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Summer vacation is just around the corner, and with that comes down time, travel time and often screen time for children. Research continues to show that children experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer months. From on-the-go activities that families can do together while on the road, to online games, mobile apps and more, there are many opportunities to boost learning during summer break. With an abundant supply of apps available to kids today, many parents might be wondering how to find the best apps for their families.

Here are my top five favorites:

1. PBS KIDS Games: This free app features dozens of learning games from favorite PBS KIDS series for play anytime and anywhere! Favorite games can be saved to a device so that kids – especially those in under-connected homes – can play and learn offline. New games are added regularly, encouraging children ages 2 to 8 to explore math, science, creativity and more through gameplay with their favorite characters. // Available for free on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Android devices.

2. Ready Jet Go Space Explorer: With expert curriculum backed by NASA, this app encourages kids to learn about space in the context of the world around them – with the help of Jet and his friends! Kids can point the device to the sky and explore to see real world positions of constellations and planets. // Available for free on Apple, Google Play and Amazon.

3. Sago Mini Road Trip: Kids pick a destination, select a vehicle and hit the road! With more than ten vehicles (from racing cars to a shoe-mobile) and six destinations (from magical mountains to the big city), this app has no rules or time pressures. Kids 2- to 5-years-old can explore at their own pace. // Available for $2.99 on Google Play and Amazon. Free now on the App Store.

4. TeleStory: With this app, kids ages 6 to 8 can use their imaginations to write, direct and star in their own story. They can record a music video, teleport to an alien planet, film a high-speed-chase, or perform on a reality TV show by picking a theme and mixing and matching over 30 animated scenes. // Available for free on the App Store.

5. Toca Tailor Fairy Tales: This app promotes creative, open-style play with no rules or time limits! Kids age 4 to 8 can create, combine and style outfits for two characters. It’s a great way for kids to play around with colors and patterns – then tailor outfits by adjusting hems and lengthening sleeves. // Available for free on the App Store.

Every child has unique interests. If these apps don’t seem just right, here are tips on finding the best apps for your child and your family:

Choose apps that fit your family’s schedule. We know that summer travel requires long trips on an airplane, on the road, or even on a train or bus where Wi-Fi might not be accessible. Try to find apps that are playable offline and have multiple story lines.

Distinguish what is truly educational. Consider whether the content of the app is from a trusted source and research-based. Read the product description and look for an outline of learning goals. Parents can also look to sites such as Common Sense Media for reviews. Go beyond reading and math when you think about “education.” Is your child struggling with routines or transitions between activities? Does he like to cook with you? Apps offer an amazing variety of educational content – so be creative as you search the stores!

Look for content that builds on your child’s passions. Kids are innately enthusiastic about things that speak to their interests. Is it dinosaurs? Outer space? Music? Ideally, the content on screen should empower kids to explore the world around them long after the screen is turned off. As you choose apps, think about which options can provide a natural transition to hands-on playtime or outdoor discovery.

Play together (or talk about it). Apps are another opportunity to explore with your child – and younger children especially love playing with mom, dad or a grandparent. Consider apps that offer two-player modes – or ask your child if you can watch them play! Ask questions about your child’s experience: “What did you do in that game? What was your favorite part? Did anything surprise you?” Prompt her to share her creations or game successes.

Be mindful of age appropriateness and safety. Do some digging to understand how an app is making its money. Does it contain ads? Does it include in-app purchase? Does it require a subscription account for your child to access special content? A little investigative work can save your child from disappointment. Like any electronic device you let your child use, pay attention to the fine print and privacy policy. Think about what it might be tracking, what data is being collected and whether it’s marketing more products to your child.

Ask friends and family! What does your child’s teacher recommend? What are your friends playing with their kids? Some of the best recommendations may come, unsurprisingly, from the people who know you and your child best.

About Sara DeWitt

As Vice President of PBS KIDS Digital, Sara DeWitt leads innovative strategies to build connected and immersive educational experiences for kids across media platforms, including the Kidscreen- and Webby-award winning pbskids.org. DeWitt has led the extension of PBS KIDS content into new frontiers – from mobile apps and interactive whiteboard games, to wearable tech and 3D-rendered gaming experiences.

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