The Must Have Apps for Kids 5 and Under

Younger kids want to play on tablets and smartphones, too

Toddler using tablet

When it comes to screen time, our tablets and smartphones have a great advantage over the television: they are interactive. And better, we can interact with our kids while they are playing, which has been shown to aid in learning.

In fact, recent studies have shown that smartphones and tablets can be just as effective of learning aids as 'real world' counterparts like books for children as young as 2-years-old? And The American Academy of Pediatrics recently relaxed their guidelines on 'screen time' for kids, allowing for 1-2 hours of screen time depending on the age of the child. The question becomes which are the best apps for toddlers, Pre-K and Kindergarteners? And that's where we have you covered.

Great Apps for Learning Numbers

Sesame Street

Elmo Loves 123s

Elmo holds that special place for us adults and an absolute best friend for many toddlers. This makes him a great way to introduce a child to numbers. The lessons include tracing the numbers and great reinforcement and are centered around the Sesame Street characters we've all grown to know and love.

Moose Math

A great app from Duck Duck Moose, kids will have fun going on adventures with Moose Math. The games are engaging enough that preschoolers will have a blast counting out fruit for blending some juice and playing games like math bingo.

Best Apps for Learning Letters

Originator Inc.

Endless Alphabet

Despite a hefty $8.99 in-app purchase to unlock all the content, Endless Alphabet makes the list because it is among the best apps at reinforcing phonetics and can be used as an excellent teaching tool. The app spreads letters on the screen like a puzzle, with the child putting the puzzle together by moving the letters into place and forming a word. While the letter is being moved it repeats its phonetic sound, and when it is put in place, the app says both the letter name and the phonetic sound it makes.

One great way to use this app is to ask your child to pick out a particular letter. The app can be great for two and three-year-olds to learn their letters and can help kickstart four and five-year-olds into reading.

Starfall ABCs

If you aren't quite ready to commit to a large in-app purchase, Starfall ABCs is a great app for kids just starting out with the ABCs. There are plenty of games and activities, the animations are engaging and the app does a great job of emphasizing both letter names and phonetics.

Safe Apps for Streaming Video

PBS

PBS Kids

PBS has the most amazing kid-friendly (and parent-friendly!) content available. And best of all, much of it is both free and not plastered with advertisements. PBS is also known for having great messages for kids like Daniel Tiger teaching kids to share or to try different foods because they might like it.

This entry is actually two apps: PBS Kids Video, which is basically Netflix with Curious George, Daniel Tiger, Wild Kratts, Super Why!, Elmo, Dr. Seuss  and other well-known characters. And Play PBS Kids Games, a fun arcade with dozens of games based on the PBS characters. Both are great for kids aged two to five.

Sesame Street

Sesame Street needs little introduction for most of us. The Sesame Street app includes clips with our favorite characters from Elmo to Big Bird to Bert and Ernie. Instead of traditional categories, the videos are broken down by character, so your kid can quickly find their favorites. There are also a few fun interactive games that can help teach numbers and letters.

Interactive Fun for Kids

TabTale

The Wheels on the Bus by TabTale

A great mixture of fun games, this Wheels on the Bus game is great for kids two to three years old. The games include educational offerings such as peekaboo letters, which features letters hiding behind objects, and Happy Math, a fun game that will have your toddler counting objects. Best of all, the "lite" version contains enough content to keep most kids happy for a while.

Moo, Baa, La La La!

While it is important for all kids to have a collection of real books that they can handle, flip through, stare at the pictures and slowly learn to read using, a few interactive books on mobile devices can add to the fun. Sandra Boynton books bridge that gap where they are fun for kids and fun to read for adults, so it isn't surprising one of her best books makes for a great interactive app. You can also buy interactive versions of Barnyard Dance, The Going to Bed Book and other great Sandra Boynton titles.

Safe and Engaging Games

Toca Boca

Toca Anything

The thing that sets a smartphone or tablet apart from a television is the level of interaction a kid can have with a mobile device instead of simply staring at the screen. And that's never more evident than with Toca Boca's line of apps. There's no dressing these apps up as educational, although some apps like Toca Kitchen may reinforce math skills. These apps about exploration and entertainment, which is sometimes the best thing for kids (and parents!).

Some of the best Toca apps include Toca Kitchen, Toca Life: Town and Toca Lab: Elements.

  • Best for Ages: 3-5
  • Price: Varies but usually $2.99 for single games
  • Available on: Android, iPhone/iPad and Kindle Fire tablets. Search the app stores for "Toca Boca" to bring up the apps.

Sago Mini Forest Flyer

Sago Mini is a great introduction to gaming and interactive fun for toddlers. There is plenty here for them to explore and do from uncovering surprises hiding behind leaves to exploring a winter version of the forest. The emphasis here is on good, safe fun for younger kids who will enjoy uncovering all of the hidden animations, and while the content may seem limited to adults, our young ones will love exploring the forest over and over again.