iPad and helping your kids beat the 'summer slide'!

The iPad is like a classroom, library, and even tutor all rolled into one. What's more—you can hold it in your hands. The iPad Air 2 has a 9.7-inch screen and weighs less than a pound. The iPad mini 3 has a 7.9-inch screen and weighs less than three-quarters of a pound.

That means you can take it almost anywhere—into another, quieter room, in the car while doing errands or going on a road trip, even on a plane or while on vacation. It even has built-in Wi-Fi and optional cellular, so you can keep it connected, keep apps updated, and get on the web no matter where you are or what you're doing.

That's important because, while summer can be a much-needed break, it can also slow down and even regress the progress a child has made during the year. The iPad can help prevent that. It's so convenient and so powerful that, even over the summer, the iPad makes it all but impossible not to get at least some learning done.

The App Store is home to over a million apps—over 85,000 educational apps alone—and the web countless resources for learning. If your child has very specific needs, including special needs, consulting with an educational expert who can recommend the apps and sites that'll best fit those needs is absolutely the way to go.

There are, however, several really good apps and sites that can be beneficial to a wide range of children.

iBooks + iTunes U

iBooks is a great way to take books with you anywhere without requiring the space, or being burdened by the weight, of paper and print. Yes, we all love real books, but digital books are a great way to take everything from casual reading to textbooks with you when you travel. That way kids can practice reading, and keep up learning, anywhere.

There's also the Amazon Kindle app if that's your preference.

iTunes U (short for iTunes University) might sound like it skews more towards college students and adults. That's true on the surface, and there's a ton of material for higher education. But there's also some great resources for parents, including material on how to teach—or in this case help—children learn with the iPad.

For example, Apple has its own Apple Education series where they compile lists of apps ideal for Elementary literacy, math, and science, to name but a few.

If you don't want to wade into the App Store without guidance, but you want much more than what we're listing here, Apple's iTunes U lists are a great place to start.

Language learning

While some people can pick up new languages at any age, most people find it easier to achieve fluency when they start young. Even if your child is doing well in school, expanding their horizons with a new language can offer immense benefits.

Language encapsulates how we think, and so the more languages we learn, the more ways we have to think. It also builds affinity for different and more diverse cultures. Cornell University has also shown that children who learn second languages also acquire skills that help them avoid distraction and stay focused longer and better.

Duolingo is a great app to help get anyone, especially kids, started with Spanish, German, French, and several other languages. It turns language learning into something closer akin to a game, and uses multiple modalities to both address different types of learners and to stay interesting and engaging.

Last year I spent some time on Italian with Duolingo, but more interestingly, my godkids used it to help keep up with their French studies over the summer.

Word Tracer focuses specifically on Chinese, and teachers characters and phrases in a very tactile, easy to follow way.

I did two years of Mandarin at college back in the era of textbooks and tapes. I can't describe how much I wish I'd both started earlier and had apps like Word Tracer to learn with.

Learning through play

Osmo is an educational toy that extends the iPad's interactivity into the real world. It includes three learning games that help build basic skills. Tangram has kids arrange puzzle pieces to match what's on the screen. Newton lets kids use everyday objects to guide on-screen balls to their targets. Words gets kids to guess and spell out hidden words by using real-world letters. You can even extend Osmo further via my.playosmo.com.

Coding for kids

Apple's Hour of Code workshops delight kids... of all ages!

Hopscotch introduces kids to the basic concepts of not only animation but of programming to. With Hopscotch, kids can make characters that move around and interact, and they can control them by tapping, shaking, and otherwise manipulating the iPad.

Code.org helps kids learn the basics of programming by giving them blocks of code they can manipulate on their iPad, so they can create interactions without having to learn a language first. It also helps them learn problem-solving and get a sense of success, so kids become excited to move on to subsequent lessons... and adventures.

LEGO MINDSTORMS 3D Builder is a virtual version of the famed robot construction kits. With it, kids can create and control robots right on their iPads. Walking, talking, thinking, robots. It's not the same as actually getting the blocks and building in real life, but it's the next best thing and also a great introduction before you move on to the real thing.

Learning for all ages

The iPad as educational turbo-booster isn't limited to just kids, of course. People of any age can and do benefit from learning new languages, exploring new spheres of science and technology, delving into history and the arts, and literally gaining access to the greatest collections of knowledge ever available—and put right into our hands.

Many of the apps and sites already listed, including and especially iTunes U, have material and courses for people of all ages.

Lynda.com—a podcast sponsor of ours but also and educational tool I used for years before ever putting word to microphone—has courses on almost any technical subject you can image.

There are also a wide variety of school programs of every level available online. It really, truly is never too late to start or continue learning, and everything that makes the iPad an amazing tool for children make it every bit as good for adults.

iPad in eduction

The iPad is an amazing device for reading, watching, listening, working, painting, modeling, and doing many, many things. Learning, however, is not only one of the best things, but one of the most important.

If you've got kids home for the summer, and you want to help them stay sharp, hand them an iPad and keep them learning.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.