How parents can use the iPad to keep their kids learning this summer

As the school year comes to an end, students look forward to summer break. Unfortunately for educators, this is the time of year that many students fall behind. Research has shown that students have lower test scores on standardized tests at the end of summer break than they did on the same tests at the beginning of summer break.

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes this gap and has put together some recommendations to help stop the “summer slide” from happening. The general idea behind these recommendations is to keep some level of structured learning throughout summer break.  The following will serve as a guide on how you can use iPad apps to help close this gap:

Getting started

Getting started

Knowing what to teach – Recognizing the problem and deciding to act is the first step. But as a parent, what exactly should you teach? One place to look for what a child is expected to know at each grade level is your state’s board of education’s academic curriculum. Forty-four states have adopted what is known as the common core and are in various stages of transitioning to it. Provided you live in one of those states, you can use MasteryConnect’s Common Core Standards (free, universal) to quickly find standards by subject, grade and category. Consider adding in a few new topics from the upcoming year’s curriculum so that the entire summer is not just a review of last year.

Create a summer lesson plan – As you start to select the specific topics that you want to focus on, you will need to get organized. Families that choose to home school (1.77 million students were homeschooled in 2012) face the same challenge. That is where Gibibyte Games’ Homeschool Helper ($4.99, iPad) can help. With it, you can create a lesson plan for the summer and keep track of your child’s progress. As an example, you can add “Math” as a subject, create a series of lessons using math topics from the common core, and finally add tasks like going over a particular times table to monitor progress within a lesson.

Accessing educational web sites – Many websites that focus on education still use Adobe Flash as a means of teaching. While Apple’s own Safari does not support Flash, there are browsers for iOS that will connect you to a virtual computer in the cloud that can. Puffin Web Browser ($3.99, universal), Photon Flash Player for iPad ($4.99, iPad), and VirtualBrowser for Firefox ($4.99, iPad) are a few such examples. Each of these products will connect your iPad to a browser in the cloud that is capable of running Flash based websites.

Apps for learning – Since I have two children in elementary school, most of the app recommendations below target that particular age group. Apple has also created specialized app groups that recommend apps for all grade levels:

Spelling apps

Spelling apps

Word BINGO – At its simpler levels,’s WordBingo ($0.99, universal) helps younger students identify and read their basic sight words. The app uses the Dolch Word List of 220 words grouped by level. The app speaks a word on a bingo card and a timer sees how long it takes the student to find it. There is even a spelling test where one drags the letters together to form the spoken word.

SpellBoard – Taking a spelling test requires a way to write down, or type in, the chosen word. And your iOS device can do that. But what about giving a spelling test? Text to speech has been around for a while now, and PalaSoftware’s SpellBoard ($4.99, universal) has implemented it in a way that makes it easy to administer spelling tests as well. There is even a desktop companion app that you can use on your Mac to create and email tests to your kids. Once the test is completed, they can even send you back the test results. And thanks to the home schooling movement, there are plenty of grade appropriate word lists available online.

Ultimate Hangman – Sometimes you need to find fun and interesting ways to study the words on your spelling list. With EnsenaSoft’s Ultimate Hangman ($0.99, universal) you can quickly create your own custom word lists based off of the same spelling words you are trying to lean. There are also 73 different word categories already programmed into the game, including words used in SAT testing.

SpellTower – Just because it’s fun doesn’t mean you’re not learning. Zach Gage’s SpellTower ($1.99, universal) is a word search game that also requires strategic thought. Word choices decrease over time because you can’t play a given word more than once, and there is an ever-increasing number indicating how many letters the next word must have in it. There are several different modes you can learn from and even a multiplayer Debate Mode.

Reading apps

Reading apps

Bob Books – Currently, only two of the five sets of Bob Books have a companion app in the app store. They each feature twelve different scenes from each of the first two series. There are Kindle ebook versions of each of the series, or if you are an Amazon Prime member with a Kindle, you can borrow them for free.

Oceanhouse Media’s Dr. Seuss – There are so many Dr. Seuss books from Ocenhouse Media on the app store that they created the Dr. Seuss Bookshelf (Free, universal) to help you keep track of them all. All of the classic titles are available, costing from $1.99 to $4.99. The books can read themselves aloud. If you get stuck on a word just tap it and it will be read to you. The objects on the screen are interactive as well, adding to the fun of learning to read.

Goodreads – One popular summer learning pastime is the summer reading list. For younger students, this can also be composed of books you plan on reading to them. Goodreads is an online book recommendation site. Their app, also called Goodreads (free, universal) can be used to keep track of the books one plans to read. Just create a ‘summer reading’ bookshelf on your child’s account and add them as one of your Goodreads friends. When they finish reading a book, they can mark the book as read, rate and review it.

OverDrive – While you may already know that your local library is already a great resource to use over summer break, you may not have known that you can check out and borrow electronic books to your device. OverDrive hosts more than 1.8 million titles and currently supports over 28,000 libraries. Once you install its app, OverDrive Media Console (free, universal), you can use your local library card to create an account and start checking out books.

Math apps

Math apps

MonkeyMath – Simple number concepts like learning sequences, understanding “more” and “less” and counting are what THUP Games Monkey Math School Sunshine ($1.99, universal) is all about. Collecting prizes and filling a virtual aquarium keeps young kids engaged.

MathTerms – When you help your kids with homework, you’ll start to realize how much you yourself have forgotten over the years — like, what’s the difference between an acute and an obtuse angle? Sites like are a great resource, but I’d also like a good reference app like Andy Felong’s MathTerms (free, iPad).

MathBoard – There is so much one can do with PalaSoftware’s MathBoard ($4.99 Universal) that there’s a companion iBook you can download for free to learn all of it. The problem solver shows all of the steps necessary to complete any integer-based problem. There’s even a Mathboard Fractions ($4.99, universal) app that shows you how to simplify fractions and find the least common denominator. Each app has timed and un-timed exercises that keep score of your ongoing results.

Math42 – Taking one’s first steps into algebra can be a bit overwhelming. Using an app like Cogeon GmbH’s Math42 ($2.99, universal) can make those first steps much easier. You enter the equation and Math42 illustrates the steps to solve it. It shows how to simplify an equation, arrange the equation better for solving and even solve for x. The best part is that it shows all of the work in an easy-to-follow, step-by-step fashion. And a test mode tracks your progress and understanding over time.