Keeping your smartphone well-stocked with apps can be key to staying on top of busy family and individual schedules, handling homework, and keeping everyone entertained and even safe while you’re driving.

We’ve chosen 26 standout apps for the iPad tablet and iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry smartphones that’ll help you make family management more, well, manageable. Most of the apps on our list are free or cost just a few dollars, but if you’re hesitant about committing to an app, remember to download the “lite” or free trial version first.

Family Organizer

The stationery aisle at Target used to be stuffed with “mom planners”—the fancy pocket calendars that had space for every family member’s schedule (as long as there were just four of you), and room to write notes about everything from doctor’s appointments to field trips.

Today, many of us have traded in the hard copy for a digital app version of the family organizer, which has proved to be a significant upgrade. Digital-version improvements include interactive calendars, listmaking functions, links to favorite websites, and integrated extras like menu planning and grocery lists. Plus, these apps let multiple users access the planner, which means your husband doesn’t need to dig through your purse to see Saturday’s soccer schedule. Best of all, no more paper means you can add as many family members as you want.

While there are countless calendar/listmaker combo apps that fill the bill, Cozi (free for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry) just might be the best. Cozi fuses a color-coded calendar function with listmaking, menu-planning, and journaling capabilities, making it one-stop shopping for family organization. Sharing capabilities, the ability to input information with your computer or smartphone, and reliable widgets and notifications make this flexible, user-friendly app a must.

On the Road...Again

As a seasoned mother of three, Nivi Engineer, a web developer from Ohio, always has a few ideas up her sleeve to keep her kids busy. Luckily, she also has a whole arsenal tucked away on her iPhone, including some that help occupy her children while she’s driving.

“With all of our activities—soccer, music lessons, school events, and life—it seems like we’re always traveling, so I’m constantly looking for ways to keep the boys entertained and engaged while we’re on the move,” Engineer says. To keep the boys from squabbling while she’s driving everywhere, Engineer uses FindPlate (free for iPhone), which allows her kids to track the different license plates they see. And Engineer says the app has delivered another free bonus: Her boys have now learned all their state capitals.

Like Engineer, many parents find themselves on the road. A lot. And there’s nothing worse than being late for your child’s soccer game and getting lost along the way, or getting stuck in traffic. Enter a useful mobile app from a familiar site: Google Maps (free for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android). Sure, you may have visited the site on your home computer, but did you know that the mobile app can give you real-time traffic on a map of where you’re headed, right on your smartphone? It works via your phone’s GPS, which means you’ll have to click to enable location services. You can also get directions, a street view (which gives you a photo of your destination), business listings, detour information in the event of traffic jams, and more. No more excuses now for showing up late.

Tricks and Tools

These are the apps you never knew you needed. But once they’re installed, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them. They turn your smartphone or tablet into a digital Swiss army knife, fully stocked with the tricks and tools that make navigating everything from planning meals to texting with your teen easier.

Menu Planner ($2.99 for iPhone; free for Android) is a wildly popular meal-planning/recipe file/grocery list application. Users create meal plans, import recipes from favorite recipe websites (or input their own), and keep track of the ingredients they have on hand and where to buy the ones they still need. Menu Planner has a leg up on similar apps, with options for planning more meals than just dinner and for allowing users to add notes to meals. For BlackBerry users, SparkRecipes (free), with access to more than 200,000 recipes, is a favorite. (And while it’s not an app, don’t forget to bookmark SchoolFamily.com’s new Recipe Share in your smartphone’s browser!)

Some interactive apps are perfect for putting a little outdoor adventure into your downtime. Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder (free for iPhone; Android version coming in 2012), uses your location to track down nearby parks and up to 20 outdoor activities available at each park. You can filter by proximity or activity. It’s perfect for families with active older kids looking to make the most of the outdoors. Mom Maps (free for iPhone and Android) is geared to families with younger children. This app uses your location to suggest nearby family-friendly spots such as parks and playgrounds, restaurants, museums, and indoor play areas. Just tap on the map and you’ll get addresses, descriptions, and reviews of each destination.

What do you do when your middle schooler is begging to see a movie you’ve never heard of? And even if the movie is rated PG-13, what might your teen be exposed to? The following apps can help. Kids in Mind ($3.99 for Android) gives details on specific content in a film including violence, sexuality, and profanity. The app version of the popular website Common Sense Media (free for iPhone; available July 2012) helps parents navigate all sorts of media, with more than 12,000 reviews of movies, video games, TV shows, and more, complete with age-appropriate ratings. Parents can also search for ratings by their child’s age.

Did you dip into your child’s cash stash to pay the sitter last time? Or perhaps you “loaned” your youngest child some cash during her last trip to the mall? Rather than tracking those transactions manually (or not at all), use MoneyTrail (free for Android, BlackBerry, and iPhone/iPad). The app will mind everyone’s cash flow, making sure you’re all square, while also helping you manage each child’s allowance.

