A decade ago, keeping a kid from forgetting over the summer everything he or she learned in school that year meant flash cards. Solid, white paper stock that didn't actually flash.
Now, as my math teacher husband says, kids from toddlers to tweens who need to catch up or who want to get a jump on mathematics have a number of electronic options from which to choose. And some of them do actually flash.
We've compiled a list of our favorite go-to math apps, broken down by age and interest. These worked wonders keeping my kids thinking math over the summer. Best of all, half of them feature my favorite number: zero, as in FREE. Many are available on both Apple (iOS) and Android platforms; download prices are as of June 2016.
Looking for more ways to keep your kids engaged over summer break? Check out our brand-new Summer Slide Busters Guide, offering brainy NYC activities and at-home DIY projects.
PRESCHOOLERS AND YOUNGER
iOS systems; $2.99
Don't want to wait until your kids are attending school before immersing them in the world of numbers? Mathlandia brands itself as a math game for ages 1 and older. Categories include numbers, counting, plus 1/minus 1, as well as general addition and subtraction. Full of colorful graphics visibly influenced by Russian folklore, the app introduces concepts such as number recognition and sequencing, and showing the representational symbol as it is voiced aloud (in a near-hypnotic manner). To an adult, this drone can come off as monotonous, but toddlers seem entranced. A preview video is available on YouTube. The developer also offers Juicy Math for ages 4 and older.
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With Splash Math, kids learn to perform most basic mathematical functions.
Splash Math Kindergarten Math App
iOS, Android; FREE
It's billed as a kindergarten math app, but for toddlers and preschoolers, making Splash Math the perfect app for NYC parents who want their children working above grade level or mastering material before introduced to it in school. With Splash Math, kids can count, add, subtract, measure and even try their hands at some basic geometry. It's aligned with Common Core standards and sends parents real-time progress reports. High-quality animation and a bouncy tune make it feel more like a cartoon show than a lesson, with its animated birds even bearing a resemblance to other furious fowl with which kids already might be familiar. Splash Math also makes a paid kindergarten version and additional apps geared toward older grade-schoolers, such as the Grade 3 Splash Math app and Math Splash Bingo.
Little Solver Preschool Logic Game
We would be remiss to leave out an app that claims to get NYC preschoolers ready for specialized tests for both public and private schools. Matrix analogies that point out how things are similar and how they are different strengthen analytical reasoning, problem-solving, perception and spatial relational skills and are featured prominently on the Stanford-Binet (used for Hunter College Elementary School admission), Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (used for public school G&T admission) and the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (used for some private school admissions). So getting your child used to solving these grids makes sense, especially since summer is the ideal time to prep for fall tests.
MATH APPS FOR GRADE-SCHOOL KIDS
iOS, Android; FREE
Memory Lifter is a virtual version of traditional flash cards, promising more efficient results with no actual cards to lose. After you download the app, browse pre-prepared learning modules, which include Math for Kids with basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The app has controlled repetition and timed spacing so kids don't get the same problems over and over, and they must answer quickly. You can use Memory Lifter as a template to download your own study materials and enhance them with graphics, sounds and other multimedia elements. The app is similar to the paper flash cards you used to make yourself, except that it's fancier and it doesn't let you cheat.
Fetch! Lunch Rush by PBS Kids
iOS, Android; FREE
PBS Kids has earned goodwill in our house for quality children's programming. And we're fans of its multiplayer, augmented reality math game, too. Aimed at children ages 6 to 8 and inspired by the series of the same name, Fetch! is a 3-D world where Ruff Ruffman has the most challenging job on a movie crew: getting everybody's lunch orders right. To do so, he uses “markers” (otherwise known as printable handouts, or, you know, flash cards) to help children visualize the mathematical concepts on which they are working, including basic algebra. The game was funded by a grant from the Department of Education and is designed to supplement national standards for first- and second-grade math curricula. Updated as of May 26, 2016, it is useful for parents who want to ensure their child is working at grade level. (Or, for NYC parents, above grade level.)
FREE online, $4.99 in iOS App store and Android
XtraMath was suggested by a teacher who thought her own children knew their math facts—until she actually tested them. She recommended a few minutes of XtraMath work a day over the summer months to get kids fluent in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, arguing that quick recall is essential to doing higher-level math later. XtraMath is available for parents to use at home and for teachers to use in the classroom. Some NYC schools offer it as part of the curriculum. XtraMath also sends weekly reports, so parents can see the progress their children have made.
MATH APPS FOR TWEENS
iOS, Android; FREE
You can't be a rocket man if you don't know your math facts. This app introduces kids to two of the most important aspects of a career at NASA: building your own rocket and raising the funds to do so. Designed for ages 9 to 11, Rocket Math requires budding engineers to solve addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems, earning virtual money to build and get a rocket off the ground. (Talk about a game that includes real-life applications and lessons!) Once children have their rocket off the launch pad, it's time for more math missions in space to keep it in flight. Tasks include gathering stars, coins, clocks, and even pizzas. At the end, children earn bronze, silver, or gold medals.
iOS, Android; $3.99
Moving up from basic math facts, kids ages 9 to 11 can progress to fractions and decimals, factoring, and sequencing equations, all while customizing and building their own mazes and avoiding obstacles. Multiple players can use the same device by creating individual profiles, and parents can select concepts they'd like their children to focus on. There's a scorekeeper for each user in case you're up for some friendly competition.
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Questimate: Why concentrate solely on answers when kids can make up their own questions?
Tired of constantly being asked for answers? How about a game in which your child creates the questions? Questimate lets children pick a category from among Amazing Animals, Need for Speed, History of Awesome, Olympic Gold, and GeoOdyssey, then has kids combine pre-set phrases to come up with a question followed by a potential answer. Questimaters can play alone or socially with friends, competing for points and prizes. There are also opportunities to trip up your opponent, and it's all compatible with Common Core math standards on measurement, units, and orders of magnitude. A FREE sample is available to download via iTunes.
MATH APP FOR ALL AGES
DragonBox gradually introduces kids to more sophisticated math concepts.
iOS, Android; from $4.99 to $7.99
There be dragons. And math apps for all ages, starting with DragonBox Numbers for 4-year-olds, geometric elements for elementary-school kids, algebra for children as young as 5 and older than 12. The early learning apps feature Cuisenaire Rods that kids can slice, dice, and feed to each other. That's not the only play option as kids can move up into harder puzzles that sequentially introduce more sophisticated mathematical concepts.
None of these apps is intended to be a substitute for actually doing math with your child over the summer or anytime during the year. That has been proven to yield the best results in and out of school.
Images courtesy of their respective apps.