App Happy!

Good morning! Today, I'd like to introduce you to Chris Valpiani, the mother of five girls (including toddler twins), who has been inspiring (and amusing) me on Instagram and Facebook for years. Chris has beautifully incorporated technology into her very organic "unschooling" family lifestyle. I asked her drop in and offer some not-back-to-school app recommendations. This is a wonderful list that has greatly influenced the new iPad in the Foss household. Please meet Chris:

My first iPad came about when I was pregnant with my twins.  My thoughtful family predictably saw that there would be a lot of sit-around-and-nurse-babies time in my immediate and long-term future, and so gifted me one for Christmas.  It revolutionized my life! …  In the very best of ways.  And it didn’t take me anytime at all to realize its potential with my children as well.  It has become a wonderful tool in my arsenal all-things-homeschool to throw at my kids and let them learn all they can soak up, and have a fabulous time in doing so. 

The look of “school” has changed for us.  The iPad is here, and will only likely become more innovative and offer more opportunities to take advantage of; and as a homeschooler, if my children are learning AND enjoying themselves, then I’m pleased as punch!

I wanted to share a few apps that have really made a difference in our homeschool.  But before I begin, I want to mention that there are a lot of gaming apps that offer learning opportunities, as well the apps that are advertised with an obvious education approach.  The ones that I care to share here are more in the category of “obviously educational”; we each have our unique perspectives on what we consider educational for our children, so I’ll not try to convince anyone of the educational value in Where’s My Water, a wildly popular app here in this household ;)

This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, and it isn’t even all that I have on the iPads that we use, but these are the ones that I offer to share with others, if someone just so happens to ask.  I’ve got plenty of apps that I would *love* for my children to use and fall in love with, but for reasons known only to them, they just aren’t necessarily drawn to these apps, though I’ll not delete them just yet – as with food, tastes can change as children grow. 


Apps for Alphabet & Phonics (Early Reader ideal):

First Word Animals (from Learning Touch):

{pictured is the free First Words sampler}

Ages:  Preschool, Kindergarten, First Grade (Early Reader stage).

This app presents phonics is a fun way.  A picture of an animal appears with the name below it (example: cat, dog, pig, hen, etc.).  And at the bottom are all the letters within the name of the animal.  Your child can touch any letter to hear its sound, then touch and drag the letter to the proper placement within the animal name.  Once all the letters have been placed, then you hear the sound of the animal name aloud.  This is the equivalent of Usborne First Word Flashcards, yet a bit more engaging. 

 I want to mention too that through this app you can also be introduced to same-idea apps for Richard Scarry and the Bob Books.  I don’t have these apps (yet), but they look good.




Elmo ABC’s (by Sesame Street):

Ages:  Preschool, Kindergarten.

Since the app is called “Elmo ABC’s”, I’m sure it’s no surprise that this app focuses on ABC introductions through cute games and songs.  If your child enjoys Elmo, this app is for you.

Montessori Moveable Alphabet (also called Montessori Approach to Language, by Rantek): 

Ages:  However old your child is, as long as they enjoy using a moveable alphabet.

A Montessori moveable alphabet isn’t cheap, so if you’re looking for an alternative, this app is the right one.  We have an actual Montessori moveable alphabet and use it regularly, but my children still enjoy doing it on the iPad as well.  You’ll not find “flashy and loud” with this app.  Mellow and calm and delightful.

Starfall ABC’s and Starfall Learn to Read (by Starfall Education):

Ages:  3 years old and up (…ish).

Just like the website that I’m sure you are all familiar with, they have a wonderful app!  A favorite, for sure.  Yeah, Starfall!


Apps for Math and Numbers:


Zoom (by Motion Math): 

Ages:  Preschool through 3rd or 4th grade (with the decimals being the most advanced number challenge).

This is a numbers game that focuses on number placement.  You can work with whole numbers, negative numbers, and decimals (depending on the knowledge your child has).  An example would be – the “player” would have to correctly answer where the number “5” is located, with a scale show on the screen, the “player” would then place the number 5 between the numbers 4 and 6.  It is played the same way with negative numbers, and decimals.  The program offers lots of help if it senses that there is hesitation on the player’s part.

Math Bingo (by ABCya): 

Ages:  At whatever age your child begins to add numbers.

