14 Great Learning Apps for Kids & Families

Screentime for kids doesn’t get a whole lot of love in the parenting media. But there’s no denying that we live in an increasingly digital world in which we grownups use technology to our benefit, for everything from navigating local kid-friendly restaurants to figuring out where to gas up the car when the “empty” light flashes on. Can’t children enjoy similar benefits?

“The basic misconception about screen time stems from the notion that the screen itself is more important than the action being performed,” says Björn Jeffery, co-founder of the kids game development studio Toca Boca. “But tablets can be used for language learning, playing games, watching educational videos, or video chatting with family. We like to think of a tablet as a tool with endless possibilities to tap into different emotions, skills, and parts of the brain.”

With this in mind, we’ve rounded up 14 truly terrific educational, gender-neutral apps for kids of all ages, to be used alone or with their parents. Because, as Jeffrey maintains, “All kids should have the opportunity to learn about subjects they are interested in and play with toys they find fun.”

Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Even on a day when you can’t make it to a zoo near you to get up close and personal with all the animals, children can visit them virtually with this app’s giant panda cam, as well as five others that zone in on gorillas, tigers, flamingos, lions, and golden lion tamarins. The app also includes an animal index that lets kids test their species knowledge, and a whole host of information about animals noises and ecosystems (iPad, iPhone & Android, ages 2+, $2).

Avokiddo Emotions. Kids will come down with a serious case of the giggles when they’re introduced to a zany zebra, shy sheep, jolly giraffe, and modest moose. These characters are meant to introduce children to the vast and confusing landscape of their own emotions as they dress up, feed, and interact with little essential pieces of themselves (iPhone, iPad, & Android, ages 2-5, $3).

Sesame Street Family Play. This is an app that’s actually an anti-app, offering parents stuck with their kids in the waiting room or on the train with over 150 fun games they can play together on the spot. Because sometimes, you’ve all had more than enough screentime for the day (iPhone & iPad ages 2-5, $1).

National Geographic’s Look & Learn: Animals Vol. 1. This bundle of three apps—Animal Bounce, Animal Match, and Animal Words—encourages awareness of the natural world through photographs, animal sounds, and game play. Really, this is a theme that never seems to get old among the under-5 set (iPad & iPhone, ages 3-5, $3).


Gro Garden. Kids become virtual gardeners as they plant and care for crops, feed hungry animals, and make compost from food scraps. It’s the next best thing to getting your kids to plant their own gardens on your windowsill—and infinitely more tidy (iPhone, iPad, Android, ages 5+, $3).


NASA’s Rocket Science 101. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to launch a NASA rocket! Select a mission and build your own rocket that you can then send into orbit. Kids will learn the details of particular NASA missions as well as all about the various components of the launch vehicles and what it takes to get one of these amazing pieces of machinery to break free of gravity (iPhone, iPad & Android, ages 5-10, free).



It’s Tyrannosaurus Rex. Join this fierce predator as she shatters the stillness of the prehistoric forest! Kids can explore pictures, learn new vocabulary, and personalize the app’s story with their own narration. Because seriously, have you ever met a toddler who wasn’t into dinosaurs? (iPhone, iPad & Android, ages 3-5 $3)


Thinkrolls. This is a logic puzzler for elementary kids that’s meant to enhance problem solving, memory, and spatial cognition skills. Every time children sit down to use it, they learn a little something about force, acceleration, buoyancy, heat, elasticity, and gravity while helping 22 Thinkrolls characters navigate through a maze (iPhone, iPad & Android, ages 3-8, $3).

Toca Lab. This colorful STEM-savvy app lets children discover all 118 of the elements from the periodic table (which is more than their parents are likely to know, unless they’re chemists) by experimenting with the various tools provided. Bonus: they won’t be able to blow anything up! (iPhone, iPad & Android, ages 6-8, $3)

The Robot Factory: Build Robots. Children can create any robot they can imagine from 100 parts including exoskeletons, telescopic arms, and spider legs. They can test them by running them through a fantastical world full of obstacles. Then, they can take them out to play (virtually, of course) with whenever they choose (iPhone & iPad, ages 6-8, $4).


Sky Map. This clever app turns your device answers (almost) all your questions about the night sky. Just point your smartphone upwards and Sky Map will tell you exactly what stars, planets, moon phases, constellations, messier objects and meteor showers you see (iPhone, iPad & Android, all ages, free).

