Friday, May 31, 2013

iSchool: Using the iPad in our HomeSchool

This is a bit of a follow-up to my post on How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the iPad

** Don't forget to go to the end of the post to leave comments with your favorite apps for school! ** 

We've been using iPads in our lessons for close to a month now.  So far, so good great!  Even in just this one month, I've been converted to an iPad lover.  It is so convenient to carry if we're on the go - but we hardly ever go anywhere, so... I'm just speaking on assumption.   It's easy to use - and that's really saying something coming from me. And it really and truly has brought enrichment to our home school.  

If you know me even a little, I'm sure you can imagine the types of apps we've been working with... they are either straight up educational, or are some type of game with educational value, or they are games which, though they may not be teaching Calculus or Chemistry, they make the user's brain chug and think and think and chug.

Some of my criteria for choosing apps have been:

- nothing pop-culture related - so no Disney, no super heroes.  It doesn't matter how good the app is, this general avoidance of licensed characters is just the way we roll around here.  (except for that Olivia shirt we got Ruth for her birthday...)

- pretty or artsy graphics are a plus if they can't be a must.  I love graphics that look like someone was thoughtful and creative about them... almost as if they were an illustration in a good book.  Apps that are outright cartoon-y have to have a spectacularly high education factor to gain my approval.

- educational apps that give you the ability to set up profiles for different users are great, especially when you have kiddos at different levels - for example, if both kids are practicing addition but need to focus on different sets of facts, you can customize what a specific player will cover.

- low cost, but not necessarily free.  I discovered fairly quickly that (most) free apps kind of stink, and if they're not stinky, they still have a lot of pop-up adds.  It's worth it to me to pay 99 cents for all three kids to play math games (high quality and add free) at the same time... cheaper than workbooks, folks!


So, here are some of our favorites that we've been using...
Keep in mind, my school-age boys are 5 1/2 and 7.  That's the age-group we've been app-shopping for. (Apps for our pre-schooler will be in a separate post!)


Freefall Math - Lots of options for personalization for a single player - which operations/facts to cover - but does not have the option of saving your setting choices for different users. I also like the Freefall Telling Time and Freefall Coin Math.

Freefall Math 

Whacky Math - you have to "whack" the mole with the correct answer to the math equation given.  Ok, this app is borderline obnoxious... lawn vermin with mustaches popping out of the ground... but so far, I actually appreciate it because you can choose very specific facts to cover in the game - example, you could have your child just work on addition with 9's, or you could do addition facts from 1 - 9.  The kids like this "game" and I like that it's a straight up timed math drill.  

Whacky Math

Slate Math for Kids - The cool thing about this app (in addition to the fact that it's FREE!) is the scenery.  The math concepts and activities are nothing too out of the ordinary, but you get to choose your desired backdrop for practicing those facts - dozens of sweets scenes from across Europe.  For example, you can practice advanced counting through the canals of Venice, write numbers in the sand on the beaches of Greece, or work on quantitative ordering in a Swiss chocolate factory...
Slate Math for Kids
This picture does not actually convey the lovely artwork in the app... sorry.  Best I could do.

Monkey MathSchool Sunshine - this is as cartoon-y as it gets.  I probably wouldn't have chosen this app if my kids hadn't had already befriended the host monkey in a PreSchool app by the same company.  But, as it stands... the math practice is good, and they enjoy it.  Note: it's not advanced enough for my first grader; it's better suited to pre-K and Kindergarten.  Has the ability to create "accounts" for different players - a definite plus!

Monkey MathSchool Sunshine

And at the risk of going overboard in the Math Games Department... Aaron (finishing first grade) also likes Mathmateer  - answer Math problems to earn money.  Save your money to pimp out (if I may...) your custom rocket for launch.  Once you get up there, there are more Math missions to conquer.  (We haven't gotten there yet...)



Freefall Spelling - As with their Math apps, this one is great because you can choose your game settings based on the player. For example, in the image below, "hints" are given on the bottom to help you spell apple, but the hints can be removed for older players.  This app also allows you to upload your own lists so that your child can practice words on his current spelling list. I have yet to use this feature, but will try to get back here to report on it when I do. 

Freefall Spelling

Rocket Spelling - Fun spelling/phonics practice - you earn rocket parts as you spell words correctly.  After 12 words, you get to launch your rocket and collect stars for points.  That's it.  Super simple.  Yet, my kids love it.  And I love that it has a level for my preschooler - letter hints given, a level for my Kindergartner - three and four letter words, no hints, and a level for my 1st grader - longer words, no hints.  

Rocket Speller


Little Reader - word to picture match-up activities get more complicated as the child progresses.  This app also allows you to add your own pictures and words (using your own voice!) to create customized reading lists!! (this is the version with four letter words, they also have a three-letter version)

Learn to Read - Four Letter Words by Little Readers

Word Grab Phonetics - Cute graphics - they look like scrapbook pages made from textured paper.  You know I like that kind of thing!  Best for younger players, I think.  Deals a lot with beginning letter sounds, and rhyming word-endings.  (I've bought a few apps by Bellamon - all very cute graphics!)

Word Grab Phonetics, from Bellamon


Super Note - Allows you to easily create "notes" in which you can hold written and recorded material.  Easy to use.  


Audubon Birds a Field Guide to North American Birds - I think we'll mostly use this for learning bird calls.  The recordings are of very good quality.  I checked out the calls for the ruby-throated humming bird and you could hear the humming wings in the background, and in the background of the great blue heron you could hear pond water lapping!  Yesterday, Ruth and I sat on the deck with this app and tried to get a rise out of the local woodpeckers and cardinals.  Not much success.  Yet.

