Stave Off “Summer Slump” With These Two Awesome Apps!

Stave Off “Summer Slump” With These Two Awesome Apps!

Stave Off the Summer Slump with These Two Awesome AppsAs the end-of-the-school-year countdown begins, both students and teachers dream of summer vacation.  As teachers, we know that summer break is far too short and is filled with preparations for the next school year.  It seems like our minds are never too far from the classroom!  For some students, though, summer can be a time to totally forget about school.  And this is when the dreaded summer slump rears its ugly head.  So what can parents and teachers do to help keep kids engaged over the summer?  Check out these two apps, which can help kids get excited about learning and keep them entertained!

  1. Reading Rainbow.  LeVar Burton has been in the news lately, discussing his Kickstarter campaign to bring Reading Rainbow, the award winning children’s television series that ran on PBS from 1983-2009, to a new generation of readers.  As someone who grew up watching and loving Reading Rainbow in the 1980s, I was thrilled to hear this amazing news.

First the logistics:  You can only download the app on your Kindle Fire or iPad.  You can use the app for free to “browse” up to 5 books; after that, there’s a $9.99 monthly subscription fee, which allows you to create accounts for up to 5 children in your family.

Now the fun part:  The app is beautifully designed and very user-friendly. Readers are greeted by the beloved theme song each time the application is launched.  When you create your account, you enter your age and topics of interest, and grade-level appropriate books are offered to you to browse through.  (The age range is 4 to 9 years old.)  You can change your age and interest preference if you feel the books offered are not appropriate, or if you want to check out other genres.  After choosing a book, there is the option of having the story read to you—like the Reading Rainbow days of old—or reading it on your own.  The pages have a few animations embedded and there are games attached to each book. Up to 5 books can be saved in your “backpack,” where you can revisit them anytime.  If you have 5 books already checked out and you’d like to read a new book, just “return” one from your backpack to make some more space!  There’s even a parent dashboard where parents can access their child’s reading progress.  Parents can see both the books their children have read and the time they’ve spent reading.

With the paid subscription, there is access to the wonderful educational videos that accompany certain titles as well as the virtual field trips that open up a world of learning and exploration to young children.  The Reading Rainbow app brings the whimsical, magical world of literature to life for readers of all ages.  I highly recommend downloading the free trail and exploring the unique way Reading Rainbow makes stories jump off the page and into your imagination. But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Visit for more information or search “Reading Rainbow” in iTunes or your App store.

  1. RUBE WORKS.  Switching gears to STEM, the RUBE WORKS app allows you to solve problems in true Rube Goldberg style.  For those who are unfamiliar with this name, Rube Goldberg was a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, best known for his drawings depicting overly-complicated gadgets.  Users of this app exercise their creativity and STEM savvy to create weird and wonderful machines to carry out everyday tasks.  There are 18 challenging puzzles that stretch your imagination and force you to sit and ponder your engineering masterpiece.  The app costs $2.99 (well worth the investment) and is recommended for ages 9+, but I can see younger kids loving it as well.

Problem 1 is a “simple” way to wake up.  The task is to build a combination alarm clock and juice squeezer.  You can look at the available objects around the room or explore the items in your toolkit.  For engineering novices like me, you get hints to help you out along the way.  The hints give you just enough of a push in the right direction, but you have to try things out, be wrong, and make corrections if you want your machine to succeed.  These are great life lessons in addition to bolstering the prototyping mindset.  My “aha” hint that a magnifying glass can also be used to focus sunlight—great for heating things up—is the breakthrough that got me one step closer to my masterpiece.  The app reminds users that the key to a successful invention is frequent testing of its progress, which also helps build perseverance in problem solving in an authentic setting.

RUBE WORKS tests your logic while reinforcing basic physics principals, all in a very user-friendly and game-like setting. The graphics and sound effects are amusing to keep kids entertained while they ponder away.  You’re not only rewarded with a great sense of accomplishment when your machine finally works, but you also get points for each puzzle solved.  The more items you use from your toolbox, the more points you can earn.  And let’s not forget that there’s more than one way to build a mouse trap.  You’re encouraged to discover as many solutions to the problem as you can find.  I recommend this app for tinkerers of all ages.  Just be sure that you set aside a good chunk of time to explore—the puzzles draw you in and you’ll feel the need to perfect your machine before you can move on to something else. Parents can rest assured that their kitchen isn’t being turned into a juice-squeezing apparatus, and their kids are learning and exploring all at once.  All the joys of learning . . . without the messy clean-up.

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