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Tech review: Kids apps that carry teachers' seal of approval

With the PBS Kids app, kids can create

With the PBS Kids app, kids can create their own stories and games, using more than 150 characters from the popular PBS Kids TV shows. Credit: Newsday/PBS Kids

Mobile apps for children can be a wonderland of creativity or a wasteland of sleazy ads and shady in-app purchases. These apps, however, have made the grade and are endorsed as "teacher approved" by the Google Play Store — and all are also available for iOS devices.

PBS Kids ScratchJr

(iOS, Android; free)

This app from PBS has no ads and no in-app purchases but it is loaded with fun for children ages 5-8. Kids create their own stories and games, using more than 150 characters from the popular PBS Kids TV shows. Kids can even record their own voices and apply them to the characters’ exploits. But ScratchJr is also a learning tool: As children create their games and stories, they are learning the basics of coding.

Khan Academy Kids

(iOS, Android; free)

The not-for-profit Khan Academy is a producer of well-regarded educational products, and this app has lessons, songs and activities for preschoolers, kindergartners and first-graders. In a nod to our new normal, the app has been upgraded with tools for teachers, who can create lesson plans for remote students. Behind the fun is learning: There are lessons in reading, writing, math and more. This totally free app has no ads or in-app purchases.

ABC Kids — Tracing & Phonics

(iOS, Android; free)

Preschoolers and kindergartners (and even kids as young as 2) will find a bounty of learning activities in this app. Focused on phonics and alphabet-learning games, ABC Kids also features a robust parent participation tie-in so you can check on the progress of your child. Because ABC Kids has no ads or in-app purchases, you are assured your child is not seeing anything inappropriate.

YouTube Kids

(iOS, Android; free)

Google’s YouTube is one of the most popular destinations on the Internet, but it’s almost-everything goes collection of videos is usually not kid-friendly. With YouTube Kids, however, Google delivers age-appropriate videos in three categories: kids 4 and younger, 5-7 and 8-12. There are no in-app purchases, but there are ads – this is a Google product, after all – but Google says the ads are reviewed for content.

Heed the call

Next time you pick up your smartphone to send a text or email, maybe press the call button instead. A University of Texas study found that friends feel “significantly more connected” by phone calls than text-based media. Study volunteers thought they would feel more awkward phoning an old friend, but when they made the call they formed a much stronger bond compared with email or texts.


All bark and no bite

Amazon is rolling out Guard Plus, a $5-a-month subscription service for its Alexa app and Echo smart speakers. Amazon says Guard Plus adds “an extra layer of protection” to Echo’s home-defense features. Among the upgrades: If Alexa detects an intruder while you’re away, it will blare a siren — or play the sound of a barking dog. You will also receive phone notifications that something may be amiss.


Washington state hit by cyberattack

Hackers launched a multifaceted cyberattack against the state of Washington, according to people familiar with the matter. The attack, however, did not significantly affect state operations or impact the state’s election systems. The attackers’ motives remain unclear. It’s not known if they had planned to steal data or detonate the kind of ransomware attacks that have recently devastated cities, school districts and businesses.


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