Oh, summer vacation. In between camp and soccer games, many kids don't have much time to dedicate to schoolwork and find themselves behind once September rolls around. Experts call this 'the summer slide'.
"The summer slide is the phenomenon that all kids experience in some way, losing their hard-earned skills," says Sarah Pitcock, the CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Research shows that many students lose two to three months' worth of math skills over the summer. Low-income students can lose two to three months of reading skills as well. It can take teachers anywhere from four to six weeks in the fall to get students back on track.
The last thing kids want during their summer break is to be stuck inside, completing math worksheets while the ice cream truck passes by. What's a parent to do?
One possible solution is free educational apps that might keep some of those math and reading skills fresh while helping kids explore other topics as well. NPR Ed has test-driven a bunch of them and compiled the best of the best here for you. Each app had to pass three criteria: be entertaining, be quick to play and be challenging.
Coding: Cargo-Bot – by Two Lives Left
The point of the game is simple: tell a robot to move boxes.
To do this, the game provides a series of specific commands - go down, go up, move right, move left, repeat action. You can create a sequence of movements by combining these actions. When the combination is played, children can watch the robot's actions and correct any mistakes. As the game goes on, users will have to solve trickier puzzles, like separating boxes by color.
This app is touted as an introduction to coding for older kids. Regardless if you have a future techie in your clan, this problem solving game is challenging and gives users a sense of accomplishment.
(Ger the app for Apple iPad here. Ages 10+)
Math: Match 10: Free Math Puzzle – by Absolutist Ltd.
All you do is add to 10. Users are given a grid of numbers and must link together an equation that equals 10. Sound easy, right? Not so fast.
Points are awarded based on what digits are used. 5+5 only awards 55 points, but 6+2+1+1 awards 6,211 points. Kids are challenged to find more complex solutions to gain as many points as possible. It's an addictive logic puzzle that everyone in the family can enjoy.
(Get the app for Apple iOS here. Ages 7+)
Reading: World's Worst Pet- Vocabulary – by Curriculum Associates, LLC
Meet Snargg: the adorable alien who loves to get into trouble. When Snargg runs away, it's up to you to lead him through danger and find his way back home.
Kids identify synonyms, antonyms and definitions in order to lead Snargg home. Users must find synonyms to build a bridge for Snargg or match definitions to rescue him from an industrial park. At the end of each game set, students are given writing assignments using the words they just learned.
Aimed at grades 4 - 8, this is a fun and entertaining app that delivers power vocabulary skills.
(Get the app for Apple iPad here. Ages 10+)
Reading: Phonics Genius – by Innovative Mobile Apps
This app is aimed towards younger kids learning how to read. The game splits words up phonetically and helps your child sound them out.
Let's say it's time to practice the 'aw' sound. A series of words will pop up for practice, like guffaw, bawl and seesaw. Your child can hear a recorded voice saying each word and say it themselves into the microphone for practice.
This app isn't as entertaining as others, but with over 6,000 words, it is an invaluable learning tool for young readers.
(Get the app for Apple iOS here. Ages 4+)
Science: Rocket Science 101 – by NASA
Aspiring astronauts don't have to go to Houston to help build rockets with this app from NASA.
Users can pick a spacecraft with a specific mission, read up on how it functions and build it according to specific weight, thrust and size specifications. When the mission is completed, there's a round of cheers as your child's rocket leaves the stratosphere, accompanied by a YouTube link to watch the actual rocket launch.
This is our list of educational apps, but we're not alone. Websites like Mindshift, Best Apps for Kids, Common Sense Media, Tech with Kids and Fun Educational Apps have hundreds of reviews on educational apps. Any programs your kids can't get enough of? Share with us in the comments.