Let's face it: the days seem to stretch pretty endlessly when there are school vacations. As parents, we often struggle to find ways to engage our kids effectively and safely. Some of them subject them to a frenzy of summer classes and workshops while others throw up their hands and literally leave them to their own devices, letting them have free run of a tablet or laptop, with little direction from us.
Now, plenty of research has been done demonstrating the possible damage that an excessive use of new media can cause in young children, but studies are beginning to show a more nuanced picture. Fact is, the new generation are called "digital natives" for a reason, and when used judiciously and combined with physical play and activity, those much-debated electronic devices can actually help hone skills, increase creativity and boost learning. Dr Jordy Kaufman, who has extensively researched the impact of interactive devices such as tablets and how they compare to passive media consumption, says: "Being on a touch-screen device is more interactive. It's not right to assume that sitting in front of the TV has the same effects on children as using tablets."
As far back as 2000, researchers such as B Hokanson and S Hooper posited that computers can have a positive effect on student learning. Technology allows kids to learn independently at their own pace, and we have already seen it bringing disruptive changes in the education landscape.
So, while you should not leave your kids alone with devices for hours at a stretch, neither is it correct to assume that all technology use will "fry their brains" as some well-meaning parents seem to believe. With some involvement and intervention from you, you can use technology as a tool to not only engage your child but also nurture their curiosity and desire to learn. So forget overpriced summer-workshops and regimented schedules and unlock myriads of ways to learn with freedom.
We've done some research for you and zeroed in on a list of 50 technology tools (all tried and tested by us) for your kids to explore this summer.
Learning a new language is an activity that offers both fun and fulfillment, and there's no reason why you can't join in too.
1. Duolingo (5 yrs-adult; web and iTunes/Android app)
A free, fun, science-based platform that includes a language-learning website and app, as well as a digital language proficiency assessment exam.
2. Lingvist (all ages; web and Android app)
An advanced tool, which adapts to the learner's abilities. It keeps track of the patterns of learning and mistakes made by the learner and customizes the lessons accordingly.
3. Bussu (7 yrs-adult; web and iTunes/Android app)
A free language-learning community through mobiles. It is fully interactive and personalized to your educational goals. Their new kids app (4-7 yrs) offers English and Spanish lessons through a carefully structured and exciting course of 150 words, taught across 30 vibrant learning units full of educational games.
4. Livemocha (all ages; web)
Offers free language courses in more than 38 languages, all of which blend online instruction with practice and interaction with native speakers. I too have learnt French and German and made friends with native speakers. It is a lot of fun.
5. Babbel (all ages; web and iTunes/Android app)
A fun way to learn new languages on the go. It has interactive lessons for beginners with grammar and vocabulary courses.
These tools make math fun even for kids who have an aversion to numbers.
6. Geogebra- (5 yrs and up; web and iTunes/Android app)
A dynamic mathematics software for all levels of education. It brings together geometry, algebra, spreadsheets, graphing, statistics and calculus in one easy-to-use package. Basically, the idea is to connect geometric, algebraic and numeric representations in an interactive way.
7. Touch Counts (5 yrs and under; iTunes app)
A great way to get young kids to play with numbers. As children begin to figure out how to count with their fingers, this is the perfect environment to solidify that learning. It helps them generalize beyond their fingers, "going past ten" into the endless world of larger values. It finds its base in cognitive principles of multisensory learning and gestures to develop strong number sense.
8. Get the Math (12-15 yrs; web)
By mixing videos, web interaction and real-world scenarios, Get the Math shows middle and high school children how algebra really does apply to their lives. Professionals in the fashion, sports and other industries explain how they use math daily, and set up situations for students to solve.
9. DragonBox Algebra 5+ (5-10 yrs; web and iTunes/Android app)
A game with increasingly complex series of math-related games that that get them comfortable working with variables, this is touted as a tool that can "secretly teach algebra". It is a must-have app if you want to give children a head start in STEM concepts. Also check out DragonBox Number 4+ (4-8 yrs), and DragonBox Algebra 12+ (12 yrs and up).
10. The Radix Endeavor (12-18 yrs; web)
Designed collaboratively by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, MIT, and Filament Games to get students excited about math and science by navigating through an island and solving problems to win.
Yup, kids as young as five can enjoy a taste of the creative world of coding and app-making.
11. Code.org (6 yrs and up; web)
The website includes free coding lessons and the initiative also targets schools in an attempt to encourage them to include more computer science classes in the curriculum.
12. Codecademy (12 yrs and up; web)
Another tool to learn to code interactively, for free.
13. MIT App Inventor (11-18 yrs; Android app)
Using a simple drag and drop interface, kids can build a simple app in less than an hour. They can also explore and experiment with the ideas of communication, location- awareness, social networking and massive web-based data collections. And it comes with loads of samples and online tutoring solutions.
