|As families settle into a back-to-school routine, parents can help ease into the focus on academics by downloading some apps to make learning fun. Here are some gems that can be found in the world of mobile apps.
Bent Castle Software, best for ages 6-up, $3.99, for iPad.
Kids join a crime-fighting team called the Numbers League to stop villains who are wreaking havoc on the streets of Infinity City. Presented with comic-book style graphics, this game lets kids use math to defeat the bad guys. It does a masterful job of giving kids a reason to practice math facts.
In this turn-based game, kids earn a series of heroes to deploy against the baddies. Heroes are generated in a slot machine-like device where three body parts spin into place, each with a different numerical value. By adding up the body parts, kids determine the power of their hero. When selecting a villain to defeat, kids must choose one who is equal to the value of their selected hero or heroes (you can use more than one in combination). At times, you can add more power to a hero by deploying a crime-fighting device. If kids perform the math correctly, they will defeat the selected villain, and their victory appears plastered across a headline in a newspaper.
Up to four players can play at a time on the same iPad, or kids can play by themselves or against robots that vary in skill level. The game offers different levels of challenge, ranging from simple addition to multiplying to negative numbers. This is one of the best math games on the iPad.
Art Museum (Match 'Em Up History & Geography)
EnsenaSoft, best for ages 6-up, 99 cents, for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.
Featuring 43 famous paintings from world renowned artists, including Picasso, Rembrandt, Courbet, Blake and others, this app lets kids play games with these paintings and in the process learn to recognize the art work of famous painters.
By starting in the Gallery mode, kids can become familiar with the paintings used in the games. Then it is off to concentration-type memory games where players match paintings to paintings, paintings to artists and paintings to its title. The app also has a two-person matching game which is fun for parents and kids to play together. For those who want more of an academic challenge, the app offers a quiz mode and a mode about spelling the title of a piece of art.
Displaying the paintings in a larger format and permitting zoom would enhance the app; but as is, it is a fun way to learn about masterpieces.
Science360 for iPad
National Science Foundation, best for ages 8-up, free for iPad.
Developed by the National Science Foundation, this free app provides a cornucopia of information about cutting-edge science. Featuring a collage of fascinating photos, the app allows budding scientists to simply touch an image to learn about a topic or ongoing research in a field. Many images lead to videos, such as one called "Science of NFL Football," where kids can learn about Newton's third law of motion (the Law of Action-Reaction) by watching videos of football tackles. Others provide text explanations of weird-looking photographs, including "Atomic Array of Nanodots" and "Gecko Feet." The complexity of explanations varies greatly, but these images are so compelling that they will entice even reluctant learners.
Bob Books #2 — Reading Magic HD
Learning Touch, best for ages 4-6, $3.99 for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Bobby Lynn Maslen's Bob Books series of learning-to-read books has taught millions of kids to read. Now this popular series is interactive on iDevices, offering four levels of difficulty. As kids move letters around on the screen to form words, they learn phonics and how to spell simple words. Every time they spell a word correctly, the word is sounded out and the image of that word changes from black and white into color. It is a magical experience, and one that motivates kids to learn to read.
Presidents vs. Aliens
Dan Russell-Pinson, best for ages 7-up, 99 cents for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
By combining an alien-themed game with the drilling of facts about the 44 presidents of the United States, this ingenious app makes learning history wacky fun. When kids correctly answer a question about a president, they earn a ball with that president's portrait on it. Kids fling these presidential balls at alien-faced balls, which float in the middle of the screen and react to getting hit as if they were billiards balls. The object of the game is to knock all of the alien balls off the screen. Kids can select the types of questions they are asked, including identifying what each president looked like, his political party, who came before or after his term, historical events during his term, nickname and famous quotes. The app also has two unlockable bonus games about arranging the presidents in order, and identifying them quickly. This madcap gameplay inspires kids to learn their presidential facts.