As a former high school teacher, I can’t help but evaluate the apps I download from the perspective of an educator. I try to envision my students playing it and imagine what they might learn or gain aside from simple entertainment.
In my last post, I talked about some of the benefits of games, and the free apps I’ve included below definitely have some of those pluses. You might notice that I’ve avoided strictly “educational” apps in favor of games and puzzles that were built primarily for entertainment. In my experience, kids play the games that are fun, and so the apps I approve are both fun AND challenge the brain.
The premise of Alchemy Genetics is similar to the original Alchemy game, only now you are adding the genes or traits of one animal to another in order to create a new one. Though the Biological reality of this is rather suspect, there is a consistent internal logic to the game that makes it a little easier to play than the original Alchemy. Each animal has a list of traits (or genes) as well as a Wikipedia link to an article about it in order to inform your game play. One of my favorite features is the idea button, which helps you to focus by giving you hints about which animals you might try to create next.
Kids will Like: Cute graphics of animals and a mad-scientist themed background.
Teachers will Like: Lots of logic and critical thinking required to play. At times kids may have to find out about unknown animals.
ConnecToo is a deceptively simple puzzle game that is easy to learn to incredibly difficult to master. At the start of the game, there are a number of colored squares scattered on a grid. There are two squares of each color, and your task is simply to connect each pair by drawing a line on the grid. It sounds simple until you realize your lines cannot cross, and you find that you’ve connected all but one pair that are now closed off from each other. As the levels increase, the difficulty increases due to the number of pairs and their placement.
Kids will Like: Simple, with relatively few rules. Easy to try lots of methods quickly. Racing the clock provides an element of excitement.
Teachers will Like: Lots of logic, spatial reasoning and perseverance required to play the game.
In Gem Miner you control a character whose aim is to collect coal, gems and other products from inside a mine, and sell them for profit and additional equipment. The mine has elements of real-world constraints- ladders are needed to climb, and you must place support poles to keep the mine from collapsing. As you dig deeper, you have to sell your products to purchase additional elevators, lighting, and tools to continue. Each mine is randomly generated, so in theory each game is different. There are also challenge levels to play where success is rewarded with a medal.
Kids will Like: Challenges with rewards, lots of variability, open game play
Teachers will Like: Real world scenarios with basic math, use of logic and spatial reasoning.
There are a lot of puzzles games on the market that are very similar to Red Stone. In these games, there are a number of game pieces on the board that are blocking an exit for another piece, and must be manipulated in order to provide a clear exit. The reason I recommend Red Stone above the others is that it uses minimal pieces in each level, but manages to be phenomenally difficult. It’s difficult to articulate why this is, but I would attribute it largely to the different shapes that appear as you move through the levels, making it harder to manipulate the tiles. Note: For younger children or those too frustrated by Red Stone, I also recommend Unblock Me.
Kids will Like: Simple interface, cool android robot theme, easy to mess around with and restart.
Teachers will Like: Incredibly challenging spatial reasoning tasks.
Much like Words with Friends, Word Feud is a Scrabble clone you play with other iPhone or Android users. Word Feud is a little more stable on Android, and also has a fun feature where you can scramble the board around out of the traditional Scrabble layout. Game play is essentially just like the traditional Scrabble board game. I highly recommend this to families- I live 1100 miles away from my parents, but we can still play Scrabble together and frequently enjoy good-natured teasing about who has beaten whom.
Kids will Like: Competitive, fun, allows them to network with family and friends to play.
Teachers will Like: Builds vocabulary and English skills as well as critical thinking.
All of these apps are free, or have a free version, so download away and keep your kids (and your!) brains sharp during the lazy days of summer.
Do you have any other suggestions for great games for kids? Let us know in the comments!
Sara Hawkins is a former high school Biology teacher with a soft spot for the kind of wackiness only 9th graders can provide. She’s currently pursuing a master’s degree in Information Science specializing in usability and interaction design, which she hopes to put to use in the world of education. In her spare time, you’ll find her obsessively doing crossword puzzles, advocating for insect acceptance, and prowling around bookstores with her fiancé.