As a children’s librarian at a public library, I was delighted recently when a parent brought in two kids for a play date. The friends spent the afternoon giggling and playing educational games side by side on our computers. We all know that libraries are about so much more than just books; in this case, the library provided a fun and welcoming space, as well as free access to a suite of learning games that the families would otherwise have to pay for on their own.
However, this visit also reminded me that some of these library benefits don’t extend to at-home use. When the parent asked if the kids could access these same games at home, I had to say no because our library’s subscription is only good on-site.
In the moment, I recommended a few alternatives for free learning games that the parent could check out at home—reliable alternatives like PBS Kids. But the conversation inspired me to be better prepared with a list of recommendations and resources that I can hand to families in the future.
Many best-of lists include both free and paid media. Two valuable sources for high-quality, no-cost options are Common Sense Media’s Free Apps for Kids and Madison Public Library’s AppFinder (filtered for free apps). Best of all, these resources are written for parents and can be shared directly with families who come to your library.
Highlighted apps include the following apps that have the added benefit of not requiring wi-fi or data. Families can download the apps using the library’s free internet, and then continue to play at home!
Storytelling and creativity app, developed by Harvard University to inspire joint media engagement between caregivers and kids.
Counting and numbers for young kids.
Khan Academy Kids
A multitude of activities covering a variety of early learning areas—including ELA, math, creative expression, and socio-emotional learning.
Further resources for librarians (including a mix of free and paid media)
The ALSC Children and Technology Committee (of which I am a member) maintains a list of resources for App Advisory—including recommendations from trusted sources like Reading Rockets and the American Association of School Librarians. These best-of lists are reliable sources for high-quality educational apps for kids.
ALSC also has a Notable Children’s Digital Media list, most recently updated in January 2022. This list includes a combination of exemplary apps and websites for kids.
Common Sense Media has a list of Educational Apps That Don’t Need Wi-Fi or Data. This resource is written for parents, but it’s worth noting that not all these apps are free, so librarians should use discretion if sharing it directly with caregivers.
What are the free learning games or apps that you regularly recommend to families for at-home use? What are the best-of lists that you usually share with caregivers? Please leave a comment with your suggestions!
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, II. Reference and User Services.
Karen You-Chuan Wang is a member of the ALSC Children and Technology Committee and is a children’s librarian with the New York Public Library. Prior to transitioning to librarianship, Karen worked in the K-12 educational technology field, developing and implementing products and programs for students, families, and educators across the country.