Open worlds in math, art and storytelling with these apps

While thousands of apps claim to teach math, test logic, or promote creative thinking, many fall far short of the claim.

We love these apps for their ability to truly teach new concepts, their neat logic puzzles, their creative possibilities, and their non-violent design.

They are all also (as of this writing) ad-free. The last three are not just for children, but hold such great content that we have included them. Please supervise your kids on them. All of the following are available on the App Store. Some are also available as programs for Mac or PC. Of course, screen time is best enjoyed in moderation (setting a timer is a great way to keep children from staring at a device for hours).

DragonBox Algebra

This app teaches algebraic thinking in a beautiful format. Even very young children will enjoy watching their dragon egg hatch and grow as they work through puzzles to isolate the “magic box.” As they progress through levels, the box becomes x and the drawings become letters and numbers. Start with DragonBox Algebra 5+ and then move onto the 12+ version when your child is ready. One of our favorite math apps, ever.

Zoombinis

Adorable little Zoombini characters each have a unique combination of characteristics. As children take them through adventures, they must solve logic puzzles to keep their Zoombinis together through the journey. Pizza monsters, sneezing bridges, irritable boulders and other wacky challenges await in a beautifully illustrated world with exciting sounds and graphics. This app is particularly delightful because children enjoy collaborating to solve the puzzles together. Parents of very sensitive children, please do note that some of the obstacle characters are rather grumpy.

Homes

Tinybop created this unusual app which invites children to explore the features of a variety of different homes. We love the open-ended quality of this game, which offers the exterior and interior of homes around the world, rural and urban, Children can move objects around, open books, paint walls and experiment with almost all the elements they see. A mellow, contemplative app with no goal other than exploration that your younger child will enjoy. Be aware that this app asks for access to your camera in order to put a custom picture on the wall. We found it easy to deny the request and still enjoy the app.

24Game

This app is taken from the classic game. Players are offered four numbers and must add, subtract, multiply or divide them to reach a final answer of 24. The game settings offer varying levels of challenge, but you’ll find that it is quite difficult for younger children, even on the easiest settings. It is a great way to encourage basic math skills in an engaging puzzle format.

Paper by 53

This drawing app is not a “kid” app and is a fairly powerful art tool. Check that your child understands not to share on the creative community within, or, even better, turn off internet access while using it. Paper has a simple and nicely intuitive interface and contains particularly beautiful watercolor and smudge elements. As children use it, they can create bright color combinations and add and subtract shapes to form negative spaces. It really does allow wonderful graphic freedom in ways that are unique to digital work.

WurdTorn

A scrambled word puzzle game terrific for children that love word play or are are hungry for more vocabulary. We recommend playing this game with your child, since, despite its pleasures, it is not just for children and offers an adult community component. The game offers scrambled words in themes, so even after solving a set of scrambled words, there is the additional pleasure of figuring out the theme of the words. After passing several levels, players are offered a chance to make up their own puzzles, which children LOVE to do! Be cautious with the community puzzles – the game forbids “bad” words, but some themes in the community are perhaps too mature for children. The daily puzzle often refers to current political events.

Stop Motion Studio

This takes flip books to next-level creativity! Show your child how to do a simple stop motion movie by making small movements with paper cutouts or toys (or nonhardening clay for Wallace and Gromit style claymation) and then set them free. This app allows them to take photos, adjust the speed of their movie (frames per second), onion-skin to see the previous shot, add sound, use a remote camera, and do some basic editing. But if they just want to take a series of photos and then see it play as a movie, the app has a simple interface that allows them to do just that. If your child shows interest, you may want to give them a small tripod to help hold their device steady.