Leafsnap. This electronic field guides uses visual recognition software to help kids (and their parents) identify tree species found in the Northeastern US and Canada from photographs you take of their leaves. Great for budding (har) botanists and arborists, and a super way for kids and parents to learn together (iPad & iPhone, all ages, free).

Audubon Birds Pro. This mobile field guide will help you and your kids identify 821 bird species, let you explore an advanced gallery for easy comparison, and contribute to NatureShare, a social community of birders who observe, identify, and share their observations online. Once you get started, you’ll be amazed at how many birds that aren’t pigeons you’ll find hanging out at the local park (iPhone, iPad & Android, all ages, $10).


Project Noah. This super tool lets you explore and document insects, animals, plants and trees on a platform designed to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere. Just upload your own photo of a species and within hours, other users will weigh in with their expertise to identify it. A great way to learn about your environment as a family, and to discover that there are many other like-minded, nature-loving urbanites among you (iPhone, iPad & Android, all ages, free).

10 Positive Kids Apps & eBooks When You Need 30 Minutes


Guest post by Linsly Donnelly, Founder, SmartFeed

As a longtime technology entrepreneur, I truly believe in the power of digital media, but as a parent, I worry about the content that’s out there. That’s why I founded SmartFeed to give parents a tool to manage screen time with customized media options to inspire, educate, and entertain kids. We put together expert playlists for education and entertainment to help more parents, find content they’ll love for the kids and their kids will love them for “allowing.”

Here are a few of our favorite positive, educational kids apps and eBooks when you just need 30 minutes of kid-free time. These titles are recommended for children 2-10 years old as indicated.

Top 10 Positive Kids Educational Apps & eBooks



Dr. Seuss’s ABC (age 3+)
Your favorite zany Dr. Seuss characters come to life in this whimsical yet educational app, designed to reinforce alphabet, rhyming, phonemic awareness, and other pre-reading skills. Read on your own, turn the pages, or hear the words read aloud. Very enjoyable!

2PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit (age 5+)
An innovative spin on the classic book– this app includes the original story’s text (with an option to read on your own or hear the story read aloud), with delightful interactive elements throughout. Make leaves fall, blackberries grow, and bunnies giggle, all while enjoying Beatrix Potter’s beautiful original illustrations and themes of bravery, honesty, and perseverance.

3The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (age 6+)
A touching and mysterious story of love, connection, loss, and hope. This app is based on the book and Academy Award-winning animated short film, and is an interactive blend of both. Ethereal, thought-provoking, and a lovely choice for grownups and kids to enjoy together.

4Count the Animals (age 2-5)
The concept of this app is simple: tap on a series of pictures to count a particular object or element in each scene. As you tap, the app counts along with you. Beautifully designed, with a wry sense of humor and 21 languages to choose from.

5Sago Mini Friends (age 2-5)
The Sago Mini apps are irresistibly appealing and universally excellent, especially for the youngest users. Basic skills using numbers and sorting, and positive character traits like kindness and sharing are reinforced in an adorable, fun context.

6Endless Wordplay (age 4-7)
This award-winning app features a variety of foundational reading skills taught through an engaging, fun interface. Interactive spelling, rhyming, and other phonics activities are presented clearly and thoughtfully, and the app is full of cute robots and other critters and fun settings. An engaging way to learn!

7Pickle’s Paper Dolls (age 4+)
Travel around the world as you design and dress friends from different countries, and learn new words in French, Spanish, Chinese, and more. A cut above many of the dress up apps out there, with kid-centric dolls, clothes, and accessories, and a multicultural, world-centric point of view. Simple to play, adorable, and fun.

8Loopimal (age 5+)
Every so often, an app comes along that makes practically perfect use of the capabilities of a smartphone or tablet– and Loopimal is one of those apps. Creativity is sparked as users explore endless combinations of rhythm and music patterns, with delightful and whimsical results. Create, compose, modify, and play!

9Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System (age 6-9)
Beautifully designed and chock-full of information, this app is a great option for those who are curious about space, planets, the sun, and the universe. Information is colorfully and clearly presented, and interactive and creative elements make for fun (and funny!) learning time.

10Monument Valley (age 7+)
It’s a story. It’s a puzzle. It’s a mysterious, mind-bending logic game. It also happens to be incredibly beautiful, with stunning art and atmospheric music. It’s a great choice for logic and puzzle-oriented kids and adults to play together.

Want more recommendations?

Check out these positive screen time playlists on SmartFeed or create personal playlists based on your family values or favorite character traits, your kids’ interests, and your secret (or not so secret) academic hopes.


