Common Sense


Great Apps for Play-Based Learning

While play is an essential way we learn throughout life, it's especially important for young kids. In early childhood education and in elementary classrooms, play is an indispensable learning tool because it allows kids to explore and begin to make sense of their world safely. These playful apps run the gamut of school subjects, and leverage the core qualities of play to get kids to wonder, experiment, and discover while building social and emotional skills, cultivating their creativity and critical thinking, and acquiring key math and literacy skills.

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Top Picks


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Beck and Bo by Avokiddo

Drag-and-drop adventure great for learning new words in context

Bottom line: Your wee one will enjoy animating Beck and Bo's world while developing creativity and logic.

Dr. Panda & Toto's Treehouse

Open play encourages empathy, critical thinking, imagination, wonder

Bottom line: Toto's Treehouse invites kids to play and explore -- just the way they learn best.

Dr. Panda's Toy Cars

Role-play fun puts kids in the driver's seat

Bottom line: While not a substitute for off-device role play, Dr. Panda's Toy Cars is an empowering and educational activity for young learners.

LumiKids Park by Lumosity, Early Learning Play for Kids

Practice three core cognitive skills with fun, whimsical critters

Bottom line: Fun and whimsical way to give kids practice with important skills.

MarcoPolo Ocean

Young explorers discover oceans through puzzles and free play

Bottom line: This fun app helps kids gain an appreciation for the waters that cover much of the Earth's surface.


Explore an animated alphabet with this magical interactive gem

Bottom line: A great, high-tech and interactive way to get kids thinking about letters and how their sounds form words.

Toca Town

Kids run the world with perfect mix of fantasy and reality

Bottom line: Impressive open-play town lets kids explore and learn.

Toca Tea Party

Pretend play meets social skills at this cute interactive gathering

Bottom line: Beautiful, imagination-provoking app is so easy to use, kids will likely want to return for many more parties.

Hoopa City

Delightful, discovery-based worldbuilding encourages critical thinking

Bottom line: Offers kids endless hours of fun as they explore, discover, and plan to create an original world.

MarcoPolo Weather

Adorable sandbox tool lets kids safely explore, experiment, observe

Bottom line: A fun, cheerful way for kids to explore weather while appropriately touching on more serious issues like safety.

My PlayHome

Create a family and let imagination rule the house

Bottom line: Engaging, interactive free play sets the bar for the genre.

My PlayHome Stores

Free-play virtual shopping experience is full of surprises

Bottom line: Available shops are fun to explore, but more would offer a richer experience.

DNA Play

Adorable open-ended genetics app gives students mutation power

Bottom line: Engaging DNA app will keep younger students' attention while they build a foundation of biology knowledge.

Faces iMake - Right Brain Creativity

Open-ended collage maker teaches symbolism and revs up creativity

Bottom line: Faces iMake - Right Brain Creativity is a don't-miss art app that encourages creativity at the same time as modeling it.

Homes by Tinybop

Explore homes -- and cultures -- around the world in exquisite detail

Bottom line: Offers a delightful and accessible way for kids to learn about the world's cultures.

Toca Builders

Students not quite ready for Minecraft get a creative, fun alternative

Bottom line: Fun, engaging, open-ended play can work in a variety of content areas.

Toca Nature

Create, explore, and enjoy realistic (but G-rated) virtual forests

Bottom line: Virtual world is wonderfully calm, inspiring, and strangely addictive, but the range of its exploration is limited.

This is my body - Anatomy for kids

Age-appropriate content and graphics = fun, effective K-5 resource

Bottom line: Adding more audio or changing the text to manuscript could make this fun and fascinating anatomy resource for young kids even better.

The Robot Factory by Tinybop

Improve designs, collect favorites in robot creation sandbox

Bottom line: A well-made and enjoyable STEM app that leverages what's great about play -- experimentation -- to spark engineering interest.

Space by Tinybop

Zoom into our solar system, solve mysteries with open-ended play

Bottom line: Learn about the sun, moon, and planets through interactive open-ended play.

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