Best Educational Apps for Traveling Kids

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What are the best homeschool apps and the best educational apps for travel? We’ve been asking ourselves this question since 2013, when we first left our desk jobs, pulled the kids out of school and started traveling. This meant we started using our laptops and other devices for education, navigation, accommodation and more.

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Best Educational Apps For Our Kids

I can tell you that we’ve gone through a lot of homeschooling apps and educational apps for children: apps for teens, apps for tweens, travel apps, reading apps and language learning apps. We’ve talked about it with other traveling families over the years as well.

One thing we’ve learned is that finding the best educational apps can differ from family to family. The best apps for students in one family may not be the best apps for students in another. After all, kids in each family are different ages and come with different interests, backgrounds and learning styles. learning The list below is only a fraction of the iPhone and iPad apps that we’ve used.

Homeschool Apps for Family Travel

In the years since we started traveling full-time in 2013, there have been hundreds of homeschooling apps and other educational apps for students of all kinds. There are many, many online resources we could mention, but there’s only so much time to try them all.

The list below, however, includes some of the best educational apps and websites that worked for our family. Some homeschool apps and websites have stood the test of time, while the kids have outgrown others. For this post, I’ve divided up what we consider the best educational apps and websites by subject matter. There are dozens of drawing and photo apps I decided to leave out. Instead, I tried to keep it to the most relevant areas of conventional education.

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Music-Related Homeschooling Apps

Our best educational apps for traveling kids

Yousician

Yousician

Yousician is certainly one of the best educational apps for students interested in playing an instrument. This app turns an iPad into a virtual music teacher. Both of our kids had guitar classes when we lived in Penang, but it’s tough to keep up with music lessons when you’re traveling around. Yousician turned guitar lessons into a game similar to the Sony Playstation’s Guitar Hero series.

It teaches chords and fingering through colors and graphics, and then has heaps of songs to practice with. Using the iPad’s microphone and speaker, the kids play along to Yousician’s “bouncing ball” style chord progressions. The mic pics up what they’ve played and then scores them on accuracy. They love it.

Yousician is also available for piano and bass. It certainly doesn’t replace a real teacher, but if you’re moving around, it’s one of the best alternatives.

Reading & Language Arts – Homeschool Apps

News-O-Matic

News-O-Matic-App

This may be our favorite educational app of all-time. Out of all of the best educational apps for students listed here, we have probably recommend News-O-Matic the most. It’s essentially an online newspaper for kids — and sometimes written by kids, as well. New editions arrive on our devices four or five times a week, with articles covering everything from international politics (India, Taiwan, Brazil, etc) to oil prices to sports, science and technology.

Keeping up with current events

Sure, there are stories about pop culture, cute animals, and wacky headlines thrown in as well. However, we were satisfied with the balance between fluff and real news content. They turn even serious events like floods and elections into something kids will read about. The app is made by an American company, and the topics they choose to cover often reflect that. Overall however, I’d recommend it to parents of any nationality, as they cover issues with a fairly even hand.

We’d consider this one of the best educational apps for students below 11 or 12 years old. Maybe older, maybe younger depending on  the kid.  It features video and “read to me” functions for younger readers, and offers vocabulary lessons along the way. The app’s team runs plenty of contests to engage readers, as well. For example, they’ll have scary story-writing contests at Halloween, and frequent polls to see how readers think about certain issues in the news.

news o matic fallas

They also have a lot of kid-written content. My daughter was once featured for a book review she wrote (she loved Louis Sachar’s novel, Holes). Some time later, she wanted to write for them again — this time about the Fallas festival  in Valencia, Spain. I wrote one of the editors to see if it was possible, and they said yes! I’m sure it helps the app editors, having content for free, but it really made my girl proud to see her first byline in a magazine that she actually loves to read.

The Kindle App

Kindle-iOS-App-icon

We have two actual kindle devices, and prefer for the kids to read on them instead of computer/device screens. There is research suggesting that the light emitted by iPad screens (and laptops and TVs, etc) can make it more difficult for the brain to fall asleep. Look it up for yourself if you’re interested. That said, the Kindle reading app is handy on the iPads when the kindles are occupied. 

