The 8 Best Educational Apps for Preschoolers in 2020

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Our Top Picks

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Khan Academy Kids

Khan Academy Kids

Khan Academy Kids

This junior version of the educational app par excellence (Khan Academy) targets young learners from 3 to 7 years old. It’s a mobile device app that covers math, ELA, logic, and socio-emotional learning by using books, games, songs, and videos. Activities include multiple-choice questions, logic games, storytime, and free drawing. The program is aligned with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes and Common Core standards.

Not only does this app go way beyond the average preschooler app, but the fact that it’s free means that even competitors like ABCMouse (which also presents a comprehensive curriculum) can’t really measure up in terms of access to families of different income ranges. For this reason, Khan Academy Kids has won awards from Common Sense Media and Children’s Technology Review.

Looking for apps for your youngest kids? Check out these best educational apps for toddlers.

Best for Fine Motor Skill Development: Busy Shapes

Busy Shapes

Busy Shapes

Busy Shapes is an app aligned with the Montessori method of self-directed, hands-on learning. As such, it’s perfect for the youngest kids just starting to interact with technology because it’s not rote learning. The app is designed to impact young children’s motor skill development. Using their logic and reasoning skills, kids learning about how objects relate to each other and how they can manipulate them.

Busy Shapes is simple to play. Kids simply drag an object into a hole. They are challenged to match the shape of the object with the corresponding hole, and eventually, another object and hole will appear in a new setting. The challenge increases over time, with multiple objects and holes of different shapes. Most importantly, there are no instructions—it’s all child-directed. Busy Shapes costs $2.99.

Best for Math: Moose Math

Moose Math

Moose Math

Made by Duck Duck Moose, which was acquired in 2016 by educational technology juggernaut Khan Academy, this math app is designed to introduce basic math concepts to young kids. Kids help a moose and his friends do various tasks, such as counting, making smoothies, and finding hidden animals. The games teach concepts related to counting, shapes, addition, and subtraction. 

There are five games at different levels, and kids have to progress through the levels to advance. The games are aligned to Common Core standards for kindergarten math, so it’s best for preschoolers who are preparing to enter elementary school. Parents also can follow their kids’ progress. Best of all, Moose Math is free with no hidden, in-app purchases.

Best for Creative Exploration: Toca Nature

Toca Nature

Toca Nature

Toca Nature is one of the best apps on the market for older preschoolers to engage in open-ended creative exploration. It’s like Minecraft for young kids. Kids get to build natural elements like trees, lakes, and mountains and see what happens when animals populate the areas they’ve built. They construct their scenery by tapping and dragging, which means that the app is best for older preschoolers who have better hand-eye coordination. 

Toca Nature has a calm aura about it, with soothing background music to accompany the scenery. Unlike what happens in real life, this version of nature is appropriate for young children—there are no bears devouring small animals. Kids can feed some animals, though not all of them. Toca Nature costs $3.99.

Best for Reading: Homer Reading: Learn to Read

Homer Reading

Homer Reading

Homer Reading: Learn to Read is a research-based, comprehensive literacy curriculum that creates a personalized program for every child based on what they’re interested in. For example, there’s content about animals, music, poetry, folk tales, and many other subjects. Kids tap on the content they want to learn about and can record their own voices. There’s also a strong phonics component, and kids have the ability to practice tracing letters.

Homer Reading was designed with the Common Core in mind, and thus it provides context. For example, one reviewer explains, “Kids are not only learning what the letter ‘A’ sounds like and that alligator starts with A but also taking virtual field trips to the zoo, where they learn about alligators.” Homer Reading isn’t cheap: it’s $7.99/month, but you get a 30-day free trial and the yearly plan is $44 if you can commit to that.

Most Fun App: The Monster At the End of This Book

The Monster At the End of This Book

The Monster At the End of This Book

This is an interactive version of the classic Sesame Street book from the 1970s in which Grover urges children not to turn the pages so they can stay away from the end of the book, where there is supposedly a monster. Grover reads the pages of the book, but kids tap the screen to turn the pages. Of course, the monster at the end of the book is Grover himself! This ebook version has interactive elements, allowing kids to untie ropes and knock down brick walls.

Besides being a hoot for little kids, The Monster at the End of this Book can present an opportunity for parents to talk to kids about when they feel afraid of something. The app costs $4.99.

Best for Teaching Preschoolers About Routines: Daniel Tiger’s Day and Night

Daniel Tiger’s Day and Night

Daniel Tiger’s Day and Night

One of many great apps offered by PBS Kids, Daniel Tiger’s Day and Night teaches kids about morning and evening routines. Kids are asked to do tasks like getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing their teeth, and in the evening, taking a bath. The app includes eight games revolving around these routines, as well as sing-along songs to make these tasks more fun, and musical timers.

Daniel Tiger Day and Night is especially good for young kids who are particularly disorganized or seem to need more structure in their days. However, it’s great for all kids in terms of learning the importance of hygiene and self-care. The app costs $2.99. 

Best for Imaginary Play: My PlayHome

My PlayHome

My PlayHome

My PlayHome is a completely open-ended virtual dollhouse that encourages young kids to use their imagination to build a family. Kids can choose up to 15 characters with different outfits and hairstyles. The app is also highly interactive - the characters can jump, blow bubbles, build blocks, swing in the backyard, work in the garden, or cook in the kitchen. There are sound effects that make the activities the kids create particularly realistic, such as characters chomping on apples or frying an egg.

One of the best things about My PlayHome is that kids can choose from diverse skin tones to create their family, and decide whether their family is multi-racial or has two moms or dads. While the app is designed to appeal to young kids, even elementary school children seem to love playing it. My PlayHome is $3.99 on iTunes and $2.99 on Amazon.

How We Chose the Educational Apps

We consulted dozens of editorial reviews by relevant publications—like parenting and tech magazines, as well as reviews by non-profit organizations like Common Sense Media and the National Association for the Education of Young Children. We aimed to provide app recommendations for children ages 2 to 5 and to provide a diverse range of categories. In addition, we tested out some of the apps to become familiar with their features. 

Pediatricians’ Recommendations 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screens for children under 18 months, and up to an hour of high-quality screen time from ages 2 to 5. Ideally, parents should watch or engage with media alongside young children. In addition, while apps can be beneficial for learning, they can’t replace traditional toys and free play.

The best educational apps have features that allow children to be actively engaged, not get distracted, and connect the app content to their existing knowledge. Finally, open-ended, choose-your-own-adventure-style apps are more likely to be educational for preschoolers than linear ones because they are child-led instead of app-led.

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