The 19 best preschool apps for learning and fun
While phones and tablets are no replacement for hands-on learning, there are a number of preschool apps out there that are fun and educational and that can help reinforce the skills your child already knows. The important thing is knowing what to look for.
“Overall, a great preschool app is created with child development experts and/or by a trusted organization, such as PBS,” says Christine Elgersma, senior editor of Parent Education at Common Sense Media, who notes that such information is usually indicated in the app description or on their website. “Also, when downloading a free app for your child, make sure it's not loaded with ads — which are often not kid-appropriate — or [in-app] purchases.”
Here are other features to look for in a preschool app, according to Elgersma:
Age-appropriateness. “This may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes parents download a free app that looks fine for little kids only to find out it focuses only on applying makeup or doing surgery simulations,” says Elgersma. “Also, keep in mind, preschoolers do best with open-ended play or opportunities for multiple attempts. Rules and time limits don't work as well for this age.”
A unique experience for the screen. Having your kid “bake a cake” on your tablet? Might want to move it to the kitchen. “If your kid can do the same activity off-screen, then it's probably not a great app,” says Elgersma. “While there are tons of apps that can prevent you from carrying around puzzles and alphabet flashcards on the go, the best apps don't merely recreate off-screen experiences.”
If it represents people, it should represent more than one kind of person. “We want to make sure our kids can see themselves represented in all of the media they use, and apps are no exception,” Elgersma says. “When kids look at the game, they should either see themselves represented or have an experience that reflects a wide range of backgrounds.” In other words, there should be more than a superficial nod to diversity in your kiddo’s app.
The learning component should be “baked-in.” Elgersma and the team at Common Sense Media use the term “baked-in” to describe apps that use the learning component as the main aspect of the game. “It means the educational elements aren't separate from the fun — as in, do a bunch of math problems and now play this racing game,” she says. “It should be more exploratory than didactic.”
Looking for the best learning app for preschoolers? Here are 19 to get you started.
1. Learn With Homer, Free
Preschoolers will brush up on their reading skills in Learn With Homer, an app that features stories, songs and phonics.
2. Khan Academy Kids, Free
For a huge database of games and activities pulling from Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework and Common Core standards, Elgersma recommends Khan Academy Kids.
3. Teach Me: Preschool/Toddler, $0.99
Lori Getz, a cyber education consultant and author of "The Tech Savvy User's Guide to the Digital World," is a fan of all the Teach Me apps — including Teach Me: Preschool/Toddler.
“The Teach Me apps are all educational and help reinforce age-appropriate subjects,” Getz says. “Also, I like that they’re not so engaging that kids want to play them for hours — because five minutes or so of app time is enough at this age.”
4. Alien Buddies, $2.99
For help with pre-reading and basic math skills for preschoolers, check out Alien Buddies, which uses — what else? — cute aliens to teach kids.
5. Metamorphabet, $4.99
A favorite preschool app of Elgersma’s is Metamorphabet, which lets preschoolers practice letters before they transform into items that start with that letter.
“Metamorphabet really uses the screen to its full benefit, since this isn’t something kids can experience in the real world,” she says.
6. Hungry Caterpillar Play School, $50 for a yearly subscription
Similar to ABCMouse.com, Hungry Caterpillar Play School offers preschoolers a wide variety of games and activities that cover every subject. And, of course, it features Eric Carle’s beloved Hungry Caterpillar.
7. ABCMouse.com, $80 for a full-year membership with complete access
Getz, who recommends always checking Common Sense Media before downloading, is also a fan of the ABCMouse.com apps, which offer an array of in-house activities and games, covering everything from math, language, art, music and reading.
8. Epic!, $7.99 a month
Another favorite preschool app of Getz’s is Epic!, which reads kids stories aloud, while highlighting the words along the way.
9. Faces iMake Premium, $1.99
Children can create silly faces by using real-life items, such as fruit, balloons and buttons. The cutest part? Faces iMake lets kids send their creations to family members.
10. Tiny Robot Maker, $1.99
Add a little hands-on fun to your child’s screen time with Tiny Robot Maker. This app lets preschoolers design their own robots and then print them out into coloring pages.
11. Drawnimal, $1.99
Not only is Drawnimal gorgeous to look at, it teaches kids to draw animals — wait for it — with a pen and paper! Another bonus? It helps kids recognize letters.
12. RelationShapes, Free
Want to get in on the fun of your preschooler’s app play? There are a number to choose from, including RelationShapes, which helps create a foundation of math skills. And while it’s understandable why parents would want to quickly get a few things done while their kiddo stays put on their tablet or phone, keep in mind, there are benefits to engaging your child during his screen time.
“Co-play with parents can be beneficial for young learners, not just for the bonding experience, but also so parents can provide tailored guidance and feedback to the child as they play,” says Melissa Callaghan, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, who studies the design of educational apps for kids. “It’s good when parents can help explain outcomes that aren’t quite clear from the app, as well as provide support for progressing through difficult tasks. Sometimes children need extra encouragement when things get hard!”
If you can’t sit down next to your child while they’re playing, inquire about what they’re doing during and after.
“Every time your child plays an app, ask them about it and help them make connections to experiences off-screen,” Elgersma says. “It will enhance potential learning benefits, especially for little kids.”
13. Daniel Tiger’s Day and Night, $2.99
From Good Morning games to Good Night activities and songs, Daniel Tiger’s Day and Night app helps kids with their daily routines.
14. Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings, $2.99
With the help of Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings, kids can explore emotions in a constructive and safe way.
15. AlphaTots, $2.99
Through puzzles, songs and games, AlphaTots offers kids creative and interactive tools to learn the alphabet.
16. Fiete Farm, $2.99
From sunrise to sunset, kids will learn about all the daily tasks that need to be performed on a farm in Fiete Farm. Also, it’s super cute!
17. Duckie Deck Trash Toys, $2.99
Want your preschooler to learn the importance of recycling and upcycling? Check out Duckie Deck Trash Toys, which helps little ones create art by virtually upcycling materials.
18. Peppy Pals, $3.99
Elgersma also recommends Peppy Pals, which allows kids to help four animal friends navigate the world of emotions.
19. Toca Nature, $3.99
Another favorite of Elgersma’s is Toca Nature, which invites kids to engage in open-ended play in a virtual forest. Plant trees, examine deer, collect berries — preschoolers can do it all in this app — all at the touch of a screen.
Read next: 20 free toddler apps worth downloading
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