Since the kids want to read before bed we encourage them to read on their old, e-ink kindles at night. During the day, the kindle iPad app is an excellent educational app for students of all reading levels. We still believe in the power of real tangible books. But books are heavy. The kindle app is one of the best apps for kids to carry heaps of reading material without the weight and bulk.

Audible

Audible

We love audio books. They’re great on road trips or even when siting in a hotel room on a travel speaker on road trips. This is where the Audible app comes in. Audible is one of the best educational apps for kids of all ages. Parents too. Attached to my Amazon account, audio books are easily downloadable and ready to listen to in minutes. For example, after reading the Percy Jackson series together, we turned to audio versions of the Odyssey and the Trojan War.

No matter your kids ages and comprehension levels, we recommend pausing the story occasionally to review. As we drove, we talked about what was happening in the story. We made sure everyone was clued in and if everyone understood the full context of events.

For instance, on a road trip to Grand Canyon from Atlanta in the United States, we listened to Inkheart and The Golden Compass. It actually made the kids excited about long drives, and made driving so much more enjoyable. We made predictions and talked about how we felt about certain characters and if we would have reacted the same way they did. It was amazing — one of the best app for traveling.

Overdrive

OverDrive

Overdrive is an another one of the best educational apps for students and book lovers. Through this app, we can access our local library in Atlanta and check out books for free. That said, it’s not as quick or easy as Amazon, and sometimes your local library won’t have the exact book your kids are looking for. Sometimes, they have to wait until someone checks a book back in, just like at the actual library.

Another downside for us is that because we are out of the country, these books can only be read on the iPads, and not on their actual Kindle devices (if anyone knows a workaround for this, contact me please!). But hey, it’s free, and there are hundreds and hundreds of books available. When it comes to homeschooling apps, free is always good. 

Reading Rainbow/ Skybrary

Reading Rainbow

Our kids have outgrown this one, but this was one of the best educational apps for our kids when they began reading in English. I would recommend this app for native English-speaking kids up to about 8 years old.

You could use it longer for ESL kids like ours, but keep in mind that the stories are for the younger set. Our kids are too old for this now, but we used it daily for over two years and consider it one of the best educational apps for students and young kids learning to read. Just like the Reading Rainbow TV show it originates from, this app is all about getting kids to read.

It’s a virtual library, where each child with an account creates a profile by age and interests (sports, nature, friendship, adventure, history, etc) so they find the books they like best. Kids can keep up to five books in the app at a time, and can then read the book themselves or have the book read to them by a variety of narrators.

You’ll need a wifi connection to download the books and watch the accompanying videos, but downloaded books can be read with or without internet. When we used the app, the kids were allowed to read whatever they wanted, but then they would have to choose several of those books to read back to us later. These are picture books — not chapter books — so judge for yourself whether or not they are on-level for your child. The app itself is free, but you’ll need a subscription to really get any use out of it.

Looney Tunes Phonics

Looney Tunes

This homeschooling app teaches kids basic phonics. If yours are struggling like ours did when they first started learning English, this homeschool app certainly helps, thus listed as one of the best educational apps for reading basics.

Both of our kids are way past this now, but they got a lot of use out of it when they were learning to read and write in English. Both programs here use games to teach phonics and reading — the games occasionally stalled or crashed on our iPads, but that may be a problem on our end.

Mad Libs

Mad Libs app Homeschool apps educational apps

Give me a noun: “fart.” Give me an adjective: “sticky.” And now an adverb: “loudly.” Here comes the laughter. This is how the usual Mad Libs game starts. There’s a story with words missing. Fill in the words and the story gets funnier. 

I still remember playing Mad Libs (the old-school notepad type) as a kid myself, and I can assure you that it’s still fun today. You may debate whether this counts as a proper homeschool app or ant kind of educational app, but learning the difference between adjectives and adverbs has never been more fun for the 8-year-olds of the world. The Mad Libs app is free with in-app purchases.

Math, History & Science – Homeschooling Apps

Our best educational apps for traveling kids

Khan Academy

Khan Academy

What can I write about Khan Academy that hasn’t been written already? Easily one of the best educational apps for students of all ages. What an amazing website, app and all-around public service. Khan Academy is a free virtual tutoring system that uses Youtube-style videos and the smart device interface to teach everything from basic arithmetic to quantum physics. And that’s just math. There are also entire curricula for biology, art, history, computer programming and many other subjects. Out of all the homeschooling apps and other educational apps, this may be the most important and useful of them all. 

