The 8 Best Educational Apps for Kids in 2020

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Our Top Picks

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Khan Academy

Khan Academy

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is the gold standard for educational apps, particularly considering the wide range of courses it offers for students of all ages, and the fact that it’s free. Khan Academy’s YouTube videos cover most subjects at a range of levels: math, science and engineering, arts and humanities (which includes history and social studies), economics, AP courses, and test prep.

English language arts (ELA) seems to be one notable weakness of Khan Academy courses, though it has some beta (work-in-progress) offerings for second to ninth-grade students. There are also no foreign language courses, though Khan Academy instruction is available in dozens of languages, with varying numbers of course offerings.

Khan Academy is popular among students, parents, and educators because its videos are engaging and targeted at visual learners, using photos, maps, and other illustrations, and because it allows students to work at their own pace.

The courses include quizzes to test students’ comprehension. Khan Academy has also shifted toward developing materials in conjunction with Common Core. A junior version, Khan Academy Kids, targets young learners from two to seven years old. It’s a mobile device app that covers math, ELA, logic, and socio-emotional learning by using books, games, songs, and videos. 

Best for Toddlers: Busy Shapes

Busy Shapes

Busy Shapes

Busy Shapes is an app aligned with the Montessori method of self-directed, hands-on learning. As such, it’s perfect for the youngest kids just starting to interact with technology—it’s not rote learning. The app is designed to develop young children’s logic and reasoning skills by learning about how objects relate to each other and how they can manipulate them.

Busy Shapes is simple to play. Kids drag an object into a hole—they are challenged to match the shape of the object with the corresponding hole—and eventually, another object and hole will appear in a new setting.

Most importantly, there are no instructions, which is something toddlers can’t really handle—it’s all child-directed.

The challenge increases over time, with multiple objects and holes of different shapes. Busy Shapes costs $2.99.

Best for Preschoolers: ABCmouse.com

ABCMouse.com

ABCMouse.com

More than simply an app, ABCmouse.com is essentially a well-rounded curriculum for preschoolers. It’s designed for children aged two through eight but is best for younger kids who haven’t started kindergarten.

It includes hundreds of interactive games, activities, and videos related to reading, math, science, and art. It’s also a multi-platform program that can be used on a computer or mobile device. 

Because it’s a full-fledged curriculum, ABCmouse isn’t cheap—it costs $9.95/month. But if your child doesn’t attend preschool, the app is a great substitute to get them ready for elementary school, as parents can track their progress.

The only reservation some reviewers, such as Common Sense Media, have with ABCmouse is that it rewards children’s progress with tickets, which can be used to purchase virtual items. While this feature is sure to be successful in keeping kids using the program, some would argue it encourages consumerism instead of learning for learning’s sake.  

Best for Elementary School Kids: Prodigy

Prodigy

Prodigy / Apple

Prodigy is one of the most popular math games on the market, largely because it’s set up like a video game. It’s a fantasy-based web and app game that covers math topics for kids from first to eighth grade.

It’s more designed to test kids’ knowledge rather than introduce math topics to them for the first time. Kids earn spells by answering questions correctly and get to do monster battles as they move through different fantasy worlds. 

The basic app is free, but a paid subscription offers more features. The premium fee is $8.95 per month, which is discounted if you buy an annual subscription. Despite the fact that Prodigy is widely loved by kids, one drawback for parents is that there seems to be significant pressure within the game to make in-app purchases.

Best for Tweens: Google Arts and Culture

Google Arts and Culture

Google Arts and Culture

A free mobile app has been developed to accompany the well-known website, which offers a treasure trove of virtual travel and sight-seeing. The app lets you search by keyword or category and read relevant editorials about the art collections. 

While Google Arts and Culture became famous for its selfie feature, which allows you to compare your face to great works of art, the site and app contain a wealth of information on museum collections, artists, theater and performing arts, historic figures, and events.

Google Arts and Culture is an invaluable resource for tweens who are assigned research projects, as it can provide in-depth information that goes far beyond the written word to include images and videos. While the app can truly be enjoyed by people of many ages, the amount of information available can be overwhelming for younger kids who may not know how to use search terms efficiently.