Parents can use the SmartFeed website or the SmartFeed IOS App for free, so sign up now.

SmartFeed logo

Tips for Managing Kids’ Screen Time

According to a really scary quote from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children in the United States watch an average of three to four hours of television a day. This means that by the time of high school graduation, they will have spent more time watching television than they have in the classroom. Yikes!

While we are well educated on the detriments too much screen time can have on kids (attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity), we are surrounded by technology everyday, and it’s not always easy to compete with it and to enforce the amount of time our children spend with it. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that kids’ screen time should be limited to two hours or less per day, with no screen time for those age 2 and younger. It’s a reasonable limit, especially when we consider the more productive, educational and outdoor activities kids could do doing instead of watching television or movies, or playing on the iPad or a video game player.

Here is some helpful advice for defining and enforcing screen time guidelines for your family. Included are helpful apps for you to harness of the power of technology to keep your kids from becoming too dependent on it.

  • Create “screen-free” zones at home, including the dinner table and your child’s bed
  • Always turn off the TV during meals and forbid personal electronics at the table. That means yours, too!
  • Get to know the technology your kids are using, making sure parental controls are in place and you know exactly what they are seeing and doing online.
  • Offer plenty of non-electronic formats such as books, newspapers and board games to choose instead of the screen, and make sure they are easily accessible.
  • Review the established ratings systems for shows, movies and games to avoid inappropriate content, such as violence, explicit sexual content or glorified tobacco and alcohol use.
  • Choose apps and sites with care so that your kids are spending their screen time with appropriate, quality entertainment, and make sure there are plenty of educational choices, along with the just for fun picks, available to them.
  • Encourage kids to use time on their computer or tablet to investigate things that interest them, rather than simply playing games. National Geographic Kids is a good choice for an engaging site where kids can learn through play.
  • Encourage vigorous physical activity for at least one hour a day. Kids who are active aren’t thinking about what they are missing on TV. Get kids involved in sports at an early age to keep them active.
  • Share your screen time rules with your sitters. Many parents choose not to allow their child screen time when the sitter is there. Others provide specifics on which shows or sites are allowed and for how long a child can spend watching or playing.
  • Save screen time for a special movie you or your sitter and the kids can watch together.
  • Make use of educational apps geared toward limiting and managing your kids’ screen time and even incentivizing them to find other activities to keep busy. Here are two worthy of a download:

Screen Time: This app allows you to assign daily limit allowances for each child. Allowances can be set to repeat each day or accumulate based on your preference. Kids earn screen minutes by doing chores and good behavior. You can add, change, or remove tasks and rewards to fit yours and your kids’ needs.

ScreenTime App

DinnerTime: This is a parental control app that enables parents to restrict when children can use their smartphones and tablets. With the free app, parents can pause activity on a child’s device so that they can focus on things like homework, exercise and family time. To use the app, parents install it on the child’s device and enter in their phone number to link the two devices. Parents can then set specific break times, ranging from 30 minutes to three hours, when the device will be locked. A countdown screen displayed on the child’s device shows when they can use it again.

DinnerTime App

Technology is an important influence in our lives and in our children’s. It’s important that we embrace the value it adds, while also making sure our kids don’t become so dependent on it for entertainment that they miss out on exploring their own imagination and creativity and on learning to play independently. What are your thoughts on kids and technology? We’d love to hear from you!  

How Technology Can Help Solve 5 Common Problems of Busy Families

 You may be able to take some comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your struggle to navigate the often wild and rapid waters of everyday family life.

There are five common problems most parents confront in their day-to-day lives that can be at least alleviated, if not solved, with the help of an app. We’ve scoured, reviewed and talked with parents to find favorite apps that could bring a welcome, helping hand to your world.

Five Apps for Busy Families

1. Managing your family’s activities and calendars.

UpTo Modern Calendar
UpTo Modern Calendar

Chances are you have your preferred calendar method pretty down pat by now, whether it’s a paper day planner, Outlook, Facebook or another calendar you can access via your mobile device. All are tried-and-true, obviously effective methods of keeping your calendar. But when it comes to keeping track of calendars for several members of your family, you may benefit from taking it a step further.