14. Hopscotch (9-13 yrs; web and iTunes/Android app)
A tool pretty similar to the MIT App Inventor, this can be a great starting point to move on to programming languages such as Scratch and Python. A visual programming language, it makes it easier for kids to play around and helps develop logic skills.
15. Lightbot (11-18 yrs; web and iTunes/Android app)
Lightbot is a simple game with a robot doing some tasks and solving puzzles. Kids can learn complex concepts like loops, if-then statements and the like without typing or coding.
16. Daisy the Dinosaur (5-8 yrs; iTunes app)
Drag various commands and Daisy the Dinosaur moves according to the programmed directions. It is a fun way to introduce very young kids to programming.
17. Treehouse (teens and up; web)
Offers beginner to advanced courses in web design and development, mobile development and game development, taught by a team of expert teachers.
18. Minecraft (6 yrs and up; all devices)
A game where you dig (mine) and build (craft) different kinds of 3D blocks within a large world of varying terrains and habitats to explore. This is really a mine for learning. It provides the following benefits for children's learning -- spatial awareness, math and science concepts, history, creativity, collaboration and problem solving, Minecraft is also a "sandbox" game - it allows players to make the game they want to play, be it focused on building, exploring, surviving, or all of the above.
19. Kodu (8-12 yrs; PC and Xbox)
A new visual programming language made specifically for creating games (PC and Xbox). It can be used to teach creativity, problem solving, storytelling, as well as programming. Anyone can use Kodu to make a game, including children and adults with no design or programming skills.
20. Gameblox (9 yrs and up; web and iTunes/Android app)
A game editor that uses a blocks-based programming language to allow anyone to make games. It's free and no downloads are required. You can make games online that you can play both on this site and on your mobile device.
21. Tynker (6-11yrs; web and iTunes/Android app)
Teaches kids how to make games and programs not by coding but by dragging blocks. Lessons are embedded into the program that scaffold the programming concepts. Tynker makes it fun and easy to learn computer programming.
22. Sugar Labs (6 years and up; web and Android app)
It is great learning environment (pretty much like an operating system) for students, with thousands of activities which will engage the learner individually or in a group. These activities can also be highly customized. This also supports programming with Turtles, Scratch and Python.
Science and Research
Do you and your kids want to contribute to the actual practice of science along with learning? They are many citizen science project web portals that allow you to do so. We've listed some of our favourites in the list below.
23. Fold-It (all ages; web )
A really cool online game centred on working with proteins, and which lets you be part of actual scientific discovery. This game is a great amalgam of fun-filled exploration and real scientific pursuit. Think of 3D tinker toys, except the solutions here could actually save lives.
24. Eterna (all ages; web)
A browser-based "game with a purpose", developed by scientists at Carnegie Mellon and Stanford universities. It engages users to solve puzzles related to the folding of RNA molecules. Like Foldit the puzzles take advantage of human problem-solving abilities to crack puzzles which are very hard for current computers.
25. Zooniverse (all ages; web)
A citizen science web portal providing opportunities for people around the world to contribute to real discoveries in a variety of fields - astronomy, climate, humanities, physics, medicine, literature and zoology. This research is made possible by volunteers -- hundreds of thousands of people around the world -- who come together to assist professional researchers. By answering simple questions, you'll help contribute to our understanding of our world, our history, our universe, and more.
26. EyeWire (all ages; web)
This is a game of colouring brain images, where citizen scientists can help map the connections of a neural network. No specialized knowledge of neuroscience is required; you need only to be curious, intelligent and observant. Neuroscientists trying to understand the retina functions of our eyes created this game.
27. Phylo (all ages; web)
Phylo is a tile-matching game developed at McGill University that allows you to contribute to DNA research. Every time you play Phylo you compare the genetic code of multiple species and help decipher the structure of genes associated with diseases. Play Phylo and help genetic disease research!
28. Sound Uncovered (8-18 yrs; iPad )
This impressive app is an interactive tool that teaches students about acoustic phenomena, auditory illusions, and sound-processing. Kids can test their speech-recognition skills, learn how temperature plays tricks with sound, investigate the relationship between visual and auditory perception, and more. Through supporting videos and webcasts, it answers questions about sound and the brain that kids of all ages will find fascinating.
There are many online portals and platforms that draw your child into the world of knowledge-pursuit, whether it is science or global affairs. They are fantastic fodder for a curious and hungry mind.
29. TED-Ed (14-24 yrs; web)
A set of finely curated lessons and educational videos that will encourage curious minds to keep wondering and creating new ideas. These will let students self-explore any field of human pursuit, from science to philosophy to business and economics.
