The 7 Best Learn to Read Apps of 2020

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Our Top Picks

Learn to read apps are just the latest iteration of at-home reading lessons that have been around for decades. Where earlier generations learned from workbooks and videotapes, today’s toddlers can try out fun activities with their families with just a single tap on a tablet. There are dozens of apps on the market now, but a few stand head and shoulders above the rest.

From the top tools for young children to the best ones for homeschoolers, there's an option out there to meet your needs.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: ABCMouse

ABCMouse

ABCMouse

There’s a reason ABCMouse is a longtime favorite for families with young children just learning to read. The interactive app offers thousands of activities to help develop this crucial skill.

Although ABCMouse does have a sub-section called Adventure Academy, its crown jewel is its learn to read program for kids ages 2 to 8. More than 850 lessons span 10 levels in the company's signature "Step-by-Step Learning Path." Each step builds on the previous one to help kids master their reading skills through fun, colorful activities, and there’s no need to spend time trying to sift through lessons to find the "right" one: Kids can "play" straight through the linked lesson path.

The program does offer a 30-day free trial, but the cost after that is around $10 per month. Families who purchase a full year’s subscription can get almost 50% off the price. The app is comprehensive, with lessons that also expose students to math, arts, and science at age-appropriate levels. For young kids looking to make learning fun, ABCMouse is a strong and fairly affordable option.

Best Free: Starfall

Starfall Learn to Read

Starfall Learn to Read

The longtime staple of "learn to read" websites is now an app—and, even better, it’s free. Starfall, a nonprofit that’s been teaching reading on its website since 2002, has transformed its curriculum to the app format.

"Zac the Rat" shepherds young children through their first phonics lessons, starting with vowel sounds and super simple examples. Along with straightforward reading sessions, there are fun games and activities for kids to play, letting them reinforce their learning while not really feeling like they’re "learning" at all.

Kids can "meet" and read with a variety of charming animal characters, with each lesson teaching a different sound or language skill. Plus, they don’t have to stop using Starfall after they’ve graduated past basic phonics and alphabet lessons.

There’s also "It’s Fun to Read" and "Let’s Read" for elementary school students, gradually increasing the difficulty to help students continue improving their language skills. By the time they’re at the most advanced levels, they’re not only getting reading tips, but being introduced to fables, myths, nonfiction, and more genres of literature.

Best for Elementary School: Homer

Homer

Homer

Homer is geared at toddlers to elementary school students (specifically, ages 2 to 8), but it takes a slightly different approach.

Instead of a one-size-fits-most approach, Homer customizes learning plans and allows students to take the lead in deciding what they want to work on. The system starts out by teaching toddlers the basics of identifying letters and numbers and works up through early elementary reading passages. Kids get to choose from over 20 topic areas they’re interested in, and the app combines their reading needs with their favorite topics to produce a customized learning plan.

Like other kid-centric reading apps, Homer uses a game-like interface to keep kids engaged and interested. There are two main options for users: working through the lesson plan that the app has put together, or the "practice" mode, which allows students to revisit their favorite activities or spend a little extra time on concepts to really master them. The price point is in line with similar apps: about $8 per month after a free trial, or roughly $59 for a full year.

Best for Homeschoolers: Hooked on Phonics

Hooked on Phonics

Hooked on Phonics

Hooked on Phonics is one of the most popular brands for teaching kids to read, and its integrated system makes it an ideal option for students who are being homeschooled.

The company has been around since the pre-internet days, where it mostly focused on physical learning materials like books, flashcards, and worksheets. Now, it’s a multimedia learning platform that still uses the same tried-and-true techniques for teaching kids to read, but with more interactive options than ever before.

The Learn to Read app is just the baseline when families subscribe. They also get workbooks, books to read, questions and activities, and more. Through a series of fun activities, videos, and even songs, children are introduced to each new concept. Then, interactive games and puzzles help kids practice before they try their hand at reading the corresponding texts.

There’s even a built-in reward system to encourage more achievements. The system is a little bit pricier than other apps (about $13 per month after a trial month for roughly $1), but the higher price point does include more products than just the app itself.

Best for Basics: Reading Raven

Reading Raven

Reading Raven

The interactive app Reading Raven is designed not just to teach the basics, but to help kids ages 3 to 7 get a strong start with reading and loving it. It’s a phonics-based curriculum that starts out with interactive games teaching kids to recognize and trace letters.

As a bonus, the multisensory approach to the games builds hand-eye coordination and listening skills along with reading skills. It’s a multifaceted way to build a strong foundation for reading comprehension from the very beginning.

