By Erin Wilkey Oh, Common Sense Media
If your child is entering kindergarten this year, you may be wondering -- or worrying about -- school readiness. Many parents of kindergartners-to-be spend the weeks leading up to the first day of school practicing academic basics like counting and pre-reading. And while those are certainly important, most kindergarten teachers will tell you that soft skills like cooperation, empathy, self-awareness, and focused attention are just as essential for a successful transition to school.
Fortunately, several high-quality apps are available to help kindergartners start the year off right. Best of all, each has the approval of the teacher community on the Common Sense site for educators, Graphite. With the first day right around the corner, here's a solid "app kit" for kindergartners that includes both academic skill builders and soft-skills strengtheners.
Moose Math by Duck Duck Moose
Teaches: Number sense, skip counting, shapes, addition, and subtraction
Five math mini-games come together in a little town that kids help build by choosing building facades and accessories to place in it. For example, Kids enter Moose Juice, the smoothie shop, to practice counting, addition, and subtraction.
Kindergarten teacher August D. says Moose Math is a "perennial favorite" in his classroom. He adds, "the target skills are well suited to early primary and are an engaging way to reinforce math skills."
Teaches: Letter recognition, phonics, and listening
This solid early learning app is a great way to introduce the alphabet. Starfall ABCs presents each letter in a wide variety of ways -- visually, audibly, and within words and sentences. Kids will hear the sounds of each letter repeated often and be able to both hear and see how each letter is used within words.
Kindergarten teacher Melissa G. loves using Starfall ABCs early in the year. She likes how it "uses real life vocabulary that primary students can understand" and "teaches phonics in an engaging way."
Thinking Time Pro - Cognitive Skills for Early Learning
Teaches: Attention, following directions, logic, and memory
Kids stretch their executive-function muscles in four games that require them to pay attention and closely follow the rules. For example, kids sort colored shapes by either color or shape. Then, the sorting rule begins to switch mid-game, and kids must both inhibit their initial impulse to sort according to the old rule and adjust to the new rule.
Education researcher Mieke V. says Thinking Time Pro is an "effective and engaging way to address foundational cognitive skills."
Toca Tea Party
Teaches: Getting along with others, friendship building, and following directions
This collaborative app turns the iPad into a virtual table, complete with tablecloth, teacups, and treats. Kids are empowered to make choices as they create their tea party and as they pretend to host or attend the tea party with their friends or parents.
Educator Tamara K. appreciates the way Toca Tea Party uses the power of imaginative play for learning: "I have seen many children practice play skills in open-[ended] play apps and translate skills successfully to the classroom play area."
Touch and Learn - Emotions
Teaches: Empathy, identifying emotions, and self-awareness
This free app helps kids learn to identify and name emotions, facial expressions, and body language. Understanding emotions can help kids in many ways, including improving communication with other kids and adults and helping kids get more comfortable expressing their own feelings.
Kindergarten teacher Denise W. likes how Touch and Learn - Emotions helps students build vocabulary and have conversations about emotions. She also points out features that allow teachers and parents to "individualize the app" for specific kids.
More Back-to-School Tips and Tricks at Common Sense Media
6 Skills Every Kid Should Know Before Kindergarten
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Best Homework Helper Apps and Sites
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org