Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Building brain power: 8 reasons to say YES! to more screen time

I'm the first to admit that I live by the mantra, "Not too much screen time!" but these apps are guaranteed to both entertain AND educate.  If you have kids ages 3 - 18, these apps will keep them busy for hours AND build brain power. For apps for ages 4 - 13, see #1-4. For middle, high school, and college level apps, see #5-8. For more apps for all ages not listed here, check out for more reviewed and approved entertainment!  

1) Monkey Tales (Grades 2 - 6)

Monkey Tales has several games, appropriate for kids grades 2 - 6.  This games reinforces the concepts that kids are learning in school in a fun way without them even knowing it! According to, as kids adventure through the game, "they will use logic to navigate mazes and practice their math skill as they play the mini-games they find."  The game adjusts to each individual child's math level, "so kids will not be frustrated by puzzles they cannot beat. With many levels and the ability to use "do-overs" when they get stuck, this game gives kids the chance to have a fun time while practicing 4th grade math."

Sarah says: 
I recommend having your child play the game of the grade level that they have just completed. For example, if your child is going into 5th grade, have them start with the 4th grade level to reinforce concepts that may have been dulled over the summer. (Works on Mac and PC).

 2) DragonBox Algebra (Ages 5+)

One of the most challenging skills for students to learn in Algebra is how to isolate an equation for a variable without other numbers involved - a skill that is also tested on the SAT and ACT. In DragonBox Algebra, students are challenged to solve for x without any numbers. Instead, players are dealt two card-filled trays and instructed to isolate the glowing card (x). 

DragonBox was voted the "world's best serious game at the International Mobile Gaming Awards (IMGA)," according to   The best part is, "brilliant kids don't even know they are learning algebra!", says USA Today. 

There are two different versions of the app - one for kids 5 and over (200 levels) and another for kids 12 and over (350+ levels!).  They'll never get bored! 

Sarah says:
Use this as early as possible with your child. The earlier you expose a child to math and allow them to build confidence, the less likely they are to struggle with math anxiety and confidence issues as they progress in school. This is also a great game for kids who need a little extra reinforcement or an alternative way to learn how to manipulate equations. You can never start too early! 

3) Love to Count by Pirate Trio (Ages 4 - 7)

Voted the best app by the Parent Choice Awards in 2012, "this app creatively demonstrates the idea of numbers being the indicators of order, time, weight, and quantity, enhancing their natural urge to find order in the world of numbers and shapes," according to Pirate Trio Academy ( This app helps kids see why math is helpful in the real world and in everyday life. With over 700 math skills practiced, never answer "When I am ever gonna use this??" again! (Well, maybe...)

Sarah says:
Again, it's never too early to expose your kids to math. With the amount of technology and learning programs available today, learning to count is easy as 1-2-3. However, learning to apply numerical concepts can be far more challenging, especially with less individualized teacher attention due to large class sizes in some public schools. If you have multiple aged kids at home, have your early elementary kids help out your preschooler or kindergartner with this game. One will be learning new things, while the other one reviews. 

4) Toontastic (Ages 5 - 10)

After having dinner with a great friend from graduate school last night, I'm reminded that it's not always just about math and science. Through designing their own cartoon, this app allows kids to choose characters or design their own, score scenes, and even record dialogue. Check out to read more and see all of the awards this app has won. And the best part is, it's free! 

