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“When I was your age, we didn’t learn from apps or BookFace or any techie do-dads. Our school had books and we read them uphill both ways!”
Ok, Grandpa. Settle down. I know you’re passionate about those Good Ol’ Days™, but you have to admit the world has changed.
Maybe you’ve got a little grandpa voice in the back of your head. Maybe you wonder if letting your child use an app for school will turn them into a screen zombie. You worry they can’t be anything more than entertainment at best.
At the same time, you’re probably also exhausted. Teaching takes a lot out of you, and you want to be able to outsource some of it guilt-free. Would it really be so bad?
I’m so glad you asked.
Can my child really learn from apps?
My most honest, genuine answer is yes. It is 100% possible for your child to not only learn, but learn well using apps. I’ve seen children jump leaps and bounds ahead of where they were previously through app usage. I’ve seen kids who hated subjects become enamored with them. And I’ve also seen at least one kid show true prodigy abilities after polishing their skills through the use of apps.
It does depend somewhat on your child, of course. Some kids will balk at using apps no matter how hard you try. This surprises a lot of people, including me as a first-year-teacher. Because of how techie modern children are, most adults assume all kids love gratuitous screen time. In my experience though, it’s just not always true. Some kids prefer running around, getting their hands dirty, or other tactile experiences to plugging in.
Other kids, however, will take to app learning like a fish to water. If you have a child that loves instant feedback, the thrill of competition, and/or learns best by trial-and-error, they’ll likely gravitate towards apps. If this is your kid, you might have a harder time getting them OFF the screens, especially if the apps they’ve found are the zombie-inducing type, and not educational.
How should I use apps in my homeschool?
Even the most app-loving kid probably shouldn’t spend the entirety of their school day on screens. If you’re hoping to use apps to teach your children, I’d recommend doing so with one of the following strategies:
Do you have a weird period of time between large academic units? An unexpected change in scheduling? Just need a break from your daily homeschool grind? In that case, a short burst of app learning can work beautifully. Even if they just use apps to learn exclusively for a few weeks, it’s not going to kill them. (Though it may throw off your homeschool routine.)
Short-term app learning also works if there’s an unexpected emergency in your lives, like a natural disaster, personal health problem or, you know, a worldwide pandemic.
If you have a kid who positively HATES math, maybe that’s the subject you focus your app time on. Apps have the near-universal benefit of dramatically increasing engagement. You can use this to your advantage by associating fun, playful apps with subjects your kids don’t usually like.
You can also use the single-subject method to learn from apps if you aren’t confident teaching something. Many parents become uncomfortable teaching either math or language arts (or both!), especially after the child grows past the fifth grade level. Using an app to supplement their education gives you instruction you can count on.
Introduce new material
Could there possibly be a more engaging way to present material than a game? New material can be intimidating for some kids,
Some kids have subjects they absolutely love. They’d spend all day focusing on, say, science if you let them. If you have such a child, offering them an app can help enrich and deepen their learning.
I get it. Sometimes, you just need to go to the bathroom, BY YOURSELF, for five minutes. If an app that’s even vaguely educational can provide that, I give you permission to use it.
What apps are the best for learning?
If you’re getting comfortable with the idea of using apps, now go ahead and check out some of the most popular ones. Remember- no app is going to work for everyone! Sometimes, it requires some trial-and-error to find the sweet spot for your kids. Hopefully though, both you and your kid will fall in love with at least one of the following:
Learn from Multi-subject Apps
Khan Academy This is my favorite K-12 educational app, hands-down. I used it constantly in my classroom, especially when I needed each kid learning at their own pace. It provides plenty of examples, checks for understanding, and a huge variety of subjects to choose from. It also has great integration on the teacher’s side of things.
Starfall There’s songs, there’s games, there’s math, there’s reading. What’s not to love? Now with material for kids K-3.
PBS kids Do I have to explain this one to you? PBS Kids is the app-version of the TV shows your kid probably already knows and loves, but with interactive, educational content.
