In our family, the policy regarding screen time is blurry, at best. Pre-quarantine, we spent a LOT of time in the car driving, and even though we often use this time to talk and bond, some days we need to use it to decompress. On those days, I allow my almost-4-year-old to use the (insert gasps of horror here) iPad.
If your family doesn’t believe in screen time for children, I completely respect your decision and I hope you choose to leave all the mom-shaming at the door. What’s right for my child certainly isn’t right for all children.
When my husband and I first agreed this was going to be our rule, we decided we would only allow educational apps to be used during this time. I browsed the app store, thinking it would be easy to find the top apps for preschoolers. What I didn’t take into account, though, was the number of apps labeled as “educational” that actually didn’t contain appropriate educational content at all!
I have to admit, it took a lot of trial and error. I’ve paid for and played more preschool iPad games than I care to disclose. Thus, here we are, with a collated list of my favorite apps for preschoolers (best suited for children ages 3–5).
Our subscription services
We use two different subscription-based educational apps, which we pay for monthly. These include:
ABC Mouse is an all-time favorite, and we swear by it for academic growth and FUN. My kiddo loves all the apps included in the package, especially the ABCMouse Learning Videos. For kids between the ages of 3 and 8, this app is a wonderful learning tool.
Hooked On Phonics is a recent subscription for us, which we use mostly for homeschool. There are some elements that my kiddo can play by herself, but this app mostly requires adult support or supervision. This app definitely isn’t right for every preschooler, but I would recommend it for letter sounds and reading.
Non-subscription paid apps
Little 10 Robot has a variety of apps for both preschoolers and older children. Their brilliantly engaging apps teach literacy, math, and writing. These bundles have no in-app purchases, which I love, and are always age-appropriate (in my experience). We currently (frequently) use the following apps by Little Robot:
- AlphaTots Alphabet
- TallyTots Counting
- Goodness Shapes
- Gappy Learns Reading
- Gappy Learns Writing
There are a few Monkey Preschool apps that are similar to ABC Mouse, but without the subscription. We personally have only tried and love this one — Monkey Preschool Fix It. It teaches basic problem-solving skills and reinforces academic concepts like shapes, letters, colors, and numbers, but it brings a unique spin by using these concepts to help “fix” something.
Curious George by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has a series of cute and engaging apps that serve a lot of purposes, and I have to say some of them are my go-to favorites. They do have apps that read the traditional Curious George books, which are great for long car rides. They also have exploratory and educational apps that include letter writing/tracing, exploring the zoo, shapes, and, our favorite, Curious Letters. There is a new subscription app available that seems to encompass the information in all the apps, but we have no personal experience with it.
This creator is a new addition to our collection! The graphics are top-notch, and in our experience, all of these apps for preschoolers are super engaging and fun to use. They have the great benefit of presenting intricate academic concepts (dinosaurs, space, geography) with fun audio for non-readers and friendly graphics that make the material fun and accessible. I highly recommend them! Although there are many, we have only used:
- My First Atlas
- Dinosaurs Like
- What’s in Space?
- How It Works
Sesame Street has both paid and unpaid apps, and all of them are 100% worth it in my opinion. I can always trust Sesame Street or Sesame Studios to provide quality, educational, age-appropriate entertainment. The general Sesame Street app is definitely our favorite. It has cool games and a combination of both old and new videos. We also love the following:
- Elmo Loves ABCs and Elmo Loves 123s
- Breathe, Think, Do
- Elmo’s World
- The Monster at the End of this Book
- Sesame Street Music
Daniel Tiger is my go-to parenting resource for just about everything, a fact that I’m not ashamed of even a little bit. The free Daniel Tiger for Parents app is used frequently in our home as a resource. We purchased the bundle of all the Daniel Tiger apps for my kiddo as our first app purchase, and we love every single one. They are our go-tos for tough or uncertain moments, sensory meltdowns, and tired after-therapy car rides.
An affiliate of Kahn Academy, Duck Duck Moose has an incredible variety of free apps that teach both younger and older kids. Although sometimes they can be a little glitchy, it’s well worth the download. Our favorites are Fish School, Moose Math, and Princess Fairytale Maker. When my kiddo was a little younger, she enjoyed the interactive nursery rhyme apps, especially the Itsy Bitsy Spider.