A few years ago, educators starting warning parents about “summer slump.” This drop-off in academic skills forces teachers to spend the first weeks after Labor Day reteaching things their students knew at Memorial Day.
Of course, summer won’t feel much like vacation if it’s crammed with workbook exercises. Instead, parents can keep young brains fresh by encouraging kids to imagine, explore and inquire about things that interest them. Whether it’s done with paper or pixels, reading continues to be one of the best ways to nurture young minds, followed closely by activities that motivate children to think their way through problems.
Happily, both of these activities are a prominent part of many of the apps designed for children. The challenge for parents is to sort through the thousands of apps being produced to find the ones that will actually intersect with a particular child’s age and enthusiasms. These websites should help. All do independent reviews, and most sort apps by age group and subject area.
Mind Leap Tech reviews educational apps with three things in mind: 1. Does the app trigger genuine learning? 2. Do kids enjoy using it? 3. Will they want to use it more than once? Apps are organized by grade level so you can pinpoint what works for pre-schoolers or fifth-graders. And you can sign up for an e-mail that will alert you to new apps in particular areas. (www.mindleaptech.com)
Common Sense Media now reviews apps in addition to movies, video games, tv shows, websites, books and music. Run by a nonprofit, this site uses an easy-to-understand rating system that helps parents zero in on content that is developmentally appropriate. Reviews also include a “learning rating” which considers engagement, learning approach, feedback and support. (www.commonsensemedia.org/mobile-app-lists)
Digital Storytime reviews picture books that have been adapted for the Ipad. In addition to a candid assessment of the book, each review includes screen shots and videos so you know what you’re getting before you buy. There are also some helpful top ten lists, many organized around topics that appeal to the author’s young son such as elephants, pirates and planets. (www.digital-storytime.com)
International Children’s Digital Library offers a free app that gives children access to more than 4,000 books from around the world. Many of the books have been translated so kids can listen to stories in more than one language. The Digital Library also offers an app that helps children write and share their own stories. (http://en.childrenslibrary.org/)
Storia is another free app that gives readers easy access to many of the popular books available from Scholastic book clubs. You can choose five free books when you download the app. After that, you’ll pay from $1.95 to $20 per book.
Apps in Education reviews 1,000 apps each week to identify the ones that are most likely to be useful to teachers. This is a great place to look for apps that will help will help a child catch up on fractions or some other subject that he or she didn’t quite master last year. (www.appsineducation.com)
Teaching Appz is another good source for apps endorsed by teachers in Great Britain. The reviewers are quite selective so you don’t have to wade through a long list to find topnotch apps in various subjects. Reviews also include tips about how to use each app to stimulate learning. (www.teachingappz.co.uk)
Daily dose. Several apps make each day a learning opportunity by delivering new content to your mobile device every 24 hours. Read Me Stories provides a daily book ideal for children who are just learning to read. (www.8interactive.com) Brain Pop offers a mini-movie about a random topic likely to interest elementary-age children. (www.brainpop.com/app)
To be honest, kids from families who can afford smart phones and tablet computers are less likely to experience summer slump. “All children backslide in math,” says James Kim, a Harvard researcher who has studied summer slump. “In literacy, the gap between high and low socio-economic status children widens. Low-income students, who may not have the same level of access to books and literacy resources, tend to decline more than wealthier students.”
Parents can help close this gap by getting involved in local literacy projects. Sort through your family library and donate outgrown books, games and educational toys to programs such as firstbook.org. Or use the interactive map under Volunteer at RIF.org to find and support a literacy initiative in your school district. You may find that the best way to prevent summer slump is by joining with other parents to be sure that all the kids in your community have loads of opportunities to learn this summer.
Carolyn Jabs, M.A., raised three computer-savvy kids including one with special needs. She has been writing Growing Up Online for ten years. Visit www.growing-up-online.com to read other columns.