WolframAlpha Do you need to know how much you’d weigh on mars? How about a step-by-step breakdown of an equation? WolframAlpha’s AI can help you out. They primarily deal in math and science-related calculations, but they offer help for other subjects as well.
Udemy I love this app for my own personal learning projects, since it has such a wide variety of subjects. I’d probably suggest it most highly as an elective course app, since it has professional level courses in photography, music, design, fitness, IT/software, even personal development topics like mental health or public speaking. However, they do have plenty of courses on upper grade-level core subjects too!
English/Language Arts Apps
MobyMax This was the most-used ELA software in the school district I worked in. It’s great at targeting what skills your child is struggling with and building them up. Now offering a homeschool/home tutoring version!
ABC Mouse ABC Mouse is probably the most widely-known reading app, and definitely the one most marketed. However, it doesn’t work for everyone.
Reading Eggs Has three different levels for different grades, ending in the “egg”celent Reading Eggspress! This is one of the most thorough and engaging programs we’ve tried. Read about our experience.
Overdrive/Libby This is the e-reader app most public libraries are using nowadays. You need a library card to access the ebooks, audiobooks, and periodicals on it, but you should have one of those already!
Teach Your Monster to Read Would you like your child to start reading in a British accent? Because that just might happen if they use TYMTR for any length of time.
Magnetic Alphabet If you want your kid to practice spelling, but they keep losing all the magnetic letters from your fridge, use the app version! They get the spelling practice, you get to stop tripping over letters in the kitchen. (What, was I the only one that was happening to?)
Epic! Our favorite reading platform. It has audiobooks, illustrated & animated read-alouds, and tutorial educational videos. The parent dashboard also offers a way to find materials your kid might be interested in (or need to read for school) and send them straight to your child’s device!
Learn from Math Apps
Smartick Want math lessons for only fifteen minutes a day? This is your app! Don’t be fooled by the short time though; kids get really in-depth lessons and practice that builds when you do it consistently.
Minecraft: Education Edition I know a lot of families use minecraft as part of their ‘gameschooling’ homeschool. Here’s an app that makes all the learning possibilities of Minecraft explicit. Geometry, patterns, and sequencing are some of the real gems here. (Pun intended, of course.)
Prodigy Ok, this is an online game and not an app. Who cares? It’s fun, and kids loving making their little houses and visiting each other. Plus, as it says on their website, all their content is “free, forever.”
Monster Math If having your apps be Common Core aligned is important to you, this will be your new math app. It features a customizable monster your kid creates and then takes on wild, mathy adventures!
Learn from Apps: Other Subjects
Duolingo This second language-learning app is a favorite among adults as well as older children. Follow along with cute cartoons to level up your Spanish, Polish, Korean, Navajo, or …Klingon?
Kahoot! I used this ALL THE TIME in my classroom. It’s great if you want to create your own group quizzes to check your children’s understanding. If you don’t want to make your own quiz, they have a huge bank of pre-made quizzes made by parents and teachers all over the world to choose from!
Code.org (Another website, not an app, but I couldn’t resist!) Does your kid want to learn from apps to code? Code.org offers dozens of games that will teach them the basic logic used in coding. Plus, the games often include settings and characters your kids already love. (Star Wars? Minecraft? Frozen? They have it all, seriously.)
GoNoodle Ok, this one doesn’t have a ton of educational value, but it’s a great tool for brain breaks!
So there you go! Twenty of the best educational apps out there. If you’d like a more in-depth look at all the curriculums we recommend (including app learning options), be sure to check out our Secular Homeschool Curriculum Guide 2021!
For more reading on this topic:
- 7 Homeschool Apps that will Make Your Life Easier
- Ten Best Apps for Kids- and What We Tried that Failed!
- Around the World Apps and Websites
- Online Math Curriculum in an App?!? Our Smartick Review
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.