We’re so happy to kick off our 2014 back to school tech guide with one of our favorite, and most requested categories: The best educational apps for preschoolers.

Now just because your little one isn’t in official Big Kid school yet doesn’t mean they can’t get in on the fun of cool, educational apps.There are tons of preschool apps out there from which to choose. The thing is, some of them are meh at best. They might be high on design quality, but way low on educational content. Or really knocking it out of the park with the learning piece, but failing on the overall user experience. So we’ve combed through a ton of new apps this past year, as well the Cool Mom Tech archives for some favorites, and culled down the 12 best preschool apps for iOS and Android users right now. Happy learning! (Or…playing. Shhhh.)


Best Educational Apps for Preschoolers to Teach Phonics and Letters

Best educational apps for preschoolers: AlphaTots app teaches letters and phonics

Alpha Tots app
This award-winning app, and a past favorite pick of ours, uses action verbs to teach kids the alphabet (B is for building) plus phonics. There are also puzzles, interactive mini-games, and a sing-a-long song built around the ABCs. The design is bright and fun, while the navigation is easy. There are no in-app purchases to worry about and no third-party ads popping up to interrupt your youngster’s good time. (Available on iTunes and Google Play for $2.99.)


Best apps for preschoolers: Endless Alphabet app makes letters fun

Endless Alphabet app 
We’ve talked about our  endless love for this crowd favorite before, and the love affair continues. The clever app teaches kids their ABCs using grown-up words like hilarious, making it a spelling and vocab-building tool as well. So get ready for some rather gargantuan words coming out of your tiny 3-year-old’s mouth, which can end up being pretty … hilarious. You have been warned. (Available on iTunes for $6.99 and at the Amazon App Store for $4.99. It’s a free download for Android on Google Play and at the Windows Store for A-C then $4.99 for the rest .)


Best Educational Apps for Preschoolers to Teach Reading and Writing

Best apps for preschoolers to teach reading and writing: Reading Rainbow app

Reading Rainbow app
When the beloved show launched this app for tablets two years ago, it became the most downloaded educational app on iTunes in just 36 hours — literally an overnight success — and it’s still crazy popular for good reason. Your kids can access hundreds of quality books, head out on video field trips with longtime show host Lavar Burton, or explore themed islands such Animal Kingdom (above). Parents can track what their kids have been reading and leaning and how much time was spent with the books. There’s also a tips section to help parents share in their kids’ reading adventures. (Free download on iTunes for iOS and on Amazon for Kindle Fire. )


Best apps for preschoolers to teach reading and writing: Learn with Homer app

Learn With Homer app 
With its cute characters, sweet stories, fun drawings, and darling songs, this learn-to-read app for the 3- to 6-year-old set continues to charm us and our kids. Created by literacy experts, the engaging, well-thought out app also incorporates Common Core literacy standards.  There are more traditional phonics lessons and exercises here, too, but it’s the level of interactivity that we like most. Kids can record their own voices talking about what they’ve learned with Homer. Another plus is, you can have up to three separate accounts on the same app, making it easy for parents to track individual progress. Also: no sibling bickering. Think you’ve earned your stay around here, lil bird. (Free download for iOS on iTunes.)


Best apps for preschoolers to teach writing: Writing Wizard app

Writing Wizard app
It always makes me proud-giggle when I see my 5-year-old son writing. Like, actually writing.  Sure, sometimes the lower case “t” towers over the capital letters, but, hey, the guy was a cooing baby not too long ago, so this is all progress. The cool thing about Writing Wizard is that it uses animated stickers, games, and audio and video prompts to help kids trace the alphabet while learning each letter’s phonetic sound. Kids can also add their own words to trace, such as their names. The app is highly customizable, and parents can adjust the letter size or the show-hide modes. (Available on iTunes for $2.99.)


Best Educational Apps for Preschoolers to Teach Math, Numbers and Shapes

Best apps for preschoolers to teach counting: Elmos Loves 123s app

Elmo Loves 123s app
We tend to gravitate towards indie developers, but let’s be frank: Preschoolers love them some Elmo, Sesame Workshop tends to do things right. In this app, the ubiquitous furry, red friend of preschoolers everywhere teaches the four-and-under set how to count from 1 to 20. Along with his bestie Abby, Elmo uses fun videos and games to get young minds focused on numbers and counting. There’s also a parents-only screen where grown-ups and caregivers can check up on how long their kids played and which activities and numbers they covered. (Available on iTunes and Amazon App store for $4.99 )


Best apps for preschoolers to teach math and counting: Doodle Critter Math Shapes app

Doodle Critter Math app: Shapes
This app teaches kids about the six key shapes, from circles to hexagons,  through a series of  fun games, puzzles and activities. It’s colorful, easy and definitely fun. The design is sharp, with just the right amount of business to keep kids interested. I suspect kids will be dazzled by the animated shapes as they shift and join forces to become other things, like pictures of animals. The app also helps kids learn how to draw the shapes for themselves. (Available on iTunes for $2.99.)


