There are some great educational apps available for the iPad and iPhone, but how on earth do you make Maths fun? [Updated July 19, 2013; Updated September 23, 2013. Updated October 11, 2013. Updated October 30, 2013.]
Maths is boring, right? Well, actually, no. But the way most of us are taught maths certainly can be dull. To get to grips with maths you need to master the basics, and that means learning lots of simple sums off by heart: 2 x 7 = 14, 5 + 4 = 9, 33 divided by 3 is 11, etc.
See also: Best tablet for children
We have to memorise all the main addition, subtraction, multiplication and division basics because otherwise we’d spend large proportions of the day counting on our fingers and toes.
There’s one thing more boring than just learning times tables off by heart, and that’s sitting there teaching a child to learn times tables off by heart.
Thank goodness then for smartphone apps and tablet apps that make learning basic maths not only easy but fun, too. We've also rounded up the best apps for learning to tell the time.
I’m not advocating parents abandoning their children armed with an iPhone or Android tablet, and hoping the app does all the work.
At least to start with a parent or other person versed in more than elementary maths needs to be with the child and guide them through the process and help out with the sums. There are tricks for different times tables, for example, that you can teach the child to make the whole process easier.
There are plenty of iPhone, iPad and Android apps to help your child learn basic maths, and we’ve picked a bunch of the best here. Mainly we've looked at maths games apps aimed at primary/elementary school children, aged 5-12, but also a few for younger maths beginners. We've reviewed some in more detail. Click on the links to read our full reviews of these maths apps. But what you need to know should be included here. We have noted which work with iPhone, iPad and Android devices.
As ability and age have a bearing on which apps are best for your kids we've divided the list into levels: Beginners' Maths Apps and Older Maths Apps. Some are relevant for both groups and will adapt to the child's learning skills. See also: Best Phonics Apps for kids
Beginners' Maths Apps
These apps are great for kids just starting out on maths. Also take a look at the Older Maths Apps level list as some start quite basic but grow with the child. Don't overwhelm kids with maths they don't yet understand but talk them through what they're going to do so they feel more confident. Many of these games are a lot of fun and so will entertain as well as educate.
Kids Academy 123 Tracing
£2.49. iPhone, iPad, Android
Before you can do any maths you need to be able to recognize and write the numbers.
Kids Academy 123 Tracing, for the younger children, helps little ones learn to do just that by using the iPad’s touchscreen. Children are introduced to the numbers and shown how to draw them using their finger. The numbers fill the screen so are suitably large format, and the tracing points well laid out.
Successful number writing is rewarded not just by the app’s jolly words of encouragement but also with virtual fireflies in a jar, which can be released each time the numbers have been completed.
There’s a Parent Mode, where you can check the progress of each child assigned a profile. And you can change the voice (male or female) and sounds here, too.
The initial iPhone and iPad versions of the app are free but limited to a few numbers. Parents must dip into their pockets for £2.49 for all ten numbers to trace on iPhone or iPad. Android-using parents pay £1.95. Why the price discrepancy?
While £2.49 isn’t a huge amount to fork out to help your child get to grips with writing it is a little on the high side for an app. The company’s ABC Alphabet Phonics tracing app costs just £1.99 for 26 letters (£1.95 on Android), making the £2.49 for 10 numbers seem steep.
£1.99. iPhone, iPad, Android
One for the very early learners, Number Monster (from Wombi) is a simple app that teaches kids to recognise numbers – from 1-20. It's friendly and easy for kids to pick up. Parents can turn on and off visual clues as their child progresses. It doesn't go much further than that so is a little expensive for what it offers.
There's also a Shape Monster games (at the time of writing this was offered for free). Like Number Monster it's easy and friendly, and can be set at different levels up to hexagons and pentagons from a start with squares and circles, etc.
Wombi also offers Colour Monster and Letter Monster apps, and a simple telling-the-time app called Around The Clock.
Wee Kids Math
69p. iPhone, iPad
Wee Kids Math (from Ebooks & Kids) has a whole bunch of colourful games to teach kids about numbers and basic maths. This app is good for children just starting to learn their number shapes and order (0-20), up to those starting out on addition and subtraction. It's not really for those who have grasped these concepts already.
There's plenty of variety – and that's important when encouraging kids to like maths – and the games are simple to get the hang of despite a lack of instruction from the developers. I'd have preferred a little more help when starting the game, as you have to guess what to do on each new game.