Best for Teens: Quizlet

Quizlet

Quizlet

Self-directed study is an important skill for high schoolers, and Quizlet is one of the most effective apps on the market for review of material a student will be tested on. Teachers and students can create study sets/flashcards on many topics—from the periodic table to U.S. presidents to vocabulary words.

The Quizlet Learn feature provides different types of testing, such as true and false questions and multiple-choice, and based on the user’s performance, increases in difficulty over time. Quizlet is particularly good for foreign language study, and its audio pronunciation is better than many other apps.

Quizlet also has 500 million archived study sets already created by users, so new users can search within those to see if a study set has already been created that matches up with their needs.

That said, like Wikipedia, the study sets aren’t fact-checked, so users need to be aware that they may contain errors. However, it’s a free resource, so users should weigh the benefits with the drawbacks.

Best for Social Emotional Learning and Kids with ADHD: Stop, Breathe and Think

Stop, Breathe and Think

Stop, Breathe and Think

Stop, Breathe & Think is a wonderful app that promotes social-emotional learning and helps tweens and teens regulate their emotions. It starts by having kids take a breath and then asks them how they’re feeling physically and mentally. Based on those results, the app suggests a range of guided meditations lasting under 10 minutes.

As a bonus, some meditations are available in Spanish. There is also a version of the app geared toward younger kids aged five to 10 years old, Stop, Breathe & Think Kids: Focus, Calm & Sleep. This version uses emojis to allow kids to express how they’re feeling at the moment and gives them guided meditation “missions” to complete. 

While there is a free version, some features are only available through the Premium version, which is around $9.99/month with a significant discount if you subscribe for a whole year. Stop, Breathe & Think is particularly useful for kids with ADHD (around 5% to 10% of the population) who tend to have trouble focusing, staying on task, and controlling their impulses.

Some educators even use the Stop, Breathe & Think app in their classrooms.

Best for Teaching Kids Coding: Hopscotch

Hopscotch

Hopscotch

Hopscotch is a coding app designed for kids 10 to 16 years old. It’s built much like Scratch, one of the first programs developed to introduce kids to computer programming, but Hopscotch is built specifically for mobile devices (only iPads and iPhones), while Scratch is web-based.

Hopscotch is free with in-app purchases available. 

The way Hopscotch works is that kids can drag and drop commands and instructions into a script to create their own programs. They can customize their programs by choosing characters, and can also save and share their creations with the Hopscotch community, and comment on and play others’ creations.

It’s a great way for kids to be creative and start learning how computer programming works, without worrying about difficult, technical coding language. It’s also a good starter coding app, from which kids can move on to more complex programs like Scratch on a desktop or laptop.

Review Process

We consulted dozens of editorial reviews by relevant publications—like parenting and tech magazines, as well as reviews by non-profit organizations like Common Sense Media, the National Educational Association, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

For this category, we aimed to provide app recommendations for children aged two through 18, and also to highlight a few unique categories that have become important in the field of education recently, such as social-emotional learning and coding. In addition, we tested out some of the apps to become familiar with their features. 

What Do Kids Learn?

While most of these apps have been around for several years, and are highly valued as learning tools, they aren’t a substitute for person-to-person instruction. In general, there’s data suggesting that math apps are somewhat effective at raising test scores, but the same hasn’t been found for reading apps. 

Screen Time Recommendations  

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screens for children under 18 months, and up to an hour of high-quality screen time from ages two to five. Ideally, parents should watch or engage with media alongside young children. In addition, while apps can be beneficial for learning, they can’t replace traditional toys and free play.

A Word From Verywell

The best educational apps have features that allow children to be actively engaged, not get distracted, and connect the app content to their existing knowledge. Finally, open-ended, choose-your-own-adventure-style apps are more likely to be educational than linear ones, because they are child-led instead of app-led.

 

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Healthline. "ADHD by the Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You." accessed April 20, 2020.