For many parents and kids, grading season isn't the slam-dunk, high-five, fist-bumping celebration you were hoping for. But you don't need to hire an expensive tutor or run off to the after-school learning center when straight As prove elusive. Plenty of free and low-cost tools can help give your kid high-quality practice in the foundational reading and math skills that are key to students' overall performance. And research proves it.
The recommendations below are either aligned with current research about learning or have been the focus of independent research that demonstrates their effectiveness. And that's cause for celebration!
Bedtime Math, Grades K-3, Free Practicing something every day is the way to make progress, but not all digital practice is created equally. This website offers math problems in the form of a story, usually based on a situation or fact from the real world. Each problem is available at three skill levels. The idea is that families can use the site or app together to build math into each day.
Learn With Homer, Grades K-2, Free with in-app purchases Created with best practices and reading research in mind, this app can get kids pumped about reading with skill-building exercises and supportive materials. Unlike many other reading apps, Learn With Homer not only includes phonics, but it also provides stories, songs, creative play, and a safe social element called "Pigeon Post." Though its intent is very serious, it's kid-friendly, accessible, and fun.
Starfall.com, Grades K-2, Free with fee-based additional content This site is a great starting place when kids are gearing up to read. It introduces the basics by teaching letter recognition, skill repetition, and beginner-level ebooks. Based on research and with proven efficacy, it also has some math activities and expanded options via membership.
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IXL, Grades K-12, Free to try; membership-based IXL offers a wide area of practice material, and there's an app for when you're on the go. Research shows that IXL can improve performance and even kids' attitude about math. Two things that set it apart are its distraction-free interface and step-by-step explanations for incorrect answers.
Wuzzit Trouble, Grades 2-8, $1.99 Disguised as a fun math game with cute creatures, this app has some research backing, too. Going beyond simple addition and subtraction, it requires kids to use problem-solving skills to get the maximum points available. The gears mechanism to help free the Wuzzits feels fresh, which is great for kids who might be wary of yet another math drill game.
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