With back to school right around the corner, or as we’re calling it “back to schooling,” we’re trying to help you feel as empowered as you can when it comes to figuring out your child’s educational plans this year during this difficult time. Trust us, we’re right there with you.
So over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of our favorite educational apps for kids of all ages, as well as tips, tricks, and advice (plus some cool gadget round-ups) to help make this fall easier for you, whatever your decision for your schooling might be.
First up: reading apps for preschoolers and little kids. I always assumed my 3-year-old would learn to read at school, but pandemic school closures have me improvising. So I’ve been so grateful to find so many great apps that help kids learn to read through games and simple lessons, from nailing their ABCs to trying out phonics to practicing reading simple stories.
So whether you’ve decided to up your homeschooling game, or you’re just looking to supplement and maintain what your kid is learning in the classroom, these apps have you covered.
Imagine a more interactive version of Sesame Street, and you’ll have this app. Elmo guides kids through each step, like tracing letters or searching for objects that start with that letter. It also features videos that define some of the words, like a video of a real astronaut for the letter A. I think kids will love seeing a familiar face as they learn. ($4.99)
This app keeps it simple, but I can attest that my preschooler loves it. A word appears and the letters scramble, and then kids have to drag each letter back to its spot. When they hold down and drag a letter, the kids hear the letter’s sound repeated. Then the narrator defines each word using a short illustration. ($8.99)
Right off the bat, the HOMER reading app asks you, the parent, about your child’s exact comprehension levels to tailor a set of games just for them. I also like that each child has a customized “learning path,” that moves them along as they master each skill, instead of being able to choose games at random. Plus, I like the specificity of the games, like one that helps kids match lowercase and uppercase letters. This one’s not cheap, but if you’re looking for a good all-in-one learning to read app, this is a great option. ($9.99/month)
This game teaches kids to arrange letters into words using their sounds. It shows the kid a picture of an item — a cat or a hug — and then gives them a blank spot where each letter should go. If they press the spot, it will make the letter sound, and then kids can drag the letters into the spots to form the word. As kids learn, they can start choosing crosswords with several words instead of just one. ($2.99)
Related: 17 of the best reading apps for kids
This app features a whole slue of games for little kids at different levels — from basic letter tracing and recognition, to hearing and identifying sight words. You can also adjust the settings from pre-k up to 3rd grade.That means this app could last you a few years — or a few kids — rather than forcing you to download a new one each time that your kid levels-up, skill-wise. The cartoons are charming, but I did find it annoying that my son had to watch an intro for each “island” every time he wanted to return to a game he’d been playing. ($5.49/month)
This app focuses on teaching kids the sounds that each letter makes, using several fun matching games. It also teaches them how to trace each letter. This one’s pretty basic, but it could be helpful for a kid who needs to really hone in on phonics. Kids can graduate to Reading Raven Vol. 2 (a separate app) once they’ve mastered this skill set. ($2.99)
This app focuses exclusively on letter sounds, which is great if you have a kid who’s clearing that particular developmental hurdle. It starts very simple, with just showing kids an image of an object that starts with a certain letter — like apple for A — and then plays the “a” sound. Once kids learn this, they can play a matching game using their knowledge. (Free)
This app had some of the most engaging animations and characters, which is no surprise since it’s made by Nickelodeon. It offers a handful of games, which all really do feel like games, from a word hunt in a cartoon forest to a game that uses rhyming to build a tower. ($1.99)
Best apps for practicing reading:
Skybrary is the modern iteration of Reading Rainbow, with a whole library full of books at different reading levels. Kids can choose whether they want to read the ebooks themselves or have them read aloud (in Levar Burton’s voice, aw!), which makes them a good option for kids who want practice but also might need help with some stories. It also features a few simple games and educational videos. This is a great one if you aren’t comfortable going to the library during pandemic times. ($4.99/month)
Endless reader is the older sister app to Endless Alphabet. If your child has graduated from learning their ABCs and letter sounds, check this one out. It helps kids understand how those letters form words and how those words fit into sentences. Once they drag the sight words into the correct spot in the sentence, the narrator reads it aloud and plays a video that illustrates what the sentence means. ($4.99)
This app helps kids recognize letters and their sounds, while also placing them in the context of simple sentences. Once they’ve matched the letters in the words, they can watch the illustration play out. It’s a great way to help kids put the pieces together. ($2.99)