30. Khan Academy (all ages; web and iTunes/Android app)
A great set of free online video tutorials for just about every concept that a child could encounter in the school math and science curriculum. It also has self-checking mechanisms making curricular learning independent, fun and adapted to their own pace. No more problems with algebra, geometry, science or history!
31. iTunes U (6 yrs and up; iTunes app)
The world's largest collection of free education content -- including public courses and collections from leading schools (K-12), universities (Stanford, Yale, MIT, Oxford, McGill, La Trobe, University of Tokyo), museums and cultural institutions (Museo Nacional del Prado, Smithsonian Libraries, National Theatre, Library of Congress) and many more.
32. MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) (14 yrs and up; web)
A web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity.
33. Curious (14 yrs and up; web and iTunes app)
This is a platform where one can learn a new thing every day. It is highly personalized and based on the idea of the Curiosity Quotient (CQ). Learn from 20,000 lessons on virtually any topic.
34. Hippocampus (11- 21+yrs; web)
A free, core academic web site that delivers rich multimedia content -- videos, animations, and simulations -- on general education subjects. Users do not need to register or log in to use the site.
35. Learnist (11 yrs and up; web and iTunes/Android app)
A crowd-sourced and organized collection of the world's knowledge, with curated web, text and video content and Learnboards™ with sequenced lessons and resources on tens of thousands of topics like, ranging from technology and history to crafts and cooking.
Let those creative juices flow!
36. Chesscademy (7 yrs and up; web and iTunes/Android app)
Makes learning chess fun and easy with free online lessons. With a wide range of instructive courses and thousands of tactical puzzles, users of all levels can learn from a personalized curriculum that's tailored to their strengths and weaknesses.
37. Spelling City (5-18 yrs; web and iTunes/Android app)
This great tool to master the English language offers vocabulary, spelling, writing, parts of speech, handwriting and alphabetical order games to elementary, middle and high-school age groups. It is a tool which allows students see and hear words sounded out, spelled and used in a sentence.
38. Stack the Countries™ (7-12 yrs; iTunes/Android app)
Watch countries actually come to life in this colourful and dynamic game! Whether you are looking to learn world geography for the first time or to brush up on what you learned years ago, Stack the Countries will do the needful
39. CreativeLive (18 yrs and up; web)
Broadcasts live workshops/classes by some of the world's greatest experts (Pulitzer Prize winners and bestselling authors, among others) for free, 24x7. You can even interact with instructors in real time. It features classes across five channels: Photo & Video, Art & Design, Music & Audio, Maker & Craft, and Business & Money.
40. Kahoot (7-18 yrs; web and Android app)
An enjoyable quizzing platform. One may create and play these games or select from any of the already existing millions of games.
41. Pianu (all ages; web)
Learn piano online interactively using a real keyboard. You can learn to play songs for free and there is also a paid service with interactive lessons. Pianu also teaches you how to read sheet music, play chords, learn meter and more.
42. Yousician (all ages; web and iTunes/Android app)
A personal tutor for guitar, which gives real-time feedback through your device's microphone.
43. Kadenze.com (13 yrs and up; web)
Kadenze brings together educators, artists and engineers from leading universities across the globe to provide a world-class instruction in the fields of art and creative technology. It aims to become a hub for online courses in art, design, music and other disciplines underrepresented online.
Comprehension of informational content
Inculcate a love of news and general knowledge.
44. News-O-Matic (7-11 yrs; iPhone, iPad/Android app)
A great multipurpose educative tool with science and non-science real news articles written on 5th grade-appropriate and easy-to understand language. This is a sureshot way to encourage reading habits in your kids.
45. Newsela (7-18 yrs; web)
At Newsela students can find timely, authentic, and engaging nonfiction content from trusted news sources (like The Washington Post, Scientific American and The Guardian) written at a reading level that's just right for them. It is effective, engaging and easy to use.
46. TweenTribune (8-15yrs; web)
Daily news sites for kids, tweens and teens. From animals to entertainment, you will find the most compelling, relevant and interesting news all on one site! It is updated daily with stories from the Associated Press that are chosen based on relevance to the age-group.
47. Wonderopolis (7 yrs and up; web and Android app)
An informational site that asks and answers interesting questions about the world. Every day it offers multidisciplinary daily content through a Wonder of the Day®, containing a curious question, written text, vocabulary words, graphic images and video to stimulate learning and inspire curiosity and exploration.
Reading and Writing Skills
There are hundreds of great apps to bolster reading and writing skills on the web. To pick the best ones, we recommend going through the excellent lists below that have been compiled by others.
48. 50 popular iPad Apps for struggling Readers and Writers
49. Writing Apps for Kids
50. Improve English Writing Skills
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