Our kids have used Khan Academy off and on since 2013. Between 2013 and 2015 it was their main math app while we traveled around Southeast Asia. Then we moved to Spain and they re-entered conventional — and academically rigorous — local schools. You know what? They were actually ahead of their classmates, which was a huge relief: learning Spanish while attending almost all of your classes in Spanish is hard enough, so math (and of course English) were two of their classes where they were more confident and felt less pressure — except for when math class involved solving word problems, as you can imagine.

Time4Learning with Puffin Academy

Time4LearningThis homeschooling website/service covers just about every subject you’d find in conventional school, but we used it mainly for grammar, science, history and social studies. You easily can track your child’s progress and adjust the rate of lessons, which were fun and entertaining for my younger one, but a little too playful and childish for my son, who was 11 at the time.

There were times when bad internet connections meant that they lost their work, and so they’d have to start over, which was frustrating, but overall I would recommend Time4Learning without hesitation. If you would like to use iPad, Time4Learning can be accessed using the Puffin Academy app.

Brainpop

Brain PopThis is a great homeschool app but good for as an educational app for anyone, really. Brainpop consists mainly of clever animated videos that help explain a variety of subjects and topics. Most animations involve a boy and his robot friend discussing the subject at hand, but they’re funny, engaging and well-made for kids as young as 8 and up. I enjoy them, too.

Topics include everything from DNA and weather patterns to the life of historical figures like Ghandi, Benjamin Franklin and Afrikka Bambaataa (!). Tough subjects such as terrorism, the Vietnam war and puberty are covered as well, and quite even-handedly. We had several years of value out of Brainpop already. The kids have outgrown it now, but I’ve recommended it as one of the best apps for kids.

The Human Body

Human Body

This is the most impressive and accessible physical science app I’ve used with the kids. It’s essentially “How it Works” for our bodies. Kids can get an intimate and informative look at bones, muscles, the nervous system, the digestive system, and more. Most of the organs are covered, as well, with clever visuals to show how it all works.

There is no voice or text, which means the kids will get more out of it if you join them during a session and help explain things. My two have enjoyed examining the digestive system, watching food go through the stomach and intestines, and then making the colon pass gas and defecate. See? Education! The only fart app I’ll ever endorse. Their Earth, Weather and Machines apps are pretty great, too.

Starwalk

Starwalk

An exceptional astronomy app. Turn on the wifi and point your device at the sky. There on your screen you’ll see constellations light up as you scan through the heavens, giving you a real-time look at what’s above you at that moment. You can even track the planets and follow satellites in (semi) real-time orbit. The app can even provide an approximate the time when certain objects are directly overhead — using your location information, naturally.

There are dozens of ways to integrate this education app into learning opportunities, but we’ve mostly just looked up the constellations related to Greek and Roman mythology. For example, the kids loved the Percy Jackson book series, and the gods & monsters found within, so this has been a nice way to expand on that.

Language-related Homeschooling Apps

Our best educational apps for traveling kids

Duolingo

Duolingo

This may be the most popular language learning app ever. Great design, great interface, and lots of fun to play. Yes, play. Duolingo turns language learning into a game, and a game that’s fun to incorporate into your day. It keeps track of what you’ve learned, but if you don’t do it regularly, the levels you reach gradually deteriorate (like your memory), which means that you either have to keep up and play it regularly or repeat the same exercises.

This can be a drag if you skip a week (or longer) for some reason, because you have to repeat some of what you’ve covered to refresh the badges you’ve earned, but if you’re honest with yourself, you probably needed to review if you took a week off anyway, right? 

Google Translate

Google Translate

This is one of the best travel apps for a variety of obvious reasons, but it was also one of the best educational apps for my kids when they started school in Spain. In August 2015 we put our son and daughter into locals schools in Valencia, Spain, where 70% of their classes are in Castellano (Iberian Spanish) while the other 30% are in Valenciano, the local dialect in Valencia). We spoke very little Spanish when we arrived — like, maybe 10-15 expressions — and so we used Google Translate with real estate agents, shopkeepers, government officials and just about everyone else.