A popular go-to calendar app is Cozi, an awesome solution for organizing your day-to-day calendar in a simple format, adding after-school activities, meals, to-do lists, chores, social events and more with ease. But, there’s a newcomer that’s caught our attention as a real productivity booster. UpTo is an app that streams public calendars, such as college and pro sports schedules, TV show schedules, new movie release dates, concerts and other important events you’d like to be reminded of, and lists them alongside your own events. So, you not only remember to take your son to the dentist, you also don’t miss the season premiere of your favorite TV show or your alma mater’s big game. You know, the important stuff.

2. Getting a decent dinner on the table.

Epicurious Shopping List and Recipes
Epicurious Shopping List and Recipes

Stop scouring the Web for what to do with those chicken legs you bought on sale or for that fantasy recipe that you’ll be able to whip up in minutes. Epicurious Recipe and Shopping List app is a one-stop-shop for nearly any recipe you could need.

It’s a virtual smorgasborg of more than 30,000 recipes pulled from around the world, all of which are divided into categories that are organized by skill level and theme such as Quick and Easy and Kid-Friendly. Not only can you find recipes on the go, you can also add ingredients to a shopping list and save your favorite recipes. It’s quick and easy to pull up the shopping list when you walk into the grocery store. You’ll be instantly prepared to pull off any dinner, last-minute throw-together or otherwise. If you prefer to have a hard copy of your recipes while you cook, there’s the Epicurious app for an HP printer that enables you to send recipes directly to your printer.

UrbanSitter Mobile
UrbanSitter Mobile

3. Staying connected with your spouse.

We’re a bit partial to this one, but it’s so good at simplifying your life as a parent, we have to toot our own horn and remind you of it again – The UrbanSitter iPhone App. It’s incredibly valuable to be able to find and book a babysitter, even exchange logistics with her, while on the go.

You simply use the app to see who is available to care for your kids when and where you need her, read profiles, check parent reviews, and send him or her an instant request.

It’s an app that can put the spontaneity back into your life, ensuring that you never have to turn down an invitation for a dinner with your spouse or a coffee with a friend.

4. Taking care of a newborn while juggling an already hectic life.

“Momnesia” may not be a medically documented condition, but forgetfulness and that feeling of losing track of what you were in the middle of doing is a reality for most parents – first-times and old pros, alike.

Baby Log

Keeping track of all the necessities, such as when and how you last fed your baby (bottle or breast), when you changed a diaper, how long your baby last slept, and when you need to do it all again is mind-boggling – especially to sleep-deprived, pulled-in-every-direction parents.

Baby Log is an ultimate baby log app. It holds unlimited data for all your baby’s activities, and can be used for multiple babies, too. Let it keep track of it all, so you can enjoy a bit of peaceful time with your baby, instead of fretting over the schedule. It also offers a nursing or nap timer, and provides a place to record milestone, growth or precious moments.

5. Archiving the memories so you don’t forget a minute.

When it comes to dealing with the masses of artwork and school projects that flood your home once you have a preschooler or school-age child, many parents are fans of Artkive. It allows you to take photos of your child’s masterpieces, share the work and archive it so you can show your grandkids what their Mom created when she was three.


But what do you do if your little one isn’t yet producing any art, yet the pressure of just keeping up the baby book is enough to put you over the edge? Meet Moment Garden. It’s an app that allows you to keep pictures, track weight and growth, record all trips to the doctor and keep first-time events of your baby on your phone, and privately share them with your closest family and friends. With a single click, you can even turn your Moment Garden into a Moment Book, a beautifully printed book like that baby book you never had time to finish!

We’d love to know which apps you find indispensable in the fight to keep your head above water in the fun, but sometimes frantic world of parenting. Give us a shout!

Find and book trusted babysitters at UrbanSitter.

Sharpen School Skills with Fun, Educational Games & Activities

meg_son_drawingExperts estimate that kids spend the first 2.3 months of the school year learning what they’ve forgotten over the summer. Yikes!

Help your kids brush up on their skills, before the first school bell rings, with these effective learning tools that can easily pass as fun games and entertainment.

Smart Games to Prepare for the School Year

Alphabet Tracing Chart 

Free, printable alphabet handwriting worksheet in a fun Back-to-School theme.  Traceable worksheets help preschoolers through First Graders learn to write letters A to Z in upper and lower case.  The worksheet features a start dot on each letter to help kids remember where to start writing the letter. Tip: Laminate and use fine tip erasable markers for repeated use.

Traceable Alphabet
Photo: First-School

LEGO Math Practice

LEGO activities are a visual way for kids to do math. And for the LEGO enthusiast, this might just be the sure-fire way to encourage math practice. The printable worksheet is great for kids to work on addition and subtraction. For younger kids, simply use LEGOS to work on colors, sorting and counting.

