As most parents know quite well, children have a natural affinity for anything that plugs in. From their very own tablet to mom’s new smartphone that they get to borrow now and then, kids of all ages love to spend time playing games, watching videos and exploring all types of apps.

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While most parents are amenable to their children having regular, yet small, doses of screen time, they also want to ensure the kids are not just wasting time sitting in front of a tablet or smartphone. Fortunately, thanks to the rapid proliferation of apps and amazing devices to use them on, there are a variety of fun ways for kids to spend time with their beloved electronics while still boosting their brain power. The following five apps are both educational and enjoyable:

uKloo
This high quality free app combines the thrill and challenge of a treasure hunt with the opportunity to improve reading skills. uKloo, which is available for the iPhone and iPad, features a farm and a farmer’s market that include hidden uKloo cards. Instructions on the screen prompt kids to search for the cards; these clues range from super simple sight words to longer multi-syllabic words, pronouns, directions and more. There are 10 levels in all, which allow kids to progress along in the game as their reading abilities improve. To help kids learn more words, the uKloo app includes a built-in dictionary as well as a voice feature that lets children press on the word to hear it spoken aloud.

Monkey Preschool Lunchbox
This educational app helps preschool kiddos learn patterns, shapes, letters, colors and more in a fun and engaging way. Available for 99 cents to $1.99, the app features seven games in all, as well as a sweet and entertaining animated monkey that helps kids along the way as they fill his lunchbox with assorted fruit. To reward kids for their great work and progress, the app allows them to select a sticker and display it on a virtual canvas board.

Animal Pants
This free, fun and educational app keeps little ones busy dressing pandas and other animals in the correct pants. Available from the iTunes store, Animal Pants not only helps preschoolers learn much-needed matching skills, it also teaches them about the animals they are dressing and it is available in several different languages. If you would like your child to start learning Spanish, French and/or German, you could purchase those versions of this app and start him or her on his bilingual education extra early.

Funbrain Jr.
Kids ages 2 and up can learn their numbers and letters in an entertaining way on the Funbrain Jr. app. The free app includes five games along with a variety of unique characters. Funbrain Jr. allows kiddos to do fun things like pop virtual balloons with the largest number set, or connect water pipes alphabetically, which will then fill up a pretend swimming pool right on the tablet or smartphone.

Ansel and Clair: Little Green Island
As USA Today notes, Ansel and Clair: Little Green Island was named as one of the best kids apps for 2013. This amazing app allows kids to run their very own island. During the course of the 18 levels, children will learn to solve problems with pollution, build a wind farm, clean up trash, and add different types of landscaping to their virtual island. For kids who are interested in science and have expressed an interest in eco-friendly practices, this app will teach them about ecology in an enjoyable and interesting way.

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