It can be tough to pry an iPad out of a child’s tiny hands, but there are many applications, or apps, that make tablets and smartphones a good companion and teacher, and not just an addictive electronic baby sitter.
The best apps for kids are designed to educate and spark creativity. They can be the perfect way to pass time during the waning days of summer vacation, on long road trips or to get back into school-and-learning mode.
Here are some recommendations:
The American Museum of Natural History’s Dinosaurs app will keep future paleontologists captivated for hours. The opening screen consists of a mosaic image of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Each piece of the mosaic is an interactive photo of fossils and artifacts in the museum collection: Click on a tile to get information on that fossil. (iOS; iPad version/$1.99; iPhone version/free.)
Celeste SE is a great way to tour the night sky for all ages. It uses the phone’s camera and GPS system to track the sun, moon and planets as they move through the sky. Point the phone at the sky, and it displays information about nearby objects in the solar system. (Android; $1.99.)
Point your iPhone or iPad at the sky, and Star Walk will identify stars and constellations and track satellites. It can be connected to a second display to view on a larger screen. (iOS; $2.99.)
Roadside America is a pleasant travel companion for the whole family. It’s a guide to quirky and weird roadside attractions — museums, giant coffee pots and more. The app uses the device’s location services to offer suggestions on nearby attractions when you’re on the road. There are photo galleries, along with practical information such as maps, directions, hours of operation — and even sunset alerts. (iOS; $2.99 for one region, for example Northwest, Midwest, California. Additional regions/$1.99. All access U.S.-Canada/$5.99.)
Fotopedia National Parks is great way to prepare for a trip to one of the country’s 58 national parks, to explore them virtually, or just learn more about them. There are more than 3,000 photographs, along with slideshows and wallpaper images. (iOS; free.)
It’s nearly impossible to improve on a book like “Alice in Wonderland,” but “Alice for the iPad” has done it. This interactive e-book takes readers down the rabbit hole with animation and sound effects that bring the book to life in a magical way. Tilting the device makes pictures move and animate. The beautifully rendered text and illustrations are faithful to the original Lewis Carroll classic with John Tenniel’s illustrations. (iOS; $8.99. There’s also a free Lite version.)
The bright and colorful tablet screens are the perfect blank canvas for budding artists, and there are a host of drawing and painting apps geared to kids.
Color Swipe is an interactive coloring book. When kids move their fingers over the uncolored pictures, colors gradually begin to appear. The paid version has 53 pages of pictures; the free trial version has three pages. (Windows; 99 cents.)
PopMath turns learning basic math skills into a game. Designed to teach addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to elementary age students, PopMath displays a series of colored bubbles with math equations and solutions. Kids choose matching sequences, and when they’re right, the bubbles pop and disappear. When the level is cleared, they progress to a more complex one. (Android and iOS; 99 cents, Lite version/free.)
Math Magic also teaches early math skills with varying levels of difficulty. A colorful interface prompts the child to tap on an answer. When they pick the right one, a new problem appears. (Windows; free.)
Other educational apps
Stack the States is a popular educational app that makes learning about states, capitals and bordering states fun and easy. There’s also a global version called Stack the Countries. (Android, Windows, iOS; 99 cents).
For pre-schoolers, Toddler Flashcards Advanced teaches names of animals, numbers, alphabet letters and colors. (Windows; 99 cents.)
Contact Adrian McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org.