Digital Apps for smart times: Turning Screen Time into Learning Time

December, 2015

In our hectic world, we all see or know parents who use apps to keep their kids content and occupied. But technology time can be more than just “filler” time. Kids can use apps to learn new skills that will keep them both entertained and eager to learn. While they’re busy with their business, you can take care of yours. Here is a glimpse at a few on the market.

Endless Alphabet

Although alphabet is in the name, the Endless Alphabet app does more than just teach the names of letters and their sounds; it explores the English language.

What it is: This vocabulary app by Originator helps children learn their ABCs and new words. It’s called “endless” because new words are occasionally added. The games are not competitive (no time limits, high scores or failures), so children learn stress-free at their own pace.

Special features: The app features talking letters, music and short monster animations to show the meanings of over 70 new words. The words aren’t what you’d typically expect from a children’s learning tool, either. For example, D isn’t for dog, it’s for demolish.

Worth noting: Endless Alphabet won an Apple App Store Best of 2013 award.

Target audience: Preschool children, but older kids will enjoy it too

Cost & availability: Free from Windows Store; up to $6.99 from Amazon App Store for Android, Apple App Store and Google Play

Moose Math

Parents who want to track their child’s math learning will like Moose Math because it provides detailed progress reports, and the task difficulty increases as the child masters each level.

What it is: This app by Duck Duck Moose Inc. teaches many math concepts, including counting, addition, subtraction, sorting and geometry. Five multi-level activities take kids to places such as the Moose Juice Store and Puck’s Pet Shop where they earn rewards to build their own city.

Special features: The activities are not isolated tasks; they are woven together as a story, which increases engagement. If a child gets stuck on a task, visual cues are available to help.

Worth noting: Duck Duck Moose has an online learning portal where parents can download supplemental worksheets and flashcards.

Target audience: Preschool to early elementary children

Cost & availability: $1.99; available from Amazon App Store for Android, Apple App Store and Google Play

Sago Mini Doodlecast

Movies are an exciting form of entertainment for people of all ages, and Sago Mini Doodlecast allows kids to make and record their own mini-movies.

What it is: This drawing app by Sago Sago Toys Inc. allows children to record their voices while they draw pictures. Families can play back and share the drawings and recordings. The app supports over a dozen languages, including English, French, Spanish and Mandarin.

Special features: Children can choose to draw anything they want, but the app also provides over 30 simple prompts for kids when they don’t have an idea. The prompts allow opportunities to reflect or to talk safely about feelings with topics such as “What makes you sad?” and “Who is in your family?”

Parents can configure the app settings to upload the mini-movies directly to YouTube without allowing the child to access YouTube from the app.

Worth noting: Sago Mini Doodlecast also won an Apple App Store Best of 2013 award.

Target audience: Children 2 to 6 years old

Cost & availability: $2.99 from Apple App Store

World Wildlife Fund Together

Best Kids Apps calls World Wildlife Fund Together “the only app we’ve ever tested that made us wish we could award more than five stars. It’s that good.”

What it is: This World Wildlife Fund interactive app with high-definition videos allows children to learn about the WWF and interesting or unusual facts about animals, including endangered species. Children experience the lives of over 60 different animals such as rhinos, elephants and polar bears from new perspectives. For example, “tiger vision” shows what tigers see compared to what humans see.

Special features: New species are regularly added. A 3D interactive globe lets kids see how far away they are from the animals’ habitats. Each story has instructions for kids to make origami animals.

Worth noting: WWF Together won a 2013 Apple Design Award.

Target audience: Children 3 and up, but suitable for teens and adults

Cost & availability: Free; available from Amazon App Store for Android, Apple App Store and Google Play


Time magazine named Osmo one of the best inventions of 2014. It’s not like traditional apps in two key ways: it requires special external equipment, and it incorporates hands-on activities.

What it is: Osmo is an iPad add-on game system that integrates physical toys such as tangram pieces and word tiles into the digital play. Its creators want multiple players to connect around one iPad for a more social digital experience.

Special features: Four apps are available. With Masterpiece, kids choose an image from the camera, a gallery or a web search, and the app changes the image into easy-to-follow lines that help kids draw the object. With Newton, players guide digital falling objects into hand-drawn or real targets. In Tangram, children arrange physical puzzle pieces to match onscreen shapes. In Words, kids race to guess and spell hidden words with real-life letter tiles.

Worth noting: The Osmo system requires external equipment (reflector and stand) and game pieces.

Target audience: Children 6 and up

Cost & availability: The apps are free at the Apple App Store, but the equipment and game pieces cost $99.95 plus $18.00 shipping; available only for the iPad, but other devices may come later. t8n



App Math

A 2012 analysis of Apple App Store sales in the education category showed over 80% of the top selling apps are for children. Almost 50% of available apps aim to teach general early learning skills, 13% target math skills and only 5% focus on literacy.


Screen Time

Screen time is time spent in front of all screens: TV, computer, smartphone. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends no screen time for children under 2 and a maximum of 2 hours daily for older children.


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