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Top 10 kids' education apps that don't suck

The next few days are critical for many schools. It's the time of the year when attendance has a major effect on a school district's bottom line. Take Detroit. On Wednesday, students who show up could win a bike or an iPad.

For my story about the best toys and DVDs for brain development in children, I spoke with Shira Lee Katz, director of digital media at Common Sense Media, an organization that helps parents and kids navigate the media landscape. It rates the learning potential for various apps, video games and websites. She recommends these 10 educational apps for kids.

Ages 2-6
Elmo Loves ABCs for iPad: This app from Sesame Street helps kids learn the alphabet. It won the 2012 Parents' Choice Silver Award. Price: $4.99.

Morton Subotnick's Pitch Painter: Pitch Painter is a finger-painting app that teaches kids about music. While engaged in creative musical play, the child will be introduced to a variety of musical instrument sounds and authentic scale tunings from four regions of the world. Price: $2.99.

Reading Rainbow: A library of children’s themed books. Kids can choose to have a book read aloud to them or to read the book themselves. Price: To access more than one book, you have to subscribe -- $10 recurring monthly fee or $30 for six months.

Toontastic: An easy way for kids to create their own animated films and learn the fundamentals of storytelling. Kids choose the characters and setting for each scene, and provide their own dialogue as the iPad records it all. They can then add a musical score. Be aware that kids can share their videos with the Toontastic community and enter them in film contests, so it's important that they do not reveal personal information in their videos. Price: free.

Ages 7-12
DragonBox: This app teaches kids how to solve simple algebraic equations. An extended version of the app called DragonBox+ includes 100 additional equations, which costs $5.99.

Bobo Explores Light: Essentially an interactive science textbook. Bobo is a little robot who serves as a guide of sorts as kids navigate through a thorough exploration of exactly what light is and how it works. Topics include reflection, refraction, lasers, the color spectrum, how eyes see, why the sky is blue, and much more. The reading level is set at about second grade. Price: $6.99

Sakura Quick Math: A high-speed, flash card style game that puts math skills to the test. This app turns practicing addition, subtraction, and division into a challenging sport by timing and tracking a player's progress. Price: $1.99

StoryBuilder: This app prompts kids to record answers to questions about a picture, then knits their answers together into a story. The app uses both auditory and visual prompts and has three levels of play. Kids can also record their own story without the prompts. Since there is no feedback provided to kids within the app itself, this is best used together with parents and teachers to track progress. Price: $3.99.

Geo Walk World Fact Book: This reference app provides relatively up-to-date profiles of the countries of the world. The developers of The World Factbook for iPad claim to update the app monthly but don't appear to be keeping to that timeframe. Kids will need strong reading skills to navigate the primarily text-based profiles. Price: $1.99 HD-3D version: $2.99

Scribblenauts Remix: The first iOS installment in the popular puzzle series that encourages and rewards players for using their imagination. Faced with puzzles, players must write in the objects they wish to use, giving lots of leeway as to where things can go. (The game has a vocabulary of thousands of words.) The game is largely a "Best of" collection of content from the first two games in the series, so fans who have both might be a bit disappointed. Price: $.99.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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