The best learning apps for stir-crazy kids

Lockdown learning doesn’t have to mean falling behind. These apps will help fire children’s imagination and boost their skills

The best learning apps are designed with children in mind and are structured in a way that allows them to navigate activities independently. Photograph: iStock

The best learning apps are designed with children in mind and are structured in a way that allows them to navigate activities independently. Photograph: iStock

 

Time, once spent searching through the school bag for the maths book or missing school tour note only to find last week’s milk and a squashed banana, has been temporarily replaced with wading through the app stores to find a suitable educational app.

But it can be difficult for home-schoolers to cut through the virtual banana skins and find the apps with the right educational weight.

Here are some of the best learning apps out there. They are designed with children in mind and are structured in a way that allows them to navigate activities independently. Even better, most of them are free.

Epic!

(Apple/Android/Chromebook. Free until June 30th)

It’s all in the name for this reading app. Epic caters for all interests and accommodates all reading abilities. The extensive digital library allows children access books that interest them – from fact or fiction, sports, to science or adventure.

Books can be read in several ways, all of which enable the reader to do so independently if they wish. There is a “read to me” function that highlights the words as they are read or an audio book function option that allows children to listen only.

They can also read independent of any audio function. Teachers can differentiate before remotely assigning readers to their class. There are quizzes and learning videos. Progress can be monitored via reading logs.

The app is free to download, and unlimited access is free until June 30th. The app is free to schools but after June 30th, home subscriptions cost €7.30 per month.

Suitable for: Pre-school to all levels in primary school.

Reading Eggs: There are great resources like this to foster reading skills
Reading Eggs: There are great resources like this to foster reading skills

Reading Eggs

(Apple/Android/Amazon. Two-week free trial, €8 per month thereafter)

This app offers structured reading activities with a focus on phonics, high frequency words, phonemic awareness in the early years section. Each lesson begins with an interactive video, followed with interactive activities that aim to reinforce the literacy skill and it finishes with a book and reading activity. The animations and songs will appeal to younger students.

The senior end of the school is also catered for in the Reading Eggspress level, which has some great competitive activities in the Stadium tab. They can choose from grammar, word usage, spelling or vocabulary activities.

The app also offers a numeracy programme called Mathseeds with 200 lessons for children aged 3-9. You can skip to a lesson level that suits from the parent tab. Each lesson starts with an animation and is followed by a step by step, interactive instruction to complete the task. There is also a Mental Minute tab which is a great quick fire warm up to get ready for the lesson ahead.

Suitable for: Pre-school to all levels in primary school.

Creative Bursts

(Website. Free)

For those who are looking to reduce the screen time but increase engagement, Sarah Webb has created video “story starters”.

Children can tune into at 1pm Monday-Friday or access the recorded videos on the website and listen into the daily creative challenges and writing games. They can create characters, word spiders or write stories based on photos and props and much more.

Suitable for: Nine-plus (but younger, with help)

Topmarks: This website/app hosts a series of subject-based interactive activities for all class levels.
Topmarks: This website/app hosts a series of subject-based interactive activities for all class levels.

Topmarks

(Apple/Amazon/Anderoid. App costs €3.50, website access is free)

This website/app hosts a series of subject-based interactive activities for all class levels. The activities are more of a consolidating nature than instructional, but kids enjoy them.

The Hit the Button activity in the maths section is a particular favourite and children can choose to challenge themselves based on the tables or number calculation they are working on.

Suitable for: All ages

Kahoot: the popular quiz-based game works well in school and at home
Kahoot: the popular quiz-based game works well in school and at home

Kahoot!

(Apple/Android/Huawei. Free)

This game-based app is a real winner. Often used in classrooms as a fun assessment tool, many students will already be familiar with how to use it. The classroom Kahoot encouraged speed and maximised fun and engagement – but the remote aspect has shifted the focus to accuracy, with students playing at home at their own pace while still maintaining the fun and engagement.

Teachers can set multiple choice questions based on topics covered and the app converts it to an interactive quiz. Students can also create their own quizzes. Teachers have uploaded a bank of quizzes that can be accessed by any user – so you don’t have to be assigned a quiz to use the app.

It sounds very simple – but it is the simplicity of the app that keeps it engaging. Once you’ve played one Kahoot you’ll play a hundred. There is an option to switch off the music to avoid the earworm background music.

Suitable for: Five-plus years

Go Noodle: the classroom-based activity app can be a hit at home too
Go Noodle: the classroom-based activity app can be a hit at home too

GoNoodle

(Android/Apple/Amazon. Free)

Like Kahoot, many primary school children will be familiar with GoNoodle, and like the teachers, parents are all too aware of the need for movement breaks. GoNoodle is an app that guides you through those breaks. The activities are designed to get the heart rate up and have a bit of fun.

They last about five minutes and the children are generally the best judge of the activity that suits them. Be warned: they may want you to join in too.

If you need to bring the energy down a little there are activities in the Flow section that can bring some calm to the table.

Suitable for: Six-plus years.

World Book Online

(Website. Free)

The days of collecting the tactile encyclopaedia from A-Z have all but departed – but World Book Online offers up a virtual encyclopaedia. Click the discover tab to gather information from your chosen area, from science and maths to world religions. The early learning tab has a selection of interactive games, stories and art activities. The timeline section covers a tapestry of topics as rich as history itself and there is also an ebook section. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of tabs t available to help support any project-based learning.

Suitable for: All ages.

Kloog

(Apple/Android. Free)

This is a social skills app and was developed by Shine Centre for Autism in Cork. It is an online version of the classroom-based programme Personal and Life Skills (Pals).

The programme aims to help autistic children and teenagers “learn and understand about the often-confusing social world that surrounds them”.

There are two apps. The first one, Mission Rescue Kloog, addresses social interactions and nuances in communication. The second app, Klooog2 - Return to Zugopolis, deals with the area of friendship, bullying and online safety.

Suitable for: Primary school/post-primary.

Séideán Sí

(Website, some activities require Flash. Free)

This website provides Irish language activities for children. Users can choose the cainúint they wish – Munster, Ulster, Connaught – and then choose their class level. There are spelling, grammar and reading activities to choose from.

Suitable for: All ages.

Clár Luathléitheoireachta

(Website. Free)

Another Irish language website with super, child friendly games and activities. You can choose levels and games that suit. The activities are divided into three bands and each band progresses through levelled activities, from putting words in correct order, to listening activities and word recognition. The activities are short, engaging and fun.

Suitable for: All ages.

Duolingo

(Apple/Android. Free)

While many of us may have threatened to learn a new language in lockdown, chances are only a few or us have followed through.

This app is, however, useful for English as an additional language (EAL) students or who have had their language acquisition interrupted. It won’t replace the social side of language practice that happens informally at school, but the lessons are short and a fun way to keep them chatting and practising.

Suitable for: Anyone interested in learning a new language.