If you have a brand-new kindergartner, you may be wondering -- or worrying about -- school readiness. Many parents of this age spend the weeks leading up to the first day of school practicing academic basics like counting and prereading. 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 our site for educators, Common Sense Education. Here's a solid "app kit" for kindergartners that includes both academic skill builders and soft-skills strengtheners.
Khan Academy Kids
Teaches: Numbers, simple addition, logic, letters, early reading, and storytelling
This fantastic early learning app uses games, videos, books, and creative activities to teach kids a wide range of skills in an engaging way. Khan Academy and developers worked in partnership with the Stanford Graduate School of Education to ground all the activities in effective learning.
Common Sense reviewer and education researcher Mieke V. appreciates how the app balances structured activities with creative ones: "The sweet, friendly animal guides and huge library of varied things to do make it easy for young kids to jump in and immerse themselves in learning."
Epic! - Unlimited Books for Kids
Teaches: Language skills, reading comprehension, and love of literature
Access more than 25,000 high-quality (and recognizable) kids' books from your mobile device with this digital library and e-reader app. Books are available for multiple reading levels, some even with a read-to-me option for nonreaders. Although the app is free only for teachers, parents can get a monthly subscription to the full library for less than the cost of most books.
Kindergarten teacher Tammy A. uses the app in her classroom as students begin learning to read: "Epic! is one of my favorite teaching tools. It is an inexpensive (free) way to increase the number of books in my classroom. I love that I can create book collections to share with my students."
Coral Reef by Tinybop
Teaches: Ocean science, ecology, and animal and plant life
This gorgeously animated, realistic ocean-exploration app introduces key scientific ideas to kids in a fun, immersive way. Young users learn about the relationships among different coral reef species by exploring several undersea environments.
Common Sense reviewer Jenny B. appreciates how the open-ended nature of the app allows students to "take on an active role in the inner workings of a coral reef by adding and interacting with plants and animals in the ecosystem."
Teaches: Number sense, basic arithmetic, and number lines
Kids will hardly realize they're learning about numbers while exploring the games and challenges in this playful app. Colorful creatures called "Nooms" represent the numbers from 1 to 10, and kids can solve puzzles by stacking them, slicing them (subtraction), and having them "eat" each other (addition).
DragonBox Numbers is part of a stellar series that seamlessly combines math concepts with fun games. Elementary school teacher Maggie O. loves using the DragonBox app series: "Students beg to play DragonBox, and it's a powerful learning tool!"
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."
Frannie Ucciferri contributed to this article.