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10 apps to keep kids sharp over summer

For most kids, summer is a break from the mundane — a chance to enjoy time away from school on family trips, barbecues and beat the heat in the pool.

But it's also the time of year many young students lose a grip on what they learned the previous school year, also known as the “summer slide.”

In their three months or so away from the classroom, many students get lower scores on standardized testing at the end of the summer break compared to the end of the school year.

Obesity is another problem that can cast a shadow over summer break, especially for kids who are already overweight. A 2007 study found that children typically gained weight more rapidly during the summer months than when in school, which may make parents think twice about how much time kids on break spend with a screen.

Janell Burley Hofmann, a parenting blogger, author and mother of five, says balancing what kids want to do with their time off and what parents think is best doesn’t have to be hard, especially with the aid of technology.

“The summer slide is real. It can be hard for kids to come back and do something like math if they’ve gone 10 weeks without a reminder, and there are a lot of apps now that can help kids stay fresh,” Hofmann said. “A lot of parents worry that the slow days of summer will be lost in screens if we’re not careful, but what’s critical here is quality vs. quantity.”

Warren Buckleitner, founder of children’s technology watchdog group Children’s Technology Review, says parents definitely need to balance their children’s time spent using devices over the summer, but parents should be open-minded about what apps can offer their kids when out of school.

“Fight fire with fire: Provide rich non-tech experiences that will make your child want to be away from the screen,” Buckleitner said. “Tablets don’t work well at the beach. Perhaps that’s the way a higher power intended it to be.”

Here are some phone and tablet apps that can help keep kids learning while they’re away from school:

Math

MathPop

Apple and Android devices, Free-$10

Ages: 6-10

Kids using this app answer math questions quickly, and correct answers are rewarded with access to a game called Aqua Ride, where kids help kids navigate through a mazelike landscape.

Math Board

Apple and Android devices, $4.99

Ages: Elementary school and up

This app is not only configurable to an individual child’s age and learning level, but also functions as a math tutor. Students can use the problem-solver feature to walk through how to solve different sorts of math problems step by step. Kids who prefer to work problems out by hand can show their work on the scratchpad feature.

Science

Star Walk Kids

Apple devices, $2.99

Ages: Kindergarten and up

This app was made with family time in mind. Parents can help their kids learn the constellations with the tap of their device with Star Walk Kids. The highly reviewed app allows users to point their phones or tablets at the night sky and the app will identify it with cartoon graphics. Full narration also tells users about the constellation being explored.

Crazy Gears

Apple devices, $1.99

Ages: 5-8

Similar to Minecraft, this app teaches kids critical thinking and problem-solving skills to build a machine and ensure that it works. Kids test different gears and designs to see how different components would change the machine. The gameplay teaches kids there are often many ways to solve a problem, as well as the basic physics of how machines move and work.

Reading

Vocabulary.com

Apple and Android devices, $2.99

Ages: 13

This app helps kids broaden their verbal skills by turning vocabulary exercises into word games and learning the roots of words. As the child’s skill increases, the words become more challenging. Parents do need to know that this app requires the child to log into a Facebook account for access, but the in-app focus is on the game, not socializing online.

Mystery Word Town

Apple and Android devices, $2.99

Ages: 6-12

Set in an Old West town, this app makes spelling fun by sending kids on a treasure hunt for letters to spell words and solve mysteries. Parents can choose between levels based on their child’s learning level. Each of the three levels let kids spell about 80 words.

Social skills

Peek-A-Zoo

Apple devices, $.99

Ages: 2-4

This app is great for small children who are just learning social cues. Child users are asked to identify emotions that a variety of colorful zoo animals are expressing, and it is a great way for parents to talk with their kids about emotions and how other people express feelings.

Mama Mae: Mookey

Apple devices, $1.99

Ages: 6-8

This app is an interactive storytelling game that teaches children the rewards of not being a bully and celebrating the things that make people different. There’s also a strong emphasis on forgiving past bullies who apologize and change their ways.

More fun

Toontastic

iPad, Free- $9.99

Ages: 5-7

This app helps small kids learn how to create and animate their own characters and stories. The finished product is a short animated film complete with dialogue and musical score kids can create on their own. Toontastic also has an online community of young users that allows kids to enter their creations into film contests.

GeoWalk HD 3D World Fact Book

Apple devices, $2.99

Ages: 7 and up

GeoWalk allows kids to learn about the world outside the familiar with its interactive globe map. The globe is host to hundreds of pins that hold facts about different countries, historical figures and animals. The short descriptions and vivid photography ensure that kids won’t get bored quickly.

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson