Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Whether you support the use of iPads and tablets in schools or not, you can’t ignore the fact the they are amazing educational tools. Equipped with the right apps, the iPad can become a treasure trove of learning experiences, disguised as fun games kids are dying to play.
There are wonderful free educational iPad apps out there, many of which cost $10, $20, or even more. I’m not here to say they’re not worth it – you’re going to pay much more for a textbook – but it’s also possible to find cheaper apps that nonetheless provide a great learning experience for kids of all ages. For the list below, I tried to stick to apps that cost $5 or less, and all except one offer a free version too.
Note that the ages in brackets next to each app is the app’s official recommended age range. This does not mean it won’t suit other ages as well, as each child develops in a different pace. Check them out and see what’s best for your child. Who knows, you may enjoy them yourself too!
TinyHands Sorting [Ages 2+]
Unlike the rest of the apps which I had to test on myself, this is one I could test on a real customer – my 2 years old niece. You may remember her from my previous post on educational Android games for toddlers which she helped me write when she was 17 months old, and this time she helped me recognize the one really good game out of all the toddler apps I downloaded. TinyHands Sorting was a huge success.
Aimed at toddlers ages 2.5 and up, you can safely assume that your 2, 3, and even 4 year olds will enjoy its magic. TinyHands Sorting requires no English skills whatsoever – it’s all about pictures – and is therefore perfect for children who don’t speak English. The goal of the game is to sort all the objects into their correct places. Each screen has a different theme, and requires slightly different skills. The sorting is based of shape, color, size, and other subjects such as seasons, on land/under water, etc.
The free version comes with four different boards, and you can unlock the remaining 9 boards for a $2.99 in-app purchase. This may seem a bit steep for only 12 boards, but your kids will enjoy each board over and over again. Note that younger kids may need to be told what to do on each board at first, especially on the more complicated ones, but they’ll catch on quickly and start playing by themselves.
LetterSchool [Ages 3-7]
LetterSchool is the kind of app I wish I had around when I was younger. It resembles the way I learned how to write, but would have saved my older sister the trouble of creating whole notebooks full of letters for me to trace. In three easy steps, it teaches kids how to write letters and numbers, using just the right gradient to make it super easy to learn.
After choosing a letter or number and seeing how it’s used, kids first get to watch how the letter should be written. In the second step they trace the letter over the existing example, and in the third step they get to write it all by themselves. When all three steps are completed, the child gets a star for that letter. The process includes different amusing effects for each letter, which makes the whole process fun and interesting.
The app comes with three different profiles, so up to three kids can play and keep track of their own achievements. You can also choose between several different fonts.
The free version comes with letters A-E in upper and lower case, and numbers 1-5. $2.99 will get you the full version with all the numbers and letters.
Native Numbers [Ages 4-7]
Math is an important skill, but it can easily become a hated subject due to misunderstanding of basic concepts. Native Numbers takes children through the simple elements of math, starting with rods and moving on to pictures and numerals. Slowly but surely, kids can understand what these numbers are all about, and that there’s more to numbers than just symbols – they actually stand for something.
Native Numbers takes kids through the basic concepts, followed by how numbers relate to each other, how numbers are ordered, and counting. As with LetterSchool, multiple children can play the game on the same iPad with the ability to track progress and achievements for each child separately.
You can even create an online account on nativebrain.com and link it to the app, which will let you add names, avatars, and other information to each child. While signing up for an account, you can choose to have a parent account or a teacher account. The latter lets you track multiple children more easily.
The free version of Native Numbers comes with the first 5 activities. To get access to all of them, $4.99 will get you the full version. Yes, it’s a bit much, but you’ll end up paying much more for a private tutor if your child has a hard time with math, so it could be worth it.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for beautiful, free iPad educational apps. It was a hard choice, and there were many that were left out. If you’re trying to get your kids to read, I recommend that you check out these great interactive eBooks. Alternatively, you can look into making your own, personalized iPad game with TinyTap.
Do you have excellent free educational ipad apps your children can’t put down? Do you use certain apps in class to help children grasp the concepts you teach? Share your recommendations in the comments.
Image Credit: Child with tablet image via Shutterstock