Best apps for preschoolers to teach math and counting: Bugs and Numbers app

Bugs and Numbers app
Most kids I know seem to be super into bugs. So here comes an app that brings creepy crawlies together with math learning. It’s comprised of 18 different games and activities that basically cover math skills from preschool to early elementary, taking you from basic counting to beginner fractions. But it’s not overwhelming for younger kids, since it’s divvied up into three clear sections. For example, the first six games work on preschooler skills and the next set of six cover kindergarten math. Plus, it’s promoted as Common Core-friendly. However, it’s the brilliant graphics on this app that will likely push it to the top of kids’ — and parents’ — list of faves. (Available on iTunes for $2.99.)


Best apps for preschoolers to teach basic math skills:  Moose Math by Duck Duck Moose

Moose Math app
This app fits right into the Duck Duck Moose family of apps with cute and familiar animals leading the lessons. It’s a great intro to early math, with counting, adding, subtracting, sorting, and even getting into some geometry. There are five multi-level activities that encourage young minds to reason and make decisions so that they can build and decorate their own little cities in the app. This is another one with the parents-only screen allowing grown-ups to get “report card” on their kids’ progress: the skills they’ve mastered and the ones they need to work on and improve. There’s no third-party advertising here either, so your child’s personal info is safe and private. (Available on iTunes and the Amazon App store for $1.99, and on Google Play for $0.99.)


Best Educational Apps for Preschoolers for Overall Fun and Learning

Cool Mom Tech best apps for preschoolers: Beck and Bo app

Beck and Bo app
It’s “A” for Adventure when it comes to this duo. Designed specifically for preschoolers, the app follows Beck and Bo as they head off to interesting, fun places. It’s got animals, food, a pet dog, trains, taxis, the beach parks, and even a trampoline all at a toddler fingertips ready to be moved here, there and everywhere by simple drag-and-drop. Young kids will enjoy creating and manipulating the scenery while checking out all of the cool interactive objects. The design here is fun and colorful. My only issue is that I would have liked to see either Beck or Bo rendered as a child of color. Diversity and representation in kids’ media is crucial, especially with young minds seeing the world with fresh eyes. (Available on iTunes and the Amazon App store for $2.99.)

Cool Mom Tech best educational apps for preschoolers: Leo's Pad Preschool Kids Learning Series

Leo’s Pad: Preschool Learning Series
This animated story app follows a young Leonardo Da Vinci and his famous historical friends through interactive adventures. (Gally is the kid version of Galileo and there’s also Marie, as in Marie Curie – get it?)  It’s basically a series of appisodes, which means the action in the story stops periodically so that the user can get involved and play the games embedded in the story. Kind of like an enhanced Choose Your Own Adventure. This adaptive gameplay makes Leo’s Pad feel totally fresh and somewhat futuristic. The dynamic visuals instantly draw you in and the smart storytelling keep you there, engrossed. The Parent Pad allows you to track your kid’s progress, showing you the different skills — reading, arts, math, reasoning, creativity — that they are developing from playing the app. (Free download on iTunes.)

Cool Mom Tech best educational apps for preschoolers: Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood  app

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Play at Home with Daniel
Here, kids get a chance to experience a day in the life of the friendliest tiger in town. The idea is that as they play, they’ll discover how similar some of their routines are to Daniel Tiger’s. For instance, helping Daniel get ready for bedtime, they can see how they do many of the same things, too. Although the actual lessons ‘n’ learning piece is on the thin side with this app, the familiarity of PBS Kids’ popular character and the fun of pretend-play makes it a good choice for the 3-year-old Daniel Tiger fan in your home. (Available on iTunes and Google Play for for $1.99.)

Fore more great educational apps and everything else you and your kids need to kick off the new school year, keep an eye on the rest of our back to school tech guide, and visit the Cool Mom Picks back to school guide series too.


More from our 2014 Back to School Tech Guide 
10 of the best organizational apps for parents
16 best math apps for kids of all ages
11 of the Best reading apps for kids
16 best science apps for kids of all ages