This post was motivated by my return to the north and the frigid temps. I realized on the second leg of my travels that no one was even remotely happy about anything. They were all connected to another world with a pair of headphones or earbuds, tuned out and removed. I love to fly and it used to be a very social activity and rather than be disappointed I threw myself into a happy app kind of mood and this is the result.
My other intention was to point anyone with children toward exceptional downloads laden with abundant and diverse content for their children. Not just to keep them sharp when away from school and traveling, but go-to apps that are always an educational delight! Here is my list of 12 developers whose apps make for HAPPY learning; they are sure to develop your child's/student's sense of joy and wonder.
- Anything by Nosy Crow, this small publishing firm has an extensive suite of exemplary book apps all produced with the highest quality, constructively interactive with attention to every detail; whether retelling a fairy tale or featuring new talent, Nosy Crow never fails to bring a smile to children and adults of any age. Got your back, Kate Wilson.
- All of the Avokiddo apps are simply brilliant! Beck and Bo are the perfect companions for the pre-K set, Emotions is a must-have and Think Rolls has their own set of adorable characters. Their apps invite children to become familiar with objects of their world through creative and engaging play. The wonderful organic collage-like scenes are immediately pleasing to the eye and the characters just abound with happiness.
- Oceanhouse Media, a pioneering app development studio does a stellar job with every book app they adapt for digital play. They originated many of the features that are commonplace in digital children’s book apps today, they have the largest number of licensing agreements with the best of the best in children’s literature. Oceanhouse Media began by embracing distinctive and different ways to read a story, individual word highlighting, and picture/ word association techniques as well as the first and only book app to provide a “record & share” feature.
- Spinlight Studio’s mission statement says it all: “We believe that smiling is the first step in learning, and that’s why we make educational games loaded with fun. From early reading to elementary math, we combine serious learning with all-out fun to make kids’ apps that give little learners a big head start on life.” We have been giving this company accolades on their superb collection of educational play apps from day one and, we watch as they continue to make one wonderful app after another.They develop both math and literacy apps for preschool all the way up to middle school students, app after app they never cease to deliver delightful learning experiences.
- Cognitive Kid has two endearing extraterrestrial characters, Ansel and Claire that take you on all kinds of exotic adventures, they successfully manage to make every turn a real learning experience with expensive and well thought-out content. They have been creating engaging, immersive, interactive, thematic educational applications for touch screen devices since 2010. Their deliberate use of fostering critical thinking skills, problem-solving and inferencing, play an important part in making their apps top notch educational tools that generate joy!
- Eyal Dessou Tzafrir started his app career by co-founding the fabulous iMagine Machine and debuted with the critically acclaimed app, Faces imake Right Brain Creativity. This one app has kept kids around the globe creatively engaged and learning for years. This company continues to amaze with each and every subsequent app release, they focus their attention on the right brain attributes such as spatial relations, visual references and emotions. All skills that will be an integral part of the 21st century and critically important to success in today’s world.
- Fairly new on the block is Tiggly, they are among the first developers to successfully incorporate manipulatives into app play. This type of new and exciting interactive learning brings physical play to your device through fabulous apps and ingenious “toys”. Tiggly has pushed the envelope and put toys back in the hands of kids and made it acceptable for toddlers to get some screen time without criticism. The learning opportunities are incredibly abundant, as Tiggly has incorporated foundational skills such as spatial reasoning, spatial relations, and motor skills. It also fosters language skills and delightfully promotes creativity and imagination. What is most impressive with Tiggly is the high-end quality of the materials used and the traditional feel of a classic toy.
- Middle School Confidential and Annie Fox will always hold a special place in my heart, it was their app that taught me that, as an adult, you will never know the magic of an app until you put the device into the hands of a child. These apps are a powerful tool to help tweens with the onslaught of issues they deal with on an everyday basis. Annie Fox is not new to this topic and its paramount importance, “There’s expert information for readers on making friends, resolving disputes, and dealing with other aspects of the social scene—including gossip, exclusion, cyber-bullying, peer pressure, and being there for friends who need help.” What behaviors children learn during adolescence are vital to the adult they will become. I really don’t think you can experience the magnitude and power of this app without having an adolescent next to you. What makes this graphic novel so appealing is the comic-book design format and bigger than life characters.
- Artgig has been around for some time and continues to be the developer with clout, Matthew Kicinski, the face of the company, runs a well-tooled ship and continually updates their tried and true collection of apps with polish and precision. Artgig makes award-winning educational apps for kids but they also develop applications for others such as Curriculum Associates.
- Another golden oldie by app standards is Dan Russell Pinson and his first release Stack the States, still one of my all time favorite-learning additions. He has others that come close, but Stack the States is spectacular! Back in 2010, I wrote this in a review, “This game combines sound educational material with an incredible “gaming” sense. Dan has developed a fun learning game that uses some of the best mobile features – interaction and manipulation. Besides learning about the 50 states through answering basic questions, this app requires critical thinking skills as well. Your brainpower is tested in your ability to stack your states successfully.” Dan’s quote really sums up what educational apps should be addressing, The educational aspect should really take center stage, and the entertainment should be just enough to keep you engaged. In a perfect world, the game mechanics themselves should teach you something. Please check out Dan's bevy of other apps if you can pull yourself away from Stack the States.
- Labo Lado Inc. makes an incredible array of creativity apps for preschoolers. Every one of them is loads of fun, and when playing Labo Car or Labo train apps (creative draw & play road construction games for kids 3-7) I can’t remember when I laughed so much. Don’t let the fun fool you, these are serious prewriting and problem-solving games. They teach kids to think as well as have fun. What I love most about Labo Lado Inc. apps is that drawing is not so structured that learning how to grade and control your writing implement is lost. Kids get plenty of feedback to refine control. Labo Lado makes some of the happiest apps on the planet and manages to pack in essential skill building play for preschoolers and early elementary students.
- Shiny Things, has taken the latest technology and run with it. The best part? Everything! Not only are these apps quick, but there’s absolutely no down time for students. No waiting between problems for the next one to appear and the first time we’ve experienced the incredible touch/write recognition, so well done! Kids actually write their answers right on the tablet! Quick Math, Sakura Time, and Shape Lab have soared to the top of our “must have” list for any student practicing the four basic operations, learning to tell time and basic geometry.
I realize that this is just the tip of the iceberg here and I’ve left out many, many other apps and developers that guarantee giggles. Please help out by adding your favorite playful learning apps in the comments box below.