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Tech That Teaches: 15 Smart Apps for Curious Kids

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Your kids may spend more time staring at screens on smartphones, tablets, and computers than books, but that downtime can still be educational. Check out these apps that can teach children of all ages far more than a game of Candy Crush—and might even inspire them to learn and live better.

1. HOPSCOTCH; FREE

Want your children to get a headstart on coding when all they want to do is play games? Introduce them to Hopscotch. The iOS-compatible app, targeted toward kids ages 9 to 11, teaches users to create games using simple tools and tutorials—whether they want to replicate existing ones like Angry Birds or dream up their own.

Find it: iOS

2. DUOLINGO; FREE

It’s no secret that starting early makes it easier to learn a second language, but things get even easier with a fun app like Duolingo. Kids can choose from a substantial list of languages—including French, Spanish, Russian, Norwegian, and more—and learn through bite-sized lessons that feel more like games. Plus, this app is also great for adults. With a little screen time, family dinners could soon be in a foreign language!

Find it: iOS, Android

3. MONSTER MATH 2; FREE

Monster Math 2

There’s no better way to beef up math skills than by fighting monsters! This app, targeted towards elementary students, comes with a customizable curriculum and even adheres to Common Core standards.

Find it: iOS

4. MAGOOSH; FREE

Magoosh

It’s hard to spice up study sessions for standardized tests like the SATs, but Magoosh does its best. Its apps, like the Vocabulary Builder, offer fun and efficient ways for younger high school students to get a headstart on test prep without feeling overwhelmed or pressured.

Find it: iOS, Android

5. STAR WALK; $3

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Star Walk

This app is a one-two punch: It will get kids outside and get them to shoot for the stars. Star Walk is an astronomy guide that’s sure to spark curiosity about the solar system by notifying users of upcoming astronomical events, pointing out the position of constellations and planets, and much more.

Find it: iOS, Android

6. TREBLE CAT; $5

Treble Cat will make requests for more screen time music to your ears. This simple game—great for musical beginners of all ages—comes with 10 levels to unlock and, as the name implies, teaches players to read the notes of the treble clef.

Find it: iOS, Android

7. READ ME STORIES; FREE

Upgrade their bedtime stories. The free app aimed at beginner readers—age 5 and under—comes with a new talking picture book every day. Each story is meant to teach new concepts and words. Young readers can even tap unfamiliar words and letters to sound them out.

Find it: iOS, Android

8. EARTH 3D - AMAZING ATLAS; $3

Kids can have the entire world at their fingertips with Earth 3D - Amazing Atlas. Users of all ages can spin and zoom in on a variety of world maps as well as learn facts about different countries and cities and much more.

Find it: iOS

9. THIS IS MY FOOD - NUTRITION FOR KIDS; $3

An appreciation for food and cooking can serve a kid for a lifetime. On top of teaching users about nutrition and food classification, This Is My Food may also inspire them to get hands-on with their own meals, thanks to the app’s recently added recipes section. The app is aimed at kids ages 6 to 8 and can also be purchased as part of a “Science for Kids” bundle which also includes educational apps about mechanics and meteorology.

Find it: iOS

10. QUIZLET; FREE

Not all learning apps should be completely separate from the classroom—that’s where Quizlet comes in. The app offers children a fun and convenient way to study on the go. Turn screen time into study time by creating flashcards, perusing study materials uploaded by other users, and more.

Find it: iOS, Android

12. THE HUMAN BODY; $4

Who needs Operation? The Human Body app offers a detailed, interactive model of the body with guts that actually gurgle and a heart that actually beats. This Tinybop app also can be purchased in a bundle which features education apps about the earth, machines, homes, and plants.

Find it: iOS

13. BLUEPRINT 3D; $1

Blueprint 3D features over 300 levels that put the user's spatial reasoning skills to the test. Each level starts with apparently random dots and lines that must be organized into a blueprint image. For added fun, users can also create their own puzzles.

Find it: iOS, Android

14. LEGO MOVIE MAKER; FREE

This movie-making app will encourage double the creativity: First kids will be excited to build more LEGO creations, then they’ll be inspired to turn their characters and buildings into stories. Using LEGO Movie Maker, your aspiring filmmaker can create stop motion movies as well as add special effects.

Find it: iOS

15. TRIVIA CRACK; FREE

Trivia Crack

Trivia Crack is as addicting as the name implies. Kids will only crave more once they start one-on-one trivia match-ups with friends, featuring questions about science, entertainment, art, geography, sports, and history. As an added bonus, this app is a trifecta: It’s entertaining, and relies on both knowledge and strategy.

Find it: iOS, Android

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Disney/PIXAR
10 Space-Age Facts About WALL·E
Disney/PIXAR
Disney/PIXAR

Ah, WALL·E: The movie that made a cockroach cute—and had us all sobbing about a trash compactor. Join us as we travel to infinity and beyond (hey, it’s from another Pixar movie, but it works) with these 10 facts about WALL·E on its 10th anniversary.

1. WALL·E AND R2-D2 ARE PLAYED BY THE SAME ACTOR.

The “voice” of WALL·E is legendary sound designer Ben Burtt. Burtt is best known for his work on Star Wars (you can go ahead and thank him for R2-D2’s distinctive chatter), though he’s worked on films like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the Indiana Jones series as well.