While Keiko and I relied heavily on the speech-to-text feature when talking to people, the kids used it to translate blocks of text from their schoolbooks. With Google Translate on the iPad, they’d take a picture of a textbook page using the app, and then use their finger to color-in the sentences they needed to understand. It’s not perfect by any stretch — and if the text is spaced together too closely or in an odd font style, it may not work at all. That said, Google Translate on the iPad completely helped them a lot in the early months of school.

Geography-Related Educational Apps

Our best educational apps for traveling kids

Stack the Countries

stack the countries

When it comes to geography education apps for kids, this is one of the best we’ve ever seen. Players must answer map-related questions. Correct answers will earn you countries, which you literally stack by dropping into a pile. The goal is for your pile of countries to rise above a certain marker, which means that you try to use the shape of the countries to your advantage to reach the marker faster.

This isn’t Tetris: you’re not trying to fill in the space, but rather reach a peak, so dropping a long, skinny country like Chile or Vietnam at a certain angle can help you reach the top faster. A wrong move, however, and it could fall off the virtual pedestal they land on.

The geography questions sound like this: “Which of these countries borders Brazil?” and “Ulan Bator is the Capital of which country?” These are some of the easy questions. They get harder — my knowledge of Micronesia and Eastern Europe was downright embarrassing.

The more you play, the better you get, and the more fun it is. I honestly don’t mind if the kids run to the world map on the wall and “cheat.” Not only does it help us learn capitals and borders, but it also helps familiarize us with the shape and relative size of a country. For example, I knew that Turkey was bigger than Greece, but when each country dropped onto the screen during one session, it hammered that point home. Best geography game app ever.

Barefoot Atlas

barefoot atlas app Homeschool apps educational apps

This is less of a geography game app than a straight-up atlas of the world. Like Google Maps (which isn’t listed because it’s glaringly obvious), Barefoot atlas has the globe at your fingertips. Pinch your fingers in or out to zoom in or get a wider view. 

Little moving images populate the glob here. Kids can touch on them and learn interesting facts about each region they’re looking at. We loved Barefoot Atlas and consider it a great homeschool app or just a superb app for students interested in learning about the world at large. That said, it took up a lot of memory in our iPad, so keep that in mind. 

Games – Best Educational Apps

Monster Physics

Monster Physics

Designed by the same people who make Stack the Countries and Stack the States, this physics app teaches principles like weight, force, drag and gravity.

This is a science education app disguised as a game. Kids build their own monster and then try to feed him by building devices to get the monster to his meal — or get the meal to the monster.

Different materials must be used: rope, wheels, springs, magnets, pulleys, propellers and (sometimes) rocket engines. The laws of gravity work the same in the game as they do in real life — or an approximation, anyway — so it takes some serious critical and mechanical thinking to get the whole thing to work sometimes, but the kids love the entire process. Big fun.

Chess – Play & Learn

chess play & learn best apps for kids

We usually carry travel-friendly board games like chess and backgammon with us. However, in places like airplanes and restaurants, you can’t always set up a board.

In addition, our boy enjoys occasional games of chess and backgammon with his uncles in the States (sadly, I’m no competition for him). He’s used these apps to improve his skills on his own and then to play online against more formidable foes.

Heads Up

Heads up

I think that this app is really popular Stateside — maybe worldwide — so I won’t dwell on it much since you probably know it. In brief: one player puts a smart device on his/her forehead. A word appears on the screen — an object, place or famous person, usually — and then the other player has to describe it to the person holding the device so that they guess correctly.

If they do, they tip the device up, which earns a point and they move onto the next word. It’s heaps of fun, and is a great way for ESL kids like mine to use English vocabulary to describe something.

Other Educational Apps for Students & Kids

Tell us your best educational apps for students and little kids! Websites too! What are the best kids apps for traveling and learning? Did you find that your children’s app use changed while you were on the road? Leave your ideas in the comments below.

Further Reading/Listening:

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means, at no extra cost to you,  we might receive a small commission if you make a purchase or book a hotel using those links. My opinions are my own and I only recommend places/services that I believe will genuinely help you find the best homeschool apps and best educational apps for students. If you know of any homeschooling apps that should be added to this list, then please get in touch. 

Photo Credits via Creative Commons CC BY or other Royalty-free image sites. Some images may have been altered slightly via cropping or color enhancement: #2, #31, #32, #35

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