Editor's Note: Playful Minds Math was removed from the app store in 2014 and is no longer available for download.
Playful Minds Math is a fun and educationally sound game that teaches kids grade-appropriate (and Common Core-aligned!) math skills. Set on a colorful tropical island, it also includes progress reports for parents or teachers to stay on top of what kids are working on or struggling with.
As they travel through the island, kids complete different math tasks to unlock prizes and other islands. Kindergarten tasks include counting, patterns, size comparisons, matching, number order, and adding one more. First-grade tasks include counting, graphing, more/less, and larger/smaller. Second-grade tasks include addition, subtraction, patterns, and telling time, and the app continues to progress to the higher grades. Each new skill includes a short instruction on the concept, and kids can tap the light bulb at any time to repeat the lesson. Level options are easy, normal, hard, and very hard.
The mini-lessons and explanations or hints are pedagogically sound, and you could even choose to work through some levels with whole-class or small-group direct instruction. The range of grade-level skills and the breadth of levels –- four ranging from easy to very hard -– make the app adaptable for the range of abilities within a diverse classroom. Even within the games, options for customization abound. For example, in two-digit math problems in the second-grade mode, kids can choose Multi-Answer, working through the problem with the ones first, then the tens; or Instant Answer, where they enter the complete answer immediately.
Standouts: The animated teachers –- animals on the different islands –- are very encouraging and helpful. Not so great: Rewards give students incentives to continue playing, but kids may be distracted by tempting in-app purchases.
The setup is generally geared for home use, with family accounts for up to five kids and progress reports for parents; the mini-lessons help reinforce classroom lessons and give parents an explanation of how the concept is taught. You could adapt the educational app for use in class, setting up multiple devices for kids, with five students taking turns sharing an iPad.
At first play, kids customize their avatar and can later earn more clothes or accessories for it. They earn points for playing daily and based on their scores. Kids can also play against other kids, each at their own skill level, in the multiplayer mini-games.