10 Apps & Games That Trick Tech-Loving Kids into Learning

girl playing Minecraft

Two years ago, my kids’ elementary school started an after-school enrichment class in Minecraft. My initial reaction? Pure skepticism. How could a game that had my then-6-year-old son glued to the screen for hours (more hours than I care to admit) be “enriching”? How could a PTA-organized program that also offered chess, languages, and cooking classes be including a class that involved an hour of after-school video gaming?


Then I had a chance to talk to the teacher running the class. He sold me with his enthusiasm for the game and its ability to teach kids so many different lessons, from creativity to community building to strategic problem-solving.

This got me thinking: What other games could I find in my app store, or on my laptop, that my kids would think were fun and that would also be teaching them valuable lessons? I dug around and came up with this list of 10 games that may make you want to increase the amount of screen time you allow.

by Mojang

Minecraft not only boosts creativity as kids build (much like building with LEGOS), but it also teaches real-life skills. If they’re playing in survival mode, they need to build with the right materials so their structures are secure, they need to hunt for their food, and -- when they play with others -- they must make a team effort to create a thriving community. 

Kids learn: Creativity, community-building strategies, teamwork, spatial reasoning

Ages: 6 and up (Note: There are zombies and fire and players “kill” animals for food.)

Find it on: Android, iOS, Playstation, Xbox, and more

Stack the States
by Freecloud Design, Inc.

If only this app were around when I was learning about our country’s geography! Each state is a caricature with big expressive eyes and an adorable smile. Kids can start by learning using flashcards, or they can dive right into the game, using the shapes of the states to figure out how to stack them so they don’t fall down. They’ll need to know which state it is before they can drop it, and there are additional games that help teach state capitals. Once your kids have mastered the game, they can try the Stack the Countries app.

Kids learn: Geography, spatial reasoning

Ages: 6 and up

Find it on: iOS, Android

Monument Valley
by Ustwo

Even the grown-ups in my house got hooked on this visually stunning puzzle game. The goal is to guide a princess through a maze by manipulating the architecture, uncovering hidden paths, and unfolding optical illusions. Inspired by the art of M. C. Escher, the design is truly breathtaking and the music is equally enjoyable.    

Kids learn: Deductive reasoning, adapting, perseverance

Ages: 4 and up

Find it on: iOS, Android

The Robot Factory
by Tinybop, Inc.

With hundreds of robot parts to choose from and thousands of possibilities, kids can build completely unique creations and test them out. Will their bots walk, roll, fly, or hop? If not, kids can go back and tinker with them until they’ve completed their challenges. The graphics are irresistibly cute.

Kids learn: Physics, engineering

Ages: 4 and up

Find it on: iOS, Android

The Human Body
by Tinybop, Inc.

Like with Robot Factory, the graphics on this game are whimsically beautiful and captivating. Kids will crack up at the sounds our bodies make (especially in the digestive system) and learn so much about how our bodies work. Because they're self-guided, the tours of the human anatomy are different every time you log in.

Kids learn: Anatomy, science

Ages: 4 and up

Find it on: iOS, Android

by Neuron Fuel, Inc

This at-home software is a great platform for teaching kids to code. And there are learning opportunities for almost every interest. Kids can create apps, build games, control robots, or code drones.

Kids learn: Coding and other STEM skills

Ages: 7 and up

Find it at: tynker.com 

by Set Enterprises, Inc.

SET started out as a real card game designed and developed in the '70s by a geneticist. She based the game on the coding systems she used at work. The app version is the same as the card game. Players need to find the link that makes the different shapes a “set.”

Kids learn: Math skills, understanding of patterns, reasoning skills

Ages: 6 and up

Find it on: iOS and at SetGame.com

LumiKids Park
by Lumosity Labs

Designed for the younger set, this app allows kids to play in an interactive park. They’ll sort items by color, shape, and size; play hide-and-seek with quick-moving critters; and do other activities that build skills. The best part? The app adapts to their abilities (no getting frustrated by difficult tasks or bored by easy ones) and gives parents tips on their progress and advice on how to further develop these skills. When they tire of the park, they can try LumiKids Beach, LumiKids Backyard, and more.

Kids learn: Sorting, visual-motor coordination, attention, and memory

Ages: 5 and under

Find it on: iOS, Android, and at LumiKids.com 

BrainPOP Jr.
by BrainPOP

This educational website -- chock-full of videos on a huge array of subjects -- has been a classroom staple for many years. While you’re not necessarily tricking anyone into learning here, kids are free to search for topics that really interest them. The site does an incredible job of breaking down the material so it’s easy to understand and really fun to learn about.

Kids learn: Just about anything they might be interested in. There are videos covering science, social studies, math, health, the arts, and more. 

Ages: 4 to 9 (BrainPOP has videos for older kids)

Find it at: jr.BrainPop.com


Wilson and Ditch
by PBS Kids

It doesn’t get any sillier than this pair of gopher brothers traveling the country. The next time you’re planning a trip to a new state or landmark, find it on the website’s map and let the kids watch a video about it. Next thing you know, they’ll know more than you about our nation’s most popular places.

Kids learn: Geography, history, culture, and other fun facts about different parts of the US

Ages: 7 and up

Find it at: PBSkids.org/wilsonandditch


Image via iStock.com/Anatolii Babii

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