Learning apps to stop summer slide: high school

7 fun, educational apps teens can slot in between part-time jobs and fully-packed social calendars to keep learning alive.

By Sonali Morris

Chess With Friends

Works on: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

If your teen’s a budding Garry Kasparov, this app is the perfect match. Chess With Friends lets kids enjoy a leisurely-paced game of strategy while chatting (read: talking smack) with opponents. The app tracks all moves, notifies players when it’s their turn, and offers a modern take on an age-old game for thinkers. Privacy note from Commonsense Media: “Parents need to know that Chess With Friends is a chess app that allows local games or online games against friends and strangers. There are some privacy concerns because players can chat with strangers.”

Check out Chess With Friends and Words With Friends, too. And note that while all of these games have free versions, they’re chock-full of annoying cross-promotion and ads that aren’t always kid-appropriate — so spring for the paid, ad-free apps.

Check 'em out: Chess With Friends and Words With Friends.


Works on: iPad.

Journaling is a great way to keep teens writing all summer long. For those loathe to pick up a pencil, here’s a modern-day alternative. Simple to use but sophisticated in style, this mobile journal lets writers incorporate photos (from adding a simple shot to over-the-top scrapbooking), and allows for your child to keep multiple, separate diaries (say, one for camp and another for creative writing). It’s a great way to capture the events of the day all summer long.

Check it out: Maxjournal.



Works on: iPhone and iPad.

What if your teen’s most inspiring playlist had a little more rocket science and a little less Kesha? “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world” is what this app boasts. TED’s a nonprofit dedicated to technology, entertainment, and design, and their app gives your teen access to talks about innovation and creativity by tech geniuses, famous mavericks, and rock legends (yes, of course Bono is on there). In more than 900 TEDTalk videos, your teen can learn about anything from modern exploration to rethinking the music video. It’s a great way to inspire kids — even when they’re on the couch.

Check it out: TED.

Star Walk

Works on: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

Star Walk has the uncanny ability to get everyone — even teenage naval-gazers — to cast their eyes toward the heavens. Kids can aim iPhones or iPads towards the cosmos to see stars, constellations, and satellites in real time. Shift locations and the stars on screen move with you. It’s the perfect complement to backyard camping and s’mores (provided they wash their hands before handling the iPad).

Check it out: Star Walk.


Works on: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

Keep your teen reading while you’re on the road this summer. Kindle’s app gives your child access to almost a million books, including best sellers, new releases, and classics. Affordable titles cost less than $10, and your child gets three books free from the start: Pride and Prejudice, Treasure Island, and Aesop’s Fables. Thousands more are gratis through the Kindle Store, too. Next up for this app? A virtual library system is in the works. Stay tuned.

Check it out: Kindle.

Brain Tease (Puzzle and Riddles)

Works on: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

Give your kid a conundrum to puzzle other than ‘Should I sleep until noon or go swimming?’ Brain Tease serves up perplexing puzzles, tantalizing teasers, and rugged riddles to keep teens on their toes. Even better, the app promises to “improve mental agility, increase cognitive reasoning, dazzle friends, and lower cholesterol.” Not bad for less than a buck.

Check it out: Brain Tease.

Mindsnacks Language Learning Program

Works on: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

Starved teenage minds will enjoy noshing on MindSnacks. These Ivy-league designed games are language lessons in disguise. The apps offer 40 levels of language content, complete with play that makes rolling rrrrs and nasal accents more fun. Six games build essential vocabulary, reading, writing, listening, and conversation skills. If your teen’s got her eye on Barcelona or the French Riviera, this app’s the perfect first step.

Check 'em out: Spanish and French.