Just as the app name suggests, a Bingo game!  Kids love Bingo!  This app offers games in Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division.  If you answer the number problem correctly, then you earn a space; the player can play for just Bingo, or a full Black-Out (and there is a potential for earning points for extra Bingo activities) … this is truly a no-guilt, go-ahead-and-give-them-the-iPad-game.  Let your kids go, have fun, and help them to master these basic math skills!

Fractions (by Brainingcamp):

*A note.  Brainingcamp also makes several other math-related apps.  Algebra Tiles, Area of Rectangles, Area of Parallelograms, Area of Triangles, Color Tiles, Histograms, Number Rods, Numbler (a Math Game), Order of Operations, Pattern Blocks, Simplifying Expressions, and Solving Equations.

Ages:  Your best judgment, based on your child’s current ability.

I have the Fractions app by Brainingcamp.  My 8 year old has been playing around with this app for about a year now and has enjoyed it very much.  It provides an introduction to Fractions, equivalent fractions, common denominators, comparing and ordering fractions, adding and subtracting fractions, multiplying fractions, and dividing fractions.  Within each subject a lesson is provided, and opportunity to solve problems is presented, and further challenges provided if they like.  This app is very nicely put together.

Multiplication Genius (by Blue Onion Soft):


Ages:  Your best judgment, based on your child’s current ability.

There’s really nothing flashy or fancy about this app; it’s a simple and fun way to practice multiplication without having to use a workbook or a worksheet – just another option or venue for practice.

Kindergarten Addition (by I Did It Learning):

Ages: 4 years old and up

This is a cute little app that helps my younger ones practice their adding skills in a very non-threatening way.  It’s not a timed-drill, there’s no pressure, and you have the option of listening to a nice-sounding British woman talk you through the problem of (for example) 2 + 3. (British woman’s voice = bonus) 

Khan Academy:

Ages:  5 years old and up (depending entirely upon the subject being learned)

Just as with the Khan Academy website, the app offers an amazing variety of videos that cover the subjects of: Math, Science & Economics, Computer Science, Humanities, Test Preparation, Talks and Interviews, and Project & Discovery Lab (which includes Robots, Reverse Engineering, Discoveries, Projectile Launcher, Thermodynamics).  The videos are categorically organized and titled such that it takes the guesswork out of knowing which videos to begin with and progressively advance to.


Apps for Science:

Video Science (from Science House):  

Ages:  … hard to define an age to these videos.  My children will watch just about anything called a “video”, so my 4 year old will sit through a 10-minute video on Cryogenics then ask to watch it again when it’s over.

A series of short science videos listed by topic. (There are about 80 videos).  My children sort of skip this app quite often.  Upon compiling this list, I asked them why they don’t spend much time on it.  The short answer was that they just forgot that it was even there!  … so I think I may have sparked a new interest for them.  Wonderful J

Britannica Kids Solar System / Britannica Kids Volcanoes / Britannica Kids Dinosaurs (by Britannica Encyclopedia):


{pictured is Coral Reefs--a treat for Nicholas}

Ages:  2nd or 3rd grade and on up (my best guess). 

The Britannica Kids series is incredible.  Just as you might assume, it is much like an encyclopedia with fantastic images and is fact-based and packed with information.  Within these apps, you can read articles, search for specific topics, touch-draw on the screen, do jigsaw puzzles, play a few select games, watch pictures and videos, and take quizzes.  The Solar System, Volcanoes, and Dinosaurs are the version that I have, but Britannica also offers:  Ancient Egypt, Rainforests, Ancient Rome, Aztec Empire, Snakes, Knights and Castles, and Endangered Species.  All of these are $4.99

Kids Discover Galaxies / Kids Discover Cells (by Discover Kids):

*A note.  Discover Kids also makes apps for Life on Mars, Ancient Greece, The Constitution, Matter, Washington D.C, Extreme Weather, Simple Machines, the Sun, Antarctica, Ancient Egypt.  Some of these apps are free, and the ones that aren’t, cost $3.99.

Ages:  Using my best guess, I would say if they can read, they’ll enjoy bits and pieces of this app, and more of it as they grow.