The final two apps in this category certainly fit their “trick” billing, especially if you have a tween or teen at home. LRNtheLingo ($.99 for iPhone) is a digital dictionary that makes translating the jumble of consonants and emoticons in your kid’s text messages a cinch. When it comes to tracking chores, older kids (and adults) have moved way beyond printed chore charts taped to the refrigerator. For them, try EpicWin ($2.99 for iPhone). It’s an app that allows you to actually battle and crush your to do list, turning mundane tasks into adventures.

Homework Helpers

Think of educational apps as having one of two jobs: helping users stay organized or teaching content. The first type are the digital versions of old-school assignment books, but with added capabilities like grade and assignment tracking and notifications—perfect for both parents’ and kids’ phones. One of the best is the award-winning iStudiez Pro (iPhone and iPad, $2.99), which lets older elementary through college-age students track homework assignments, test and quiz scores, class dates and times, and more.

The second group of educational apps functions like a pocket reference library. Sure, you could use your smartphone or iPad’s browser to scour the Web for most of the same information, but these apps will help focus and refine your search, giving you easier access to answers. The first is a new iPad app launched recently by KahnAcademy.org, the free online lecture library for students of all ages that’s garnered national attention for its easy-to-understand, elegant video lectures on nearly every educational topic. The app allows users to download a library of more than 27,000 videos on a range of topics including K-12 math, history, and the humanities. This is the app you’ll go to when your 4th grader asks for help on long division and when your high schooler moans about her AP biology homework. While the app is recommended for viewing on the iPad’s larger screen, it’ll work on the iPhone. Android and BlackBerry users can still get to the goods by visiting KhanAcademy.org via their smartphone’s browser.

To round out your reference library, try the following apps: Convert Units for Free (for iPhone) converts all sorts of measurements (especially the kind that usually stump parents). Shakespeare In Bits ($14.99 per play for iPhone/iPad) is an app that turns the Bard’s classics into easily digestible multimedia presentations. U. S. Geography ($4.99 for iPhone; $6.99 for iPad) by Discovery Education combines geography basics with videos, exercises, and quizzes to make sure those state capitals and country names stick. Language students love that their favorite foreign-language desktop dictionary is also available as an app: Google Translate (free for Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry) covers 60 languages, making it handy for everything from Spanish vocabulary to Latin conjugations.

Saving and Shopping

Sometimes errands seem unending (didn’t you just stock up on toilet paper?), and while nothing can make errands disappear, these apps can shorten your next trip to the store and make it easier on your wallet. Grocery IQ (free for iPhone and Android) is a top-rated grocery-shopping app that allows list sharing between your family’s devices with automatic updating. This means the days of picking up a gallon of milk, only to discover your partner has done the same, are gone. Our Groceries (free for BlackBerry) works similarly. Red Laser (free for iPhone and Android) takes the guesswork out of comparing prices by reading barcodes in the store and then offering price comparisons for nearby outlets. If you do find a better price but aren’t sure it’s worth the drive, use Gas Buddy (free for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry) to find the best gas prices by location. That way, you’ll know you’re saving money on gas, too.

Health and Safety

For parents who are in the middle of potty-training little ones—which means needing to find a bathroom quickly—there’s Where to Wee (free for iPhone). This highly rated bathroom finder uses your phone’s GPS to find the restrooms closest to your location. Even better, the app allows users to rate restrooms (good or bad), add restrooms they come across (including snapping and uploading photos of the restroom), and avoid places that have no restrooms.

While your smartphone might be the last thing you’d consider as a health or safety device, with the following apps it can be just as handy—and even as lifesaving—as the traditional first-aid kit.

WebMD (free for iPhone and Android) offers an app with all the benefits of the powerful WebMD website, with an added search-by-symptom feature called Symptom Checker. This app makes it easier than ever to confirm your hunch that your child is coming down with strep throat, chicken pox, the flu, a cold, or whatever else you suspect.

First Aid (free for Android) offers simple first-aid instructions, making it a must for your newly babysitting teen’s phone. Since texting and driving can be a temptation for drivers of all ages, not just teens, Text’nDrive (free for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android) is an option that could be used for emergency messaging. The app allows you to listen to incoming text messages and send outgoing texts without touching your phone. To listen to a text message, the user simply responds “yes” and a computerized voice simulation reads the message. Sending a message is similar and is done through voice command alone; no touching the phone is required. (Note: Before downloading this app, check your state’s current laws on texting while driving. Some states, such as California, Arkansas, and Alaska, have enacted full bans on any type of texting while driving, even if the texting is voice-activated.)

While these apps are a great start to making your smartphone even smarter and your busy life a little less hectic, there are thousands more available for the iPhone and iPad at the Apple App Store, on Google Play for the Android, and in the BlackBerry App World for the BlackBerry. So what’s on your must-have app list? Please leave a comment below and share the app for others to enjoy!

When she’s not doing laundry or driving the soccer carpool, Sarah Routh writes about family, education, travel, and food. She is also the author/editor of several nonfiction books for middle schoolers. She lives in Cleveland with her husband and three children.