My son goes back to school next week, and so I have education on the brain. While part of me is thinking about LGBT-specific back-to-school issues, most of me is simply thinking about the more general issues of school time. Among other things, I want my science-loving nine-year-old son to continue enjoying the subject—which, for my engineer spouse and myself, means supplementing his formal education with fun experiments and activities at home. Ever since I bought an iPad a few months ago, I’ve been on the hunt for ways to put it towards that goal (even if my son also aims for the goal of seeing how many enemies he can defeat in the Lego Ninjago app).

I was delighted, therefore, to see this list of “must-have” STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) apps at The Maker Mom, one of my favorite sites for kid-related STEM fare. My son has particularly enjoyed the (free!)  TinkerBox HD, in which he creates Rube Goldberg-esque machines to solve puzzles. I’ve been known to play a few levels myself.

I left a comment on the post that I wanted to republish and expand here, with a few additional ideas for kid-friendly science apps—all free. (One requires payment if you want extra material.) Some aren’t “kid apps” per se, but also aren’t too complex, and are worth it if only for the beautiful images.

  • GoSkyWatch Planetarium is a decent sky app, with lots of information about celestial objects. (I’ve seen better, but not free.)
  • Pretty much any of the several free NASA apps have videos and other short content that will appeal to kids. We especially like Space Place Prime (which is for kids), NASA Visualization Explorer (which posts a cluster of related videos and photos about a new astronomy or space science topic every few days), NASA App HD, and NASA Science: A Journey of Discovery.
  • Nature Tap lets kids (and adults!) tap through images and information on hundreds of birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians, and wildflowers. Some categories come free with the free app; others are available for $1.99 each. The app also comes with a few simple games, including a flash-card-type identification game and bird-call identification. There are better true field guides around if you’re willing to pay more (Audubon has a great one), but this is a great app for the kids.
  • The American Museum of Natural History’s Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence app is a lovely interactive accompaniment to their exhibit of the same name, and fun even if you haven’t been to the museum.
  • Color Uncovered from San Francisco’s Exploratorium museum is another exhibit-linked app—but again, you don’t need to have seen the exhibit to enjoy. Good stuff for junior scientists—and/or artists—interested in how light and color work.
  • We’re all very fond of the short videos in the free Science 360 app from the National Science Foundation. My son particularly likes the “Chalk Talk” videos that introduce various concepts. (They go a little fast, IMHO, but you can always pause or replay.)

That’s not a comprehensive list by any means, but I hope it’s a useful one. Please leave a comment if there are any others you’d recommend!