Dr. Nicole Beurkens
The summer can be a great time for your kids to take a break from school and recharge their batteries. But have you ever felt like too many days go by where they don’t do much to stretch their brains? Maybe your kids seem to “start over” when school begins in the fall, forget much of what they have learned last year –something known as the “summer slide” – or don’t seem to make significant progress from one year to the next? It’s not your imagination, a new study shows that children lose up to 40% of their learning over summer break.
Here’s how to keep your kids engaged and learning even when they aren’t in school — and avoid the summer slide.
Apps to keep your kids engaged over summer
There are many fun ways to encourage your children to discover new interests, get outside, learn new skills, and maintain learning even when they aren’t going to school every day. One of the most popular ways to accomplish this is by using apps and games designed to spark your kids’ interests in new topics, and prevent them from losing all their hard-earned knowledge over the summer!
There are many useful games and apps to try with your children this summer. The 15 games I’ve suggested here are all safe quality choices to get the best of learning and fun over the summer months. Learning apps and games combined with active participation in real-world activities can help your child avoid the summer slide and head back to school ready for the new year, and maybe even help them get ahead!
The apps and games I’m suggesting fall into three main categories so that you can pick from each to support your child in all of the most important areas.
5 apps to get kids outdoors
One of the things we all want to avoid as parents is our kids spending most of the summer cooped up indoors when they could be benefitting from fresh air, sunshine, and time in nature. These apps encourage your kids to get outside and learn new things:
1. The Audubon Bird Guide App (Ages 7+):
Bird watching is a perfect outdoor activity for kids of all ages, and works best for kids who are old enough to do a bit of exploring outside on their own. The Audubon Bird Guide app provides a detailed list of over 800 different species of birds that your kids can keep track of as they see new ones in the wild. They can use the app to compare the number of different species they’ve observed with each other, or work together to find different ones and complete the list.
The Star Chart app is sure to spark your kids’ imaginations and capture the interest of any future astronomers. All they have to do is point their device to the sky to learn about all of the stars, planets, constellations, and galaxies that lie above. They can even see the sky as viewed from anywhere on the planet, which is sure to be a real hit – especially among older kids who have learned a bit about space already.
What list of useful outdoors apps would be complete without a plant identifying app? PlantSnap allows you to take a picture of any plant and immediately identify it as well as learn how to take care of it. Your kids will have a blast learning the names of all sorts of plants from the flowers in your yard to the fungi they find in the dirt.
4. Geocaching (Family activity):
Geocaching is an awesome and fun way to get out of the house as a family. Using a GPS, you can travel around town to find hidden “caches” like a big scavenger hunt. Try letting your kids take the initiative when you reach the locations where items are hidden.
5. AllTrails (Family activity):
AllTrails is a classic outdoor activity – going for a hike! This app (that’s also a full-scale website) helps you find trails for all sorts of activities ranging from an easy walk to an exciting bike ride. For older kids, this can be a great way to find something new to do near home, or you can take a family trip and spend the day outdoors.
5 apps for problem solving and critical thinking
One of the best parts about summer break is that your kids can get some of the hands-on learning and problem solving experiences that they may not get in school. These ideas can help your kids gain valuable knowledge and experience that carry over to many aspects of their lives in and out of the classroom.
Cut the Rope is a timeless iPhone and iPad app that my kids used to play when smartphones first became popular. It’s great at teaching a bit of problem solving and perseverance, while also being really fun.
2. Mystery Math Town (Ages 7+)
A cool math game that really helps reinforce some important skills, Mystery Math Town has the player solve customizable math problems in order to progress and win. This game is especially useful for kids who need to memorize times tables or strengthen their basic math skills.
3. Where’s My Water? (Ages 4+)
Just like Cut the Rope, Where’s My Water is a classic game that my kids used to play all the time. It’s another charming puzzle game that makes your kids work out how to solve each level, which is great for critical thinking skills and perseverance.
4. Winky Think Logic Puzzles (Ages 4+)
The Winky Think game includes a variety of different puzzles that challenge your brain in various ways. Your kids will feel a sense of accomplishment as they progress to more difficult puzzles each day.
As one of the quintessential video games of the past decade, you’ve almost certainly heard of Minecraft. This is one of few games that truly show the best video games have to offer, without including excessive violence or inappropriate content. It’s great for teaching some resilience, creativity, and quick thinking – but you may need to put some boundaries in place to make sure it’s not overplayed!
5 apps and games for academic skills
Of course, spending some time reinforcing existing academic skills or getting ahead for next year is always a good idea too. These educational apps and games are great for helping your kids retain the knowledge they get from school over break.
WordWhile is an app for kids who are starting to read more involved literature in their classes, or for those who just like to explore a variety of texts. They can pick which book they want to work on, and then fill in words from the book that have been left blank.
2. DragonBox Algebra (Ages 5+)
DragonBox Algebra is an entire app designed to start your kids on algebra early. It’s a fun way to introduce your kids to the basics of algebra in an engaging and low-stakes environment. Plus, they’ll go into school feeling great when they already know the material.
3. Barefoot World Atlas (Ages 5+)
The Barefoot World Atlas app lets your kids learn about the people, cultures, and famous cities around the world. They can have fun exploring new regions, or learn facts about the cities near you. With travel still on the no-go list in most parts of the world, this is a great way for kids to learn and explore the globe without leaving home!
The Toontasic animation app by Google was designed to give kids with creative ideas a chance to make cool 3D animations. If you have a musician, artist, or future filmmaker in your family this might just be the app for them.
SplashLearn is a fantastic website that’s widely used in elementary schools as a way to teach kids reading and math through games. Each game is designed to develop specific skills, and you can customize which games your child can play to help bolster their weak points or let them play to their strengths.
Remember that even the most beneficial uses of electronics are no substitute for getting outside and genuinely experiencing the world around us. And research of young children clearly shows the highest learning benefit comes with co-viewing or co-playing together with the parent.
The apps and games I have recommended in this article are excellent ways to supplement a healthy range of everyday activities, but any screen time should still be balanced with other activities. Many apps can support learning, we don’t want to go overboard and replace real experiences with electronics.
A great way to make sure your kids get the most out of games like these is to use an app like Qustodio that lets you set time limits on different devices and apps while monitoring what content your kids can see.