One of the challenges facing educational game developers is how to strike a balance between lessons and fun. Too much teaching, and the game ceases to keep a child’s attention; too little, and it becomes just another game. That’s one of the reasons Slice Fractions is so great: it has mastered teaching kids about fractional math without having overt lessons to do so. Slice Fractions tasks players with clearing a path for a woolly mammoth to get from one side of the screen to another.
Rosetta Stone’s products immerse you in the language you are learning with its innovative teaching method and lessons that force you to think like a native speaker. Rosetta Stone Arcade Academy, a free-to-play iOS educational game, attempts to build on the foundation of the computer-based language courses by introducing some gaming components as it teaches you the basics of Spanish. The result, unfortunately, is a frustrating experience that often distracts more than it enlivens the process of learning.
MindSnacks has a reputation for quality foreign-language educational apps, but its latest release focuses squarely on the United States – or more specifically, learning just about everything there is to know about all 50 states. U.S. Geography includes eight games tailored for beginner or intermediate students, but it’s also perfect for immigrants, visitors, and citizens alike who want to brush up on their coast-to-coast knowledge. All told, MindSnacks delivers over 40 hours of interactive content, more than 600 hand-drawn graphics, and 1,000-plus trivia questions to keep players on their toes.
With the incredible popularity of Minecraft, it’s not surprising to see other games expand upon its winning creation formula. Toca Builders is one such offering, but it uses the template for additional aims. This kid-oriented app from Toca Boca adds some interesting twists to the core concept of “building with blocks” and gives kids the chance to be creative while also employing problem-solving skills.
Very few educational math apps have recognizable characters, but the newest such iOS edutainment game from JumpStart features animals from the Madagascar series of animated films. Madagascar Math Ops balances education with fun by rewarding good math skills with an Angry Birds-like physics game, in which you hurl the penguins – who are wearing jetpacks – at obstacles in order to free the other animal characters.
When I was a kid, I got this magazine called Penny Power, which was put out by Consumer Reports with the goal of helping kids grow wise to the concepts of money (mostly spending it) in age-appropriate ways. It's no longer published, but I still remember some of the lessons it taught me, because it made those lessons fun. Dinorama appeals to me for the same reasons, now as a parent myself. It's filled with teachable moments about money, wrapped up in a tycoon-style game where kids build and run their own dinosaur park.
Summer’s here, which means that now (or very soon) the kids will be free from the clutches of school for a long stretch of vacation. But there’s no reason that you can’t encourage some independent learning to keep their minds from turning to sludge, especially with a little help from an iPhone or iPad. These 10 fun and engaging iOS apps will expand your kids’ vocabulary and leave them talking like scholars in no time.