2. ALIEN REFERENCES ABOUND.

The film boasts not one but two connections to Alien, which was one of writer-director Andrew Stanton’s inspirations for the film. Early in his career Ben Burtt worked on the movie, “mak[ing] sounds for the mother computer and that sort of thing.” WALL·E’s own version of “Mother,” the main computer on the starliner Axiom, is voiced by none other than Alien star Sigourney Weaver. “I waited until the movie was kind of done to make sure she wouldn’t think I was crazy when she saw the movie, but she was a huge fan,” Stanton said. “I really lucked out and she loved doing it. She got the in joke.”

3. THE DIRECTOR CAME UP WITH WALL·E’S LOOK AT A BASEBALL GAME.

Stanton got the inspiration for WALL·E’s design when someone handed him a pair of binoculars at a baseball game. “I missed the entire inning,” he recalled. “I just turned the thing around and I started staring at it and I started making it go sad and then happy and then mad and then sad and I remembered doing that as a kid with my dad’s binoculars and I said, ‘It’s all there.’”

4. THERE WAS A “NO ELBOWS” RULE.

A still from 'WALL·E' (2008)
Disney/Pixar

In coming up with the look of WALL·E, the film’s design team operated under a “no elbows” rule; though elbows would make it easier for WALL·E to express himself, as a trash compactor robot there’d be no practical reason for him to have them. “Doctor Octopus-style” antenna arms and collapsible, telescope-like appendages were considered before the designers settled on the ultimate design, inspired by inkjet printers.

5. THERE’S A FAMILY CONNECTION TO HELLO, DOLLY.

Thomas Newman, who composed WALL·E’s score, is the nephew of composer Lionel Newman, who just so happens to have co-scored Hello, Dolly, which appears prominently in WALL·E as it’s WALL·E’s favorite movie.

6. BEN BURTT CREATED A RECORD NUMBER OF SOUNDS FOR THE FILM.

Ben Burtt created a library of 2400 sounds for WALL·E—the largest number of all of his films by far. Among the raw sounds Burtt used in WALL·E are an electric toothbrush, shopping carts banging together, a Nikon camera shutter (for WALL·E’s eyebrow movements), Burtt sneezing while a vacuum cleaner was running (WALL·E sneezing), and a hand-cranked generator of the sort used in the John Wayne film Island in the Sky.

7. WALL·E’S COCKROACH FRIEND WAS NAMED AFTER A HOLLYWOOD GREAT.

Though not named in the film itself, WALL·E’s cockroach friend was given the name Hal by the Pixar team, a reference to both 1920s producer Hal Roach (Safety Last!, The Little Rascals) and the homicidal-minded computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

8. THE HUMANS WERE ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE JELL-O BLOBS.

Inspired by conversations with NASA scientist Jim Hicks, an expert on the effects of zero gravity on the human body, at one point Stanton was going to make humans literal blobs, so unrecognizable from who we are today that “even we the audience would think it was an alien race. It had more of a Planet of the Apes twist, and they at the end would discover, as well as we would, that it’s actually us.” But, he added, “it was so bizarre that I had to sort of pull back.”

9. A LEGENDARY CINEMATOGRAPHER HELPED STRETCH WALL·E TO NEW TECHNICAL HEIGHTS.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has been nominated for a whopping 12 Oscars, served as a visual consultant on WALL·E, helping the animators figure out how to make the movie look like it was filmed with actual cameras. “Very often, animated films feel like they’re recorded in some kind of computer space,” producer Jim Morris noted. “We wanted this film to feel like cinematographers with real cameras had gone to these places and filmed what we were seeing. We wanted it to have artifacts of photography and to seem real and much more gritty than animated films tend to be.”

10. THERE ARE EASTER EGGS GALORE! 


Disney/Pixar

It’s a Pixar movie, so you know there are a lot of Easter eggs. Among them: Hamm the pig and Rex the dinosaur from Toy Story, plus Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc., can be seen in WALL·E’s truck near the beginning of the film. Skinner’s scooter from Ratatouille and the Pizza Planet truck are rusting in one of Earth’s many trash heaps. A reference to “A113,” a classroom at CalArts where many Pixar animators studied, can be found in every Pixar movie, and WALL·E gave it what Stanton called its “most obvious” placement: as the name of the directive that states humans can never go back to Earth. And when WALL·E creates a statue of Eve, the lamp he uses for her arm is none other than the star of Oscar-winning Pixar short Luxo Jr.

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Vote to Help Your Library Win $25,000 in Children's Books From JetBlue
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Children's books can be hard to find in the country's poorest communities. For a 2014 study, researchers looked for children's literature in low-income neighborhoods in Detroit, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. and found that just 2 percent of businesses there sold print resources for kids 18 and younger. Now, Soar With Reading, a program sponsored by JetBlue, is looking to bring children's materials to one book desert in the Americas—and they're calling on the public to decide the location.

The initiative, called Book With Us, will provide $25,000 in children's books to a library in one of the more than 100 cities up for vote. To increase your hometown's chances of being selected, head to JetBlue's website and choose your city from the list of locations in the Northeast, Southeast, West and Midwest, or Latin America.

After the first round of voting closes July 20, JetBlue will announce the top four finalists from each region that will go to a final vote. A winner will be selected after the last round of voting ends August 31. In addition to winning $25,000 worth of books, the lucky library will also receive a makeover of their reading room.

Since rolling out Soar With Reading in 2011, JetBlue and its partners have provided $3 million in reading materials to children. When the program isn't making over libraries, it's installing book vending machines in cities that need them. This summer, JetBlue and Simon & Schuster are bringing five machines to the Bay Area that will dispense 100,000 free books throughout the season. 

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