This app has *a lot* of information within it.  Some of the items you just read through, some are videos, some are interactive pictures and puzzles, your child can take quizzes, and navigate through dozens of subjects within subject by going to the index, or side bar view.  My children have only just begun to explore this app, and thus far, they are enjoying it and learning quite a lot.

I should also mention that I only have the free apps.  I can’t say what separates the Kids Discover apps that cost money to those that don’t.

Khan Academy (See Above)


Bill Nye the Science Guy (by Disney):


I wanted to mention this app even though we’ve just only begun to explore it.  So far, I’m impressed.  It’s highly interactive with the kids and spans a great variety of subjects.  I think my children are going to have a great time exploring this app!


Apps for Natural Science:

Peterson Birds of North America (by Appweavers):

Ages:  I’d say about 6 and up (depending on if your little one is a budding naturalist).

I really like this app.  But it is rather dull.  And it takes up a LOT of memory space.  But it is great for detailed information regarding birds, has an audio option for listening to the bird song, has a built-in record-keeping capability if your child likes to keep track of the birds he/she spots during outings or just around the home, and is fact-based and loaded with information.  My only complaint would be that the bird images are drawings, not actual pictures of the birds.  However, when searching for a particular bird, it has the categories of birds broken down so detailed that it’s really a snap for my 8-year old to locate any bird she’s seeking.

Nature Tap (by Green Mountain Digital):


Ages:  If they are interested in birds, insects, spiders, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, or wildflowers, they’ll enjoy this app.

Probably the very best thing I love about this app is the beautiful pictures.  That alone is enough to keep my children engaged.  This is really a fact-based app and isn’t tremendously interactive (think encyclopedia), yet has its uses.  For example, I’ll use this app in conjunction with our Bird Bingo game.  We can look up each bird on the app and have a listen to its song as we play the game.  But I’ve often found my children looking through the pictures of all this app has to offer, I particularly enjoy the wildflowers.  My only complaint about this app is that you cannot search for things by name.  You can search birds (for example) by color, or shape (sub-category such as “Swallow-like Birds”, or “Chicken-like Marsh Birds”, but there is no place for someone to search, or type in “Common Kingfisher”, for ease of reference.  Perhaps this feature is forthcoming (I’m sure it would help if users, such as me, provided feedback to the producers of the app).

Wonders of Geology (by Mikaya Digital):

Ages:  My best guess would be roughly 3rd grade on up (say 8 or 9 years old and older).

This is app is simply amazing.  Geology 101.  The photography is stunning, breathtaking.  This isn’t a game or interactive, it is a narrative (audio and written).  It touches on the following subjects: Rocks (Sedimentary, Igneous, Metamorphic, Rock Cycle), Plate Tectonics, Erosion (Wind and Water, Mass Movement, Glaciers, Alluvial Fans), and Mountains (with the subcategory of Geological Provinces such as the Appalachian Highlands, Pacific Coast, among others). 


Apps for Geography:


Stack the Countries / Shake the States (by Third Chicken Inc.): 

Ages:  A fairly broad age range, in my opinion.  My 6 year old does quite well at answering questions about the states, and my 8 year old excels at the states, but each have a lot of learning opportunity left with the more challenging Stack the Countries.

In this app the player is asked a series of questions  - such as capitals of countries (states), official languages of countries, where the country is located (or what state border which state), landmarks locations, recognizing countries (states) based on their shape.  Each time you answer the question correctly, you get to drag the country (state) you’ve earned and try to stack it on top of the country (state) that you’ve already earned.  The point is to stack the countries (states) on top of one another in order to reach a predetermined height without making the stack tumble (the player is able to manipulate the state by turning it to make it more stackable).  Points are earned, scores kept, and you advance to the next level.  Super fun!  I love this game, and there is a high education value to it, which makes it a joy for all.                   

US Capitals – Montessori Approach to Geography (by Rantek): 

Ages:  Probably 5 through 9 or 10 years old

This is a nice mellow app.  Which is why I love it.  And why my kids don’t really play with it.  (Hard to compete with some of the other flashier-catchier apps, but still a worthy app)  This is a fact-based app that just gives it straight.  No points for right answers, no advancement to the next level.  … very Montessorial.  Yes. 

Google Earth:

Ages:   5 years and up (younger with a parent sitting beside)

Have your children look up famous volcanoes, highest peaks, or Death Valley…. and move on to the Seven Wonders of the World.  Then you can give them a list of addresses to Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunts and Uncles, and let them loose.  Great for just playing around with!