Photo: The Kent Chronicles

Book Picks for Kids 2-12

Research has shown that the single most important thing that a parent can do to help their child acquire language, prepare for school, and instill a love of learning is to read to them (Russ et al., 2007).  If you need a few new books to add to your repertoire, check out Cool Mom Picks Roundup. They have compiled an awesome list of their editors’ own children’s favorite books, including picks for ages 2-12.

Photo: Cool Mom Picks

Melissa & Doug Letter Puzzle

Little kids can work on motor skills, letters and numbers with a simple puzzle that includes all 26 letters of the alphabet in uppercase and lowercase, along with 26 gorgeously detailed illustrations of various animals. $11.99 at Target.

Letter Puzzle
Photo: Melissa and Doug


Top 10 Educational Apps for Preschoolers

If you’re in the camp that believes in embracing the power of technology as a teaching tool, try out these educational apps for preschoolers. The list includes practice games for handwriting, letters and numbers for iPad and iPhone devices. Costs vary.

Photo: Handwriting Without Tears

Magazine Letter Printables for Literacy Station

You can avoid the time and mess of cutting letters out of magazines for your child to use for literacy exercises – such as finding the alphabet or creating words or phrases – with this super cool Magazine Letter Printable, just $7 from Etsy.

Magazine Letters
Photo: Olive Loaf Design

5 Games for Speaking, Listening and Thinking

Verbal games are great for developing speaking and listening skills, and thinking and reasoning abilities. They are ideal to play on a long car trip, or while your child’s hanging out in the kitchen while you make dinner. Try them with kids age 3 and up.

Photo: Childhood 101

All of these games and activities are great to leave with the babysitter. Find trusted babysitters and nannies at UrbanSitter.com.

Educational Apps Your Kids Will Beg to Play

Now that you’ve downloaded the new UrbanSitter Mobile App for yourself, how about adding a new app to your phone or tablet for your kids? It’s likely the old stand-bys aren’t holding your kids’ attention like they used to.

Wondering how to find a game that’s fun to play and is also more than just candy for little brains? While experts are on the fence about whether or not little kids should be playing with apps, most agree that the best apps are those that encourage creativity, and feature colors, shapes, numbers and the good’ole ABCs.

So, forget Angry Birds, and check out 7 sure-fire apps that are sure to capture your kids’ attention and teach them a thing or two, too:

ABC Zooborns

This app features adorable photos, videos and interactive scenes of baby animals that on their own are worth the download. While its design is award-winning, its educational value is quite praise-worthy, too. It teaches about animals and conservation, links letters to words, builds vocabulary, and certainly entertains. By Peapod Labs LLC, $2.99. Ages 2 and up.


Scholastic’s new e-reading app for your PC, iPad or tablet, is fun, educational and interactive, providing your children with their own shelves of well curated books; tools, like a dictionary; and games. The download comes with five free books. By Scholastic, free. Ages 3-12.

Letter School

This very cool app has won all sorts of awards, including a top 10 ranking in iTunes Educational Category. It lets kids practice writing their letters right on the screen. The bold graphics help guide their finger through the ABCs, lower and upper case, and numbers 1-10. By Boreaal, $3. Ages 3 and up.

Rocket Math

Another award-winner, this app for young and older kids is a math practice session disguised as a game. For younger kids, it covers counting, addition and subtraction, and for older ones it dives into the tougher stuff, even entry-level algebra principles. By Dan Russell-Pinson, free. Ages 4-12.

Stack the States

Here’s a wildly popular app that finds a way to make learning the 50 states and their capitals fun. You answer questions about the state correctly to win the state, then rotate it and find its place on the US map, like a puzzle. By Dan Russell-Pinson, $.99. Ages 6 and up.

Toca Doctor HD

This is a puzzle game that teaches kids about the human body (anatomically correct, mostly) and keeping it healthy. They can solve medical problems (like a runny nose), give shots, remove splinters, and feed the patient healthy foods to ward off germs.  By Toca Boca, $3.99. Ages 2+ (with a 2-4 year old sweet spot).

Math Doodles

The three games in this app are attractive to kids who may not love math, but who love puzzles and want to solve things. The puzzles created look like doodles, and are solved through basic math and creative thinking.  By Carstens Studios, $3. Ages 4 and up.

Need a babysitter tonight? Download the free UrbanSitter iPhone app.