Discover Your Body HD - the "info" part of this app is fairly standard - the same stuff you'd read in an kid's anatomy encyclopedia.  The portions that we've really enjoyed are the timed games in which you have to correctly place/identify major parts of various body systems.  


American Presidents - This is a really neat interactive time line of the presidents.  Once you choose a president, you can view an image gallery, bullet-point lists of important events during his presidency, lots more in depth information on his life and term of office, text of speeches, related articles etc... There is also a table of contents so as to view documents, maps, events without having to go through the time line.  Easy to use, informative and fun! 

American Presidents


I sort of went crazy in this area and ended up downloading some things that are over the heads of the kids, and two apps that turned out to be games with content that was definitely not appropriate for them. 

Part of the trouble I ran into is that there are some really fun geography games out there that require a pretty significant knowledge of where places are (imagine that!)and at this point, I need something that offers more instruction.  Also, many of the neat geography programs that I discovered require a lot of reading, and since my kiddos are not yet proficient readers, I'm somewhat limited to apps that offer audio information and instructions.  (Note - this is significant for me right now, because since I've been letting the kids use the iPads "independently" - I'm in the room, but not over their shoulder - I do need to make sure that they can understand and navigate the apps on their own.  Since I'm usually working on another lesson with someone else, I'm not able to pop over and read out loud about the capital city and ratio of cars:people in American Samoa.)  

Obviously, we'll use Google Earth, because it's just awesome (and free!)

Google Earth App

Kids Maps - This app is extremely simple, but it's one of the better ones I could find that suits my needs.  It allows kids to place the states into the map of the US, puzzle style.  There is minimal audio - a man (presumably the dad who created the app) says the name of the state and an easy-to-remember fact about it, like "Michigan.  Many cars are made in the state of Michigan."  You can choose to place the states in alphabetical or random order.   

Kids Maps

Barefoot Atlas - this app is pretty and it's fun to be able to navigate the globe with finger swipes!  It's easy to use and has a lot of "fun" information - all of the little pictures are items you can click on for additional info.  The actual stats  provided for each country though are very limited - much less than you'd get in any standard Kid's First Atlas book.  I think this is a good tool for learning where countries are, but I think they sort of missed the boat on providing better information on each country. 

Barefoot Atlas App

When the boys get a little older and have a better foundation in U.S. and world geography, I think we'll enjoy some of these games that I bought prematurely...
Stack the States
Learn the World
Learn the States

General Knowledge

Khan Academy - I haven't used this yet except in previewing excerpts of videos - it's FREE, so if it isn't useful, no harm done.  It is a collection of over 3500 videos on TONS of different school topics.  I think we'll be doing earth science/astronomy for science next year, so I started watching a video on "understanding" and appreciating the scale of the universe - 11 minutes of a chatty professor using still photos and a pen-on-screen.  It's informational, but certainly not thrilling or captivating.  We'll see if we use it as much as I thought we would when I first downloaded it...

Khan Academy


Some of Mom's rules: an attempt at quality control and time limitations in the face of mind-bogglingly-awesome technology:

-You may only use an iPad with Mom or Dad's permission.  Obviously.

- Using an iPad is not a right.  It is a privilege that is up to you to maintain.  You can lose your privilege to this just as you could lose any other of your privileges. 

- You must stay on the activity or game that you're on until you have permission to go to something new.

- You must finish the "lessons" portion of what you're doing before going on to a game.

- You won't finish an activity or game if you aren't trying your hardest to do well or are getting incorrect answers intentionally.

- Even though there is one particular iPad in which the games are set up particularly for you (your name, your level, etc...), and it has your poems and pictures on it, it is not your iPad. I know this will be a hard concept to understand... but we will all have to try. They belong to our whole family.  

- If you "forget" any of these rules, or whine or delay when it's time to turn off the iPad, you'll lose your privilege of using it next time we get them out.  


I think there are other homeschooling moms using iPads out there, right? I love spending time investigating apps for school! ... please leave comments with your suggestions for other great homeschool apps!  

Happy iLearning!


  1. Lots to think about far we've just used the computer but now we are down to this Christmas....
    Thank you for vetting the apps out there. I plan to come back here soon as we have an ipad!

  2. Very interesting phone, tablets and ipad becoming a trend in education & kids will learn very easily on ipad & tablets using educational apps & game. Would like to share here a puzzle game for kids get it free from:

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. We just added an ipad to our curriculum too! One of our favorite apps is Reading Rainbow! You have to pay a subscription but if you were a fan of that show when you were a kid you won't mind paying it! I have already down loaded some of your suggestions! I'm sure my son will be thrilled with them! We too stress that the ipad is a privilege and can be lost! Thank you for this post!

    1. Oh, what is that app your son is using in the top picture? It looks fun/interesting?!

    2. Hi, Kat! The app in the top black and white picture is Freefall Spelling. I REALLY love the Freefall apps - we use the math, telling time, counting money, and spelling regularly. The kids like them too :)
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
      pa - If you click on "iPad" in the column of things I write about on the right, some other posts with app recommendations will come up. I'm always finding new ones to pass on!

  4. Very interesting concept in looking into for next year. I would like to know if you follow any kind of cirriculum? Or just have an app they use for each subject? Do you set a time limit for them to work on certain subjects? And how do you do testing?


Like the old song says, "comments are a girl's best friend." Or something like that... So... leave a comment! I love chatting here! Pretend you're on my back porch, kick the broken plastic sandbox toys aside, sip your iced coffee, or beer, or (__fill in the blank with your beverage of choice__) and let's talk about all the things, because back-porch blogging is what I do!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...