Follow us

Thanks for signing up for Modality updates!


Back to school? There's an app for that

9/30/2010 by Jinny Gudmundsen, USA Today

Back to school means it's time to wrangle kids into learning mode. Parents can help the transition into school by downloading some fun, but educational, phone apps.

For preschool and kindergarten

  • "iWriteWords" (from gdiplus; best for ages 4 to 6; $2.99 for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. 4 stars out of 4)

    Perfect for kids who are ready to learn how to write, "iWriteWords" turns the process into a game of dot-to-dot. Children practice writing letters, numbers and simple words by tracing over the outline of letters or numbers. On each, a cute little crab appears, and kids use their fingers to drag the crab over a series of numbered dots. In the process, they write the desired number or letter, which then animates and is spoken aloud by a child's voice. For words, after kids spell it, a cute drawing of the object appears.

  • "Park Math" (from Duck Duck Moose; best for ages 3 to 6; $1.99 for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. 4 stars out of 4)

    Set in a playground full of adorable-looking cartoon animals, "Park Math" makes learning to count, add, subtract and sort a lot of fun. It has seven educational games that can be played on two levels of difficulty. Kids can manipulate objects to help them better understand the math concepts. They will love learning addition by helping ducks climb up a slide and inequalities by balancing mice on a seesaw.

For elementary school

  • "Brain Quest Blast Off" Series (from Modality Inc; best for ages 7 to 13; $2.99 each for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. 4 stars out of 4)

    There are currently six apps in this series, one for each grade level from second grade through seventh grade. In each, kids select from subject areas that can include math, science, language arts, social studies and geography; they then play educational trivia games based on 2,000 questions developed by grade-level specialists. The game-show feel of these apps makes them exciting, and they do a nice job of recycling questions you can't answer so that you learn.

  • "Symmetry Shuffle" (from Carstens Studios Inc.; best for ages 8 and up; $1.99 for iPad. 4 stars out of 4)

    Here's a math app that looks and plays like a puzzle, but teaches higher-level thinking skills like symmetry, mathematical reasoning and geometry. It is all about sliding, flipping and turning two-dimensional objects to match outlines on a puzzle grid.

For middle and high school

  • "Shakespeare in Bits: Romeo & Juliet iPad Edition" (from Mindconnex Learning Ltd.; best for ages 12 and up; $14.99 for iPad, also available for $7.99 for iPhone, iPod Touch. 4 stars out of 4)

    This superb animated study guide provides a complete version of Shakespeare's text accompanied by three hours of animated cartoon videos of the play scenes featuring the voice talents of Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen. As the words are spoken aloud, they are highlighted in text presented alongside the video. Puzzling word constructions can be tapped for translation. Plus this app provides notes, summaries and analyses for each section. By breaking the play into manageable "bits," kids will not only learn the play but will enjoy the Bard. It is a breathtaking combination of high technology and classic literature.

For college

  • "FaceTime" (from Apple; free built-in app for iPhone 4 and newest iPod Touch; 4 stars out of 4)

    If you have a child who is off to college, it may be time to upgrade to the new iPhone4 for both you and your far-from-home student. The iPhone4 has a very cool built-in app called "FaceTime." It allows you to see your child while talking to him, sort of like Skype, just better. Not only can you see each other while talking, you can also use the iPhone's second camera that faces out. I have been using this amazing app with my son at college and have been enjoying watching his college room get decorated; and he has loved watching the antics of our family cat. This video chatting doesn't use your minutes or data plan because it only works when both iPhone4's are using Wi-Fi.