There are many varied games to play, including all the kids favourites such as insects and other animals, and space arcade games.
One other gripe is that the number '3' in all games looks too much like an '8' on a small screen, which can be confusing. Lesson to developers: don't needlessly confuse your young users.
These criticisms aside Wee Kids Math is a fun addition (geddit?) to your maths app library, and teaches a lot of basic concepts in a fun and engaging way.
£1.49p, iPhone, iPad and Android
Math Farm from Math Colors is a pretty basic game where the child connects a sum to the correct answer in a multiple-choice environment. At each right answer a part of a farm animal appears until all the answers are completed and you get to see the whole animal.
It's all very relaxed, and there are two levels: beginner and intermediate.
I wouldn't say that Math Farm is a very deep game, and so we find the £1.49 price a little high. But it's so laid back that I can see children playing with it for some time.
Older Maths apps
69p, iPhone, iPad and Android
Play the game that’s all about numbers to learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide: yes, Bingo.
Math Bingo sets a bunch of questions dependent on your choice and the level of your child’s maths skills. A timer ticks away so you’re out to beat your personal best time each go. To start we’d advise disregarding the clock as this can put undue pressure on the child.
Math Bingo is colourful and features a collection of weird bug aliens to make maths even more fun. Kids love to win the Bingo Bugs and they can then use them in a game of Bingo Bug Bungie – a sort of pinball game where you fire your collected bugs to knockout coins to beat your highest score. It's enough to make even reluctant mathematicians have another go at multiplication!
Within Math Bingo there are now two new games you can play after completing a Bingo board: Math Stack and Math Fling.
69p, iPhone, iPad and Android
Squeebles Times Tables 2
£1.49, iPhone, iPad and Android
Master the times tables with the help of Whizz, defeat the nasty Maths Monster, and collect little Squeeble characters, trophies and stars as you learn.
Like Math Bingo, Times Tables: Squeebles Multiplication is a colourful app that makes learning fun.
There’s no timer so your child isn’t rushed into guessing, and they’ll love collecting all the game rewards. It's a great way to test kids on their multiplication and times tables.
UPDATE: There's now a new £1.49 version called Squeebles Times Tables 2, which features an expanded reward system, fun mini game, six tables modes, unlimited players and plenty of stats and reporting for parents and teachers - again thankfully without any in-app purchases or adverts.
There are other Squeebles apps for addition, division, etc. See the Key Stage Fun Squeebles website for details of all on offer. Each of these are really worth the investment, but try out on one first to check your child finds it fun, too.
Mr Thorne’s Times Table Terra
Mr Thorne’s Divide + Conquer
Mr Thorne’s Addition Space Station
All £1.49, iPhone, iPad
London teacher Christopher Thorne must be one of the coolest Sirs on the planet (although he does appear to own several pairs of Timmy Mallet-like specs), and he uses the planets as the theme for his three maths apps: Mr Thorne’s Times Table Terra, Mr Thorne’s Divide + Conquer, and Mr Thorne’s Addition Space Station.
The apps are simple and look gorgeous – sure to be a hit with boys as well as girls.
When you score 10 out of 10 on a particular addition, times table or division test you get to keep a space station or planet, depending on the app you’re using. There’s a mystery challenge when you’ve unlocked all the tests, which is an extra incentive – and different to the Squeebles and Math Bingo reward games.
Each game has three levels: Beginner/Newcomer, First Class/Elite and World Class/Legend. The top level is going to test adults, too, so you can join in the sum fun.
Mr Thorne’s Addition Space Station has 42 mental maths tests, which includes adding multiple numbers, decimals and fractions so is suitable for children aged 5-11.
Mr Thorne’s Times Table Terra features 60 tests based on basic multiplication and times tables. They also feature video tutorials from Mr Thorne himself.
Mr Thorne’s Divide + Conquer has 50 maths tests based on division and inverse times tables.
I recommend all the Mr Thorne maths apps, as they’re simple to use, look great, and should really engage kids in these maths basics.
69p, iPhone, iPad and Android
This spy game puts the player as a secret agent battling the evil Dr Odd. You get new uniforms and spy gear for each mission completed. Like the other maths apps here you set your challenges depending on the level of maths skills of the child.
This game is all about beating the clock, so try it first in training mode when the player has more time to think about the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division equations.
The spy theme is a great idea for making maths a fun adventure.