Sarah says:
Having a student who is a strong reader will help him or her cruise through all subjects, not just language arts. Toontastic helps guide kids through the basics of storytelling, which will augment their understanding of how to navigate through text as they advance in their ability to read and conceptualize both fiction and non-fiction (math and science ) text.  Being able to read and understand directions is the first step in getting your student to feeling confident in tackling new subjects and concepts. And while I'm at it, make sure your child is reading 30 minutes a day or someone is reading to them. Reading counts! (

5) Wolfram Alpha  (Grades 6 - 12+)

Let me just start by saying, I don't know how I didn't know that this existed until now. Wolfram Alpha features Course Assistant, References, Personal Assistant, and Professional Assistant apps all optimized for iPhone, iPad, Android, Nook and Kindle. From Pre-Algebra to Astronomy and Fractions to Isotopes, Wolfram Alpha has got it all to help your teen breeze through math and science homework.  Not only will it give your student the answer, it will also show the steps on how to get there. Just make sure they're not copying it down without actually learning it.  Heck, it even has a travel app that could help you and your friends plan your next vacation away from your hormonal teens :)  (

Sarah says:
One of the most frustrating things as a tutor is when we show up and a student hasn't even tried to do their homework. To optimize tutoring time, students should try to complete problems, even if they get them all wrong. The reason for this is that going to down the wrong path can be just as or even more beneficial than getting all the problems right the first time.  Can't get an appointment with your tutor (which hopefully never happens) or have a last minute question before a test or quiz? Wolfram Alphas Course Assistant is a winner. 

6) NumberStax (all ages)

Made by those guys (and gals) that write and publish your kids' textbooks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt delivers a math app thats fun for the whole family. Think Tetris with numbers. This app comes with number mode and algebra mode to deliver a fast-paced arcade-like game for your 6 or 16 year old. Even if your teen tries to convince you that they already know everything (wait, they don't?!), chances are they didn't ace every single concept in algebra, so a little review never hurt anyone.  It can even help parents brush up, which may give you a little more street cred if your teen actually lets you help them with their homework.  Click here to download from iTunes. 

Sarah says:
Just like classic Tetris, the game gets faster as you advance, so it will keep your teen challenged.  Homework is a great way for kids to practice math skills, but skill mastery takes extra practice. If your student is vying and negotiating for some Xbox time, tell them to do 20 minutes of this app first before they get their hands on the game controller.  Want to be a super-parent? Have your teen tell their teacher that they worked on math apps last night - teachers love knowing kids are going above and beyond and I hate to say it, but it makes them more apt to help your student if they're struggling.

7) Khan Academy (all ages)

I'm sure you already know about this, but in case you don't, it's amazing. The idea of free quality education is a novelty and Khan Academy delivers. With a complete library of over 4200 videos, hearing your student say, "I don't get it," could come to a halt.  Khan Academy boasts videos in math, science, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and even videos on finance and history.  Kids can log in to their account to track their progress and earn credit for videos watched. According to, "it doesn't matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology; Khan Academy's materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge." Click here to download and/or read more.

Sarah says:
Khan Academy is great for struggling students, but its even better for encouraging your student to get ahead. Next time you hear, "I don't have any homework, I swear,"  set them up on Khan Academy to review the lesson they just completed or to get a jump start on the next one. Then stand-by and watch your student's grades and confidence level go sky high.

8) MindSnacks (Ages 12 -18+)

I actually used this app myself to learn a little bit of French before my European trip this summer.
Again, I have to remember it's not always about math and science. MindSnacks ( delivers an app that helps students learn 7 different languages and SAT vocab. This app tracks your progress and personalizes curriculum to ensure that your student doesn't get bored or doesn't become too challenged to the point of giving up. With 1000 words and phrases, 50 different lesson plans, and a delicious menu of games, MindSnacks helps your teen stay
sharp on the languages they are learning in school or pick up a new one!

Sarah says:
Language and vocabulary acquisition is all about immersion and repetition. This is the next best thing to being in a foreign country, which is the best way to really learn a language. Whether or not studying abroad is an option, this app is a great way to keep your teen's second language skills up to par, especially after a long summer of not practicing. It's never to early to start practicing SAT vocab either. With over 1000 words to learn for the test, using an app is a less painful way to practice than flashcards. 

For more information about educational apps or to find out more about tutoring, visit Lake Washington Tutoring's website or email Sarah by clicking here.