These apps will keep your teenager’s brain engaged this summer

Are you worried that your teenage kid’s brain will revert to hibernation mode during summer break? With school out of session, just know that there are more things for young adults to do on their smartphones and tablets than play games or share pictures and status updates with friends.

From video lectures to virtual museums to educational opportunities that are truly out of this world, there are several apps that can inform and entertain your kids this summer. Here are five of the best.

Khan Academy (iPad: Free)

School is always in session at Khan Academy, which offers five to 15-minute video lessons covering topics ranging from the Bay of Pigs invasion to Newton’s First Law of Motion. Started by former hedge fund analyst Salman Khan, the app is a collection of hundreds of YouTube videos Khan has produced in recent years. Each video follows a simple format, with Khan providing a voice-over to visual examples he presents on a virtual blackboard. The topics presented are more for older high school and college-aged kids, although it’s never too early (or late) to get exposure to some of Khan’s lessons. The app is free to download, and won’t hit you up with any subscription fees thereafter. While there is no official version of Khan Academy for Android devices, there are several independently produced apps that curate his video lessons on that platform as well.

TED (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android: Free)

No longer exclusive to the professional and cultural elite, TED conferences (which focus on Technology, Entertainment and Design) can now be experienced after the fact online and via mobile devices. While the vast majority of the 1,100 “TED Talks” are accessible to teenagers, the organization recently began a TED Ed program with curated videos that are shorter, animated and designed to appeal to the younger set. As TED incorporates its “Lessons Worth Sharing” videos into the mobile applications, your kids can enjoy talks from leading thinkers including Segway inventor Dean Kamen and philanthropist Melinda Gates. They can even hear a talk from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who explains how Wikipedia is used for more than just researching their term papers.

NASA (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android: Free)

Sometimes it’s a good thing for kids to space out for a while, particularly if they can learn about about the origins of the universe. That is the goal of the free and official NASA app, which includes mission information, tens of thousands of images and live videos, and a live stream of NASA TV.

MoMA (iPhone, iPod Touch, Android: Free)

The world’s greatest collection of modern art can now fit in the palm of your kid’s hand with these free applications. They include tens of thousands of digitized works found in the Museum of Modern Art. The app also includes background information about many of the artists and a multimedia tour of the museum. If your kid is fortunate enough to make it to New York for a visit, the app provides audio walking tours and the ability to create customized playlists.

The Elements: A Visual Exploration (iPad: $6.99)

The Periodic Table comes alive with this beautifully designed and engaging application, which showcases every chemical element in animated and three-dimensional glory. Much more entertaining than the grid found above many classroom blackboards, the app includes the backstory of every element and each fits in the world. Learn about each element individually, or sit back and enjoy an opening song that playfully presents each one of them in less than two minutes.

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