YodelOh Math Mountain
£1.99, iPhone, iPad
From the same team as Operation Math comes a real oddity: YodelOh Math Mountain, an Alpine maths game. This quirky game fires sums at you as an Alpine gent slowly climbs the mountain. You can choose addition subtraction (both for numbers 1-20), multiplication, division (numbers 1-12) or a mix, and you have a multiple-choice selection. You need to score as many points as possible before the lederhosen-wearing Hans drops off the cliff.
It's really rather barking mad, with maths-crazed sheep butting Hans in the behind, and various other surprises.It's so different that it makes a change from some of the quieter games we are reviewing here.
It features graduated difficulty, with questions getting harder at every level, as well as developmental skill building with kids having to priortise visual infomration and make quick decisions.
YodelOh Math Mountain could easily get addictive.
£2.99, iPhone, iPad
Although more expensive than most maths apps MathBoard can be easily configured for school children of all ages, beginning with simple addition and subtraction problems, multiplication and division, and algebra.
The blackboard theme is cute, although most kids won't come anywhere a blackboard in school these days.
It is built around multiple choice but encourages working out solutions with a neat scratchboard area where pupils can chalk their sums.
MathBoard's Problem Solver walks students through the steps required to solve the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division equations. There are also quick reference tables to hand.
We especially like the configurable nature of MathBoard, where you can determine number ranges, omit negative answers, etc.
Activities and quizzes can be timed, either as a countdown timer or elapsed time.
There's a free version that tackles addition only so you can have a play before forking out for the full version. You don't need to be a maths boffin to see the value in that!
Free. iPad. Requires annual subscription.
Recommended by teachers and parents is Mathletics, a subscription-based online system of maths learning.
For £39/year the child can run through adaptive-learning, level-staged maths tasks and games via computer or iPad app. Students learn at their own pace.
Mathletics is fun and features a great rewards system for kids, who win Bronze, Silver and Gold certificates by scoring points in a wide range of maths questions. These questions are presented in a fun and colourful way with animations to brighten things up but also to show how to reach the correct answers. Parents will learn a thing ot two, too.
Live Mathletics sets the child up against other Mathletics players across the world, and is a great way to learn simple number bonds and increase the kids’ recall speed.
Times Tables Toons helps teach children their times table through song and animal animation.
There are weekly progress emails to monitor progress via a Parent Centre.
My daughter has been using Mathletics for over a year now, and it has undoubtedly helped her with her maths, and me understanding/remembering/learning alongside her. We sit down a few times a week for short periods of time, or for one half-hour session that should be long enough for her to score her 1,000 points and earn a new certificate. She loves it, too.
Medieval Math Battle
Free with Addition segment; other segments 69p each. iPhone, iPad, Android
Medieval Math Battle really does make maths into a game, as it is a turn-based battle game where you defeat your opponents (villains, giant spiders, goblins, dragons, etc) by answering questions based on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division).
The maths problems increase in difficulty as the child improves their skills.
As you win battles you earn coins, potions and weapons. You can use the coins to buy new swords and shields and so forth. If the child plays for 15 minutes there’s a special daily bonus.
Medieval Math Battle is free, and comes with the Addition part of the game, but each extra maths type (subtraction, multiplication, division) costs 69p to unlock. So the full cost of everything is £2.07.
Apart from the sections to unlock there aren’t any other nasty in-app purchases in the game.
Medieval Math Battle is a great idea, and sure to be a hit with kids. It would be nice if the player could be a girl as well as a boy, and the action could be a little faster, but we liked the game and recommend it.
Numbees & The World of Math
69p. iPhone, iPad
Numbees is a lot wackier than the other Maths apps here, and plays a rather annoying tune while you work out the answers. But that's why phones and tablets have volume controls, right?
Aside from the music and sound effects Numbees is a lot of fun and puts maths into an arcade-style format. It's a lot like Math Bingo but tackles questions from a different point of view, for instance giving you answers and making the player work out the sum.
When your child tires of Math Bingo he or she may well jump to Numbees for a change. I'd recommend both of these for fun maths against the clock.
Other maths learning on your computer or mobile deice
We mentioned Mathletics in conjunction with its iPad app, but you can also play it on your PC, Mac or laptop.
Away from the app scene we also recommend the BBC’s great online maths games. There’s plenty of variety and skills levels. All the games are fun, colourful and step up in difficulty. We like the way the games start at "Medium" level, so kids aren’t dispirited by not flying through an “Easy” level.