you can do your own search for them. These are for Kindle, which is an Amazon product, but I like to link to Amazon even on other types of recommendations because you can see a best price for the product, detailed info on the item (size, weight), as well as read extensive reviews from others who have used it as well.
First, I will say that I am super happy with the Kindle HDs. We have 2 7″ screens and an 8.9. The kids all prefer the larger screen, but they will happily use the smaller tablets too. I am so tickled with some of the features available on the Kindle – mainly Kindle FreeTime. Free Time (FT) allows you to make a free ‘account’ for each child; within their account, you can allot them daily goals and/or limits on books, apps, and movies. You can control their access to the tablet based on time of day (for instance, if you do not want them to have access to their accounts after bedtime, you can program it to lock them out after, say, 9pm. You can control their access to games and videos until they have met an assigned reading goal, or you can set a total screen time allotment (you don’t HAVE to use any of these features if you don’t care to). You can set up up to 6 student profiles per Amazon account, and you get to assign which apps/books/videos each child’s profile has access to – so even though I may have a certain app on my Kindle, I can make it so it isn’t available to ANY of the kids, can allow some to use it but not others (like let Daniel have a geography app, but not Molly since she can’t read it anyway), or assign access to all accounts.
I love the Kindles because you can program them to have restricted access to certain abilities; I have mine programmed to need a password to make any purchases – now I can hand it off to Caleb, and know that he cannot click buttons and purchase all the Thomas the Tank Engine downloads/puzzle screens that he would like to have! LOL!
We currently use our ‘screens’ simply as extra curricular or for review. The kids will practice their multiplication tables or they might cover some new geography lessons, but we don’t use them ‘as school’ per se. I would like to move more that way, but need to find a greater number of more substantial programs like the following (more info, less zombie time).
I”m finding that searching for educational apps can be very time consuming, and can use up a huge amount of data (it IS a big deal if you are limited on your wifi data like most nomads are 😉 )…so, I want to share the apps that we have found to be helpful in our school routine. Unless noted, these apps do NOT require wifi access to use (you must have it to download of course, and some may require occasional access to download upgrades). They are in no particular order, and I’m not going to put an age/grade level on it as all kids are different…
(these will be updated as I find new screen fodder) 😉
Stack the States… We LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this app. The kids think it’s a hoot, but they are all the time learning US geography, including state outlines, capital cities, flags, border states, landmarks, and abbreviations. I bought a different US geography app the other day to give the kids some variety (because they play this all the time); they aced it right away! LOL! Thanks Stack the States!!!
Stack the Countries is just like Stack the States, only worldwide geography. Just as cool, just as fun, just as (shhh!) educational.
Enjoy Learning U.S. Map Puzzle is a free app that lets your student practice where in the country the states go – there are different levels of difficulty – from the country with the outlines of the states and the student just has to drag and drop them in their outline, to a large US map with no hints and a timed feature. The kids love to race to see who can fill the unmarked states in the quickest. They smoke me at it (and that makes me glad 😉 ).
Interactive Telling Time – Learning to tell time is fun really IS fun. The little girls love to practice telling time with this app – fun, engaging, and educational. Works on number placement on the clock face, then moves on to teaching/reviewing basic time telling (:00, :30), to the minute, am/pm, and converting from digital to analog.
King of Math Junior is a cute app that lets you practice your math facts, starting with counting (yay for pre-reader Molly!) and covers +, -, x, division, simple geometry, comparing (less/more), puzzles, measuring (weight/volume, review time, patterns…), and fractions. This is the cutest app! It’s a a little addictive – you earn points for correct answers to work your way up the renaissance era class system. Your progress is saved under your name – you start as a farmer, and work your way up the ladder (through bard, alchemist, ogre or ogress, knight…10 levels) I won’t ruin it for you; I had to keep playing until I’d ‘reached the top’ just to see what my next occupation was, and check out the pics (and boys and girls have different pics)! LOL! <3
King of Math is an more advanced version of KoM Jr. Runs pretty much the same, subjects are: +, -, mixed 1 (mixed + and -), x, division, arithmetic, geometry, fractions, powers, statistics, equations, and mixed 2 (various mixed problems). Same premise of earning points thru correct answers to move up the class ranks (blacksmith, merchant, jester…) avatars not cutesy like Jr. version, more humorous. Fun graphics, and covers lots of different types of equations.
Blackboard Math is an engaging way to practice basic math facts. You can personalize the settings for each student, choosing +, -, x, and division, and novice, intermediate, and expert difficulty levels for each. You can also set the number of problems the student gets, from 5 to 30 in increments of 5s. The app feeds the student the problems, one by one – the screen becomes a big ‘blackboard’ where the student can use their finger or stylus to work out the problem however they want to find the answer. Once they have ciphered the answer, they punch it in using the calculator-like buttons on the top of the screen. If correct, the app moves on to the next problem, if not they are prompted to try again. The app has a review mode where the parent can go in and review the work the student has done to see how they are progressing and if there are any issues that need to be addressed. The app also has a ‘Free Draw’ mode where the student can use the board as they would an empty blackboard.
