Serious Fun: 5 Games that Are Actually Good for Your Kids

Handing your child a tablet or phone might buy you a precious moment or two of quiet. But all too many of the mobile games she might choose to play on those devices are complete wastes of her time — or, worse, they might teach her things you’d really rather she didn’t learn just yet.

But kids can learn some good stuff, too, by playing. So why not load that mobile device with games that will help her ace math, improve her writing, or at least teach her something that’ll make her want to raise her hand in class?

So next time she asks for the iPad to play a game for a while, you can just chuckle at your own cleverness when you “grudgingly” hand it over.

Hungry Fish


Deep in the sea, this hungry fish is very picky about what numbers it will eat. Players must find the right number — by adding or subtracting — to feed him. It starts out easy enough for a kindergartner and advances to problems that some adults might find challenging. It’s also a clever way to get kids to think differently about math. Instead of drilling them in the usual way (2 + 2 = 4 and so on), it asks them to find integers that add up to the number the fish is asking for. (If the fish asks for 4, the answers could include 3 + 1, 2 + 2, 5 - 1, and so on.) The pressure is on to feed the fish quickly, so young brains have to work hard to supply the right answers. Addictive fun that drills math facts? I’ll hand my iPad over for that. For iOS; free, with in-app purchases; Motion Math.

Dino Tales


As your dinosaur character explores his world — solving problems, having adventures, asking questions, learning to feed himself, and playing games — the game takes notes. And, at the end of the day, as your own little dino tucks himself into bed, the game will create a bedtime story recounting all of his adventures. Players can read along, changing words and meanings to alter the story — and, in the process, learn to read or to parse grammar. It’s a game and a create-your-own animated storybook, with slick animation, that can strengthen literacy. If you wish your kids would learn to love reading as much as playing games, let them try this one. For Android and iOS; $3.99; Kuato Studios.



Why spend years in a school classroom, trying to learn a new language, only to emerge knowing barely enough to order a meal in a restaurant? Duolingo helps your kid memorize words, understand grammar, and generally immerse herself in a way that’s fun and competitive — so she’ll actually want to do it. According to one study, playing 34 hours of this game will net her as much linguistic ability as a full semester at a university. (And the game is free.) Online and for Windows, Android, and iOS; free; Duolingo.

Path to Luma


In Path to Luma, saving the world doesn’t mean shooting the bad guys: It means cleaning up the planet. To do that, you need to understand alternative and clean energy sources. To do that, your character — a little robot bent on saving the universe — picks up bits of knowledge as he navigates from one dirty little planet to another, solving puzzles to unlock each planet’s unique energy source. The lovely graphics and soothing soundtrack might also help calm your little savage. This one is for kids (or adults) who can read. For Android and iOS; free; NRG.

Project Spark


One question that has probably been asked by every parent in every household that owns a gaming console: “Are you playing Xbox or doing your homework?” Speaking as one of those parents, I know you can’t always believe the answer. But if the kid in question is playing Spark — a game-building tool that teaches kids to code as they build their own Xbox games — I let it slide. Sure, she could just be playing games that other people have built. But that play could lead kids to catch the maker bug, in which case they’ll only come out of the game room when they’ve built something epic — and picked up some handy STEM skills along the way. For Xbox One or Windows; free to play, but you can buy add-on tools and content; Spark.