Apps for Art:

Art Puzzle (Lite or Full Version, by MacPhun LLC):

Ages:  3 years old and up (or thereabouts)



This app is just delightful.  I love it.  My children love it.  In the Lite version (that is to say, the FREE version) there are 15 puzzles, in the Full version there are over 80 puzzles from the most famous artists.  Artists include Van Gogh, Botticelli, Gauguin, Modigliani, and others.  You can make changes to the settings so that you can have a 4 piece jigsaw puzzle to solve, or have the famous painting be a 100 piece jigsaw puzzle (depending on skill).  You select the painting that you want to piece together, such as Bal du Moulin del Galette from Renoir, then you’re set to do the puzzle (all the while listening to classical music).  This is my dream app.  I love it.  I can actually see my children’s brains become enriched while they play with this app. J


Apps that aren’t subject based:

Tozzle (… I don’t know who this one is by): 

Ages:  Preschool, Kindergarten, First Grade–ish.

This is really like 20 apps in one.  There are animal activities, numbers, letters, shapes, colors, puzzles, silly scenes, music, nursery rhymes, farms, fruit and veggies.   It’s endless.  And the app music is catchy J

Fish School:

Ages:  Preschool, Kindergarten-ish. 

This cute app lets your little one explore their letters, numbers, shapes, and colors … all set to the tune of classical music.  Love this app.  When I hear the music and see that my 4 year old has started playing it, I just smile.

Memory Train:

Ages:  Preschool, Kindergarten.

This app is just what the name suggests – helping your child remember things.  As the train goes by your child needs to remember things such as shapes and colors and them place them on a “new” train as you saw them on the train that went by.

Brain Pop:

Ages:  This really depends on the subject of the video.  Some of the subjects are more complex (such as Math – dealing with probability), and some subjects are just fine for the younger crowd (such as learning music, and famous artists).

In a nutshell, this is an animated video app that offers a large selection of free videos but also offers a subscription based option that provides even more videos.  There are hundreds of animated videos for your children to view.  The subjects seem almost limitless and I’m still amazed at how broad the app is.  We began with the free version and then moved onto the subscription based version and have found it to be totally worth it.  The app also offers quizzes as well, where your child can keep his or her score.  The videos also cover subjects such as US History and Economics.  This is a comprehensive video selection, and each video is more or less an introduction to the subject, but my children have learned quite a bit on a wide variety of topics.

Reading Rainbow: 


Ages:  All ages

This app is a subscription-based book and video library, and is based on the long-running television show that even I watched as a child.  The book library has several subjects: Action Adventure & Magical Tales, Genius Academy, Awesome People, National Geographic Kids, Animal Kingdom, My Friends and My Family, and within each subject there are hundreds of books and several dozen videos to watch.  Reading Rainbow is constantly adding more books and videos to read and watch.  Your child has the option to have the book read to them by simply pressing the audio symbol, or they can read to the book to themselves.  All my children enjoy this app, and I feel good about having it available for them.


English Cursive Letter Practice (from Brainstop): 

Ages:  Probably 6 or 7 years old and up (really, depending on interest and whether or not this is a skill you’re working on with your child)

This app is just that, an opportunity to practice cursive writing.  It includes upper and lower case letters, words, sentences, and numbers.  Nothing fancy, just some good ole fashioned handwriting practice.

Letter School (by Boreaal):

Ages:  3 years old and up

Handwriting practice that is actually fun.  Nothing short of a miracle here.


I love how the iPad has enhanced the learning culture within our home.  I absolutely embrace it.  As I discover more apps and as I download more apps, I’ve found that it’s been most beneficial for my children if I try to keep the app icons organized and grouped together with apps that are alike or those that are in the same subject category.  Another handy feature is how iCloud stores your apps for you, even if you decide to delete the app from the screen (if you go to App Store and then “purchased”, you’ll see a running list of all the apps you’ve downloaded, even if they are free).  I’ve found this to be helpful because I can clean up our touch screens and add and delete apps from the screens depending on how often my girls use them (… similar to how I like to keep our book basket fresh by rearranging books every now and again). 

I would love to hear what your favorite apps are and why you like them!