By choosing which "adventures" kids can go on, families can customize the learning experience for each grade level. A 3-year-old, for instance, can play games focused on letter sounds and work up to word matching, while a 5-year-old might try an activity putting word groups together.

It’s all interactive and all customizable for what each individual student needs to practice or wants to play. The original app is about $4, and families can get the second volume—with more activities for the same levels—for roughly $3.

Best Supplemental Apps: Skybrary

Skybrary

Skybrary

Skybrary, formerly known as Reading Rainbow, has the benefit of being affiliated with Reading Is Fundamental, a major non-profit organization focused on children’s literacy.

The concept is simple: an interactive digital library within a playful framework that allows young readers to explore topics of their choosing. A wide selection of children's’ books has been curated by experts, and along with the books themselves, there are plenty of supplemental video "adventures" and read-along narration options. Skybrary is a great way to supplement other reading lessons with books your kids will love.

The focus of the app is less on the technical part of reading and more on giving kids a constant supply of new reading material. More importantly, the variety the app provides—and the ability for young readers to choose books about things they’re actually interested in—helps foster a genuine love for reading at an early age, and that’s every bit as important as the actual reading skills.

Pricing currently sits at about $5 per month or roughly $40 for an annual subscription. Note: The app itself is listed as a "free" in app stores, but with "in-app purchases."

Best for Memberships: FarFaria

FarFaria

FarFaria

The setup of FarFaria is as charming as it is perfect for young readers. Across several magical "lands" on a map, readers can explore different topics and themes to find new stories to practice their reading skills on.

It gives readers more control over what they read, and it places reading skills into practical contexts rather than full-fledged games or structured lessons. Readers can either read the books themselves or take advantage of the "read to me" option to have the books read aloud by professional narrators.

FarFaria has two "tiers" of membership: one free and one paid. At the free level, users can get one new story every day, but paid subscribers get unlimited stories, with new stories added every week and the ability to access "favorite" stories even while offline.

Subscription options include a monthly plan at roughly $5 per month, a yearly plan at approximately $50 per year, or $100 for a lifetime subscription. It means that, no matter your price point, you can access new stories to encourage a love of reading.

How We Chose the Best Learn to Read Apps

Learning to read is a very personal journey, but it’s one that every family will need to start at some point, and at-home learning is just as important as structured learning in a traditional classroom.

We wanted to make sure that our picks included the best-reviewed options, and for the most part, we’ve stuck with long-established, tried-and-true names like ABCMouse, Hooked on Phonics, and so on. We’ve also included specific categories for groups of learners that might need something more specialized, such as homeschoolers or the youngest learners.

We’ve also prioritized apps that give students and families more control over their own learning, whether through offering "practice" modules outside of linked lessons or through libraries of books that can be explored at one’s own pace.

Most of the apps here also are useful for more than just one group of students; even the ones targeted specifically at the very youngest learners have related apps or alternate modules that allow students to keep learning through the same program for several years.

What Is a Learn to Read App?

Learn to read apps are mobile apps geared at teaching new readers the basics of reading. In general, they’re typically geared at children, which is what separates them from language learning apps for adults (who are learning to read a second language, not a first one). They’ll typically feature child-friendly activities to introduce basic concepts and slowly build in difficulty, allowing children to practice with curated reading selections and games.

How Much Do Learn to Read Apps Cost?

Like most learning apps, learn to read apps have a variety of prices. Most of them have some form of a subscription service, with many falling in the range of about $8 to $13 per month. There are also apps that allow for one-time purchases, although additional material may require another download. There are even a few free options, from totally free apps to free "tiers" of larger apps. No matter your price point, there’s an app that can work for you.

What Features Do Learn to Read Apps Have?

While every app will, of course, be a little different, most learn to read apps for English-speaking children have some features in common. Since these apps are usually aimed at kids, most of them use colorful activities and "games" to introduce young readers to the most basic concepts. Eventually, most apps will move on to reading longer texts or even have a library of short books to practice reading.

One way that apps may differ is how much control an individual has over the student’s journey. Several apps include features that automatically connect one lesson to the next, while others are more "choose your own adventure" style. Even the preset ones, however, typically have some form of a "practice" feature that lets students work on whatever they particularly need or want to focus on.

There’s also a subcategory of apps that focus specifically on the practice side of things, providing a constant supply of content for young readers to practice on, with the help and encouragement of their families. It’s not just about teaching kids to read: It’s about teaching kids to love to read.

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