You can also get Blackboard Math Fractionsand Blackboard Math Decimals. If you are not sure this will work for your student(s), all 3 are available in a ‘lite’ (free but limited) version so you can test drive Blackboard to see if it meets your needs (just do a search by name and ‘lite’).
Geometry Quest is a tour around around the world, that is, if you can pass each level without losing your passport! 😉 7 levels, 28 questions in each level, 3 wrongs and you’re out (actually, you can finish the level to practice the questions, you just can’t advance or get your passport stamp). Simple app, covers shapes up to 10 sides (names, # vertices), area and perimeter, lines, radius and diameter, angles, graphing, slope, volume, equations (? from last level: A line that is perpendicular to y=-(1/5)m+6 must have the slope… options are 4, 5, 6, 8 (answer is 5) 😉 ). Questions are varied, so it’s not repetitive, and gets harder as you progress. If you get all 28 answers right, then you earn a passport stamp for that level.
Speed Bones MD is a simple app that helps your student explore, learn, and review the 200+ bones of the body. In this timed program, choose the right bone for the name given – get it right and get points, get it wrong and no points, but the app highlights it to help you remember it for next time. A practice mode allows you to focus on any one area of the body. 18 levels; must achieve a 50% or better to move on to the next level.
Also available in this series are: Speed Muscles MDand Speed Anatomy.
Chemistry Memory HD…this free app is a simple matching game in which you pair up the elements with their symbols, atomic numbers, or physical state, and also includes a matching game of common name to physical names ie. natural gas = methane. Much more pleasant than staring at a periodic table and trying to memorize it, and great for reviewing and self testing.
Teaching ASL via Kindle:
ASL Spelling Game – My Smart Hands is a great app for learning beginning sign language. The spelling game teaches the ASL alphabet only. While it is limited in what it teaches, it does the best job of getting across fingering, is very easy to use, and uses a realistic hand (child) to show hand posture. The game offers 2 options: learn and play. In ‘learn’, you simply choose a letter on the keyboard, and ‘the hand’ shows the fingering for that letter – the best part is that the hand is shown from front (what others see), and ‘you see’ showing the back of your hand as you hold it for others to see; the only con to this app was here, where I found the keyboard to be on the small side. In ‘play’ mode. the hand signs words for you to cypher. The hand moves between letters realistically, and you can individualize your play by choosing word length (3,4,5,any), speed (slow, med, fast, expert), whether you want to type in your answer or choose from a list, and either qwerty or abc keyboard. Cheap & Fun! ($.99 at this posting)
ASL Hangman is a very basic, but free and enjoyable app to help with ASL review, offering hangman game after hangman game. Working on just the alphabet fingering, this app features a gallows (for hanging the pirate 😉 ), and underneath are rows of hand signs (I had to scroll down to get to the last letters in the alphabet – not a biggie, just need to know…). No letters are shown with the hands, but the signs are shown in ABC order. When you first download the app, be sure to read the quickstart paragraph, as you won’t get another chance (couldn’t tell you what it said because I clicked past it! (insert eye roll)). Tip: to get to the next screen, click on the word under the pirate (that you were guessing) – not sure if they tell you that in quickstart, but it took me some time to figure out how to move on! LOL!).
ASL Dictionary Sign Language – if you want to move on past alphabet fingering, this is the best app (IMHO). This app includes ‘video’ clips of someone signing the word or phrase, including slow motion replay! <3 You can make a favorites list of the words and phrases you are trying to learn, and includes over 5200 signs. This is the link to the tablet version – there is also a couple of other downloads, including one for HD, but that one takes up huge amounts of space. Be sure to read the description for space usage to make sure which version would best suit your needs.
About our Kindles:
We have a couple of different Kindles – we have 2 of the 7″ HD (high definition), and one 8.9″ HD.
The best time to buy them is the day either Black Friday or Cyber Monday 😉 but you can also watch for deals on Amazon. There is a newer model, the HDX, but we didn’t feel the few upgrades justified the big price difference.
We chose to put heavy duty protective cases on our Kindles since both, I’m a klutz, and the kids would be using them and passing them back and forth. We put an Otterbox on the 8.9 (top pic), but chose Griffin Survivor Cases for the 7″ ones because of the price difference – now that we’ve tried both, I will say that we like the Otterbox better.
Both have excellent shock absorbsion, and both have integrated screen protector (no need to buy an additional screen protector); the Otterbox has a protective cover that snaps in place over the screen when the Kindle is not in use, has a stand/base integrated into that cover, and the screen protector is more responsive than the Survivors. (I’m linking to both so you can compare for yourself – the Survivor cases are cheaper and available in more colors…)
UPDATE: These apps are still our top choices, and fast favorites, but we have also released a list of 9 more great educational apps that we have since discovered! You can find Volume II of our Best in Educational Apps for the Kindle here. Happy learning!