The Best Phonics Toys for Preschoolers Mean You Can Ditch the Flash Cards

With four learning modes, the LeapFrog My Own Leaptop is fun and educational

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Phonics toys allow kids to explore letters and sounds in a fun, relaxed way, which may help make the complicated skill of reading a little less challenging. Kids develop the understanding that when these letters are put together, they make words, and that these words can be sounded out when reading. Through a lot of repetition and practice, these phonics skills form the foundation for reading and writing. 

Reviewed & Approved

The LeapFrog My Own Leaptop is a child-sized toy laptop that teaches the alphabet, sounds of letters, words, and let’s children engage with dog Scout. For a budget-friendly option, we recommend the LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set.

A good phonics toy should be challenging for your child, but not frustrating, so check for any age recommendations and match your child's skill level. We carefully considered design, entertainment value, age recommendations, toy safety, and price value when reviewing products.

Here are the best phonics toys for preschoolers.

Best Overall: LeapFrog My Own Leaptop

LeapFrog My Own Leaptop

Walmart

Pros
  • Teaches children how to spell their name

  • Four learning modes

Cons
  • No headphone jack

  • Only available in English

What do buyers say? 92% of 20,400+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.

The LeapFrog My Own Leaptop ranks high on our list because this education laptop is designed for young children to enjoy. Children ages 2 to 4 years old will learn about the alphabet, how to spell their name, and more on this pretend play computer.

Dance along to 16 songs and watch your child learn through four different gaming modes: ABCs, Messages, Games, and Music. The laptop teaches the alphabet, sounds of letters, words, let’s children engage with Scout while also playing fun learning games to keep their mind sharp.

Best Budget: LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set

LeapFrog Fridge Phonics
LeapFrog
Pros
  • Budget-friendly

  • 26 interactive alphabet tiles

Cons
  • Only offers English

  • No storage bag for magnets

This is a great first phonics toy for younger children who are learning to identify uppercase letters and their corresponding letter sounds. It is small, portable, and even includes a magnetic backing to be placed on the front of the refrigerator, on a metal door, or on a magnetic whiteboard. Children choose a letter, use their hands to maneuver it into place just like a puzzle, then push it to hear the letter and letter sound through a short song.

Best Splurge: LeapFrog LeapPad Educational Tablets

LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra XDi
LeapFrog
Pros
  • Teacher-approved websites

  • Educational games/activities

Cons
  • Some tablets need Wi-Fi

  • Costly

Educational tablets in the LeapFrog LeapPad series provide children with phonics games and activities using a durable, touchscreen tablet. Kids play games through individual cartridges or by downloading apps from the LeapFrog App Center. Kids can safely surf the internet on teacher-approved websites. There are a variety of LeapPad tablets of varying price ranges, that include the LeapFrog EPIC and LeapFrog Platinum tablets. Parents and gift-givers can choose a tablet with different features that is the best size and experience for their child. 

Best for Reading: LeapFrog LeapReader

LeapFrog LeapReader
©LeapFrog
Pros
  • Large stylus pen

  • Several different book options

Cons
  • Only English versions available in U.S.

  • Pen does not actually write

LeapReader books are amazing. A LeapReader (previous known as the TAG reader), is a large stylus pen. Kids can touch the pen to the pages of the book and learn vocabulary words, how to sound out words, and answer questions by playing reading comprehension games. This toy will grow with your child as their skills advance. The pen is also able to read entire books out loud and on special paper, kids can also use it to learn to write. Many LeapReader books include popular children's titles from Dr. Seuss such as The Cat in the Hat or stories featuring Disney characters. The LeapReader Jr. (formerly known as the TAG Jr.) is for younger children ages 1-3 and uses durable board books.

Best for Independent Learning: Educational Insights Pete the Cat Hot Dots

Pete the Cat Hot Dots Jr.
Educational insights
Pros
  • Promotes independent learning

  • Red/Green lights responsive for correct/incorrect answers

Cons
  • Pen does not read questions

  • No headphone jack

Pete the Cat is a famous friend of preschoolers. Kids love when their teachers and parents read Pete the Cat books. Using spiral-bound books with beautiful illustrations, featuring Pete the Cat and friends, kids can answer multiple-choice questions using the stylus pen. Placing the pen on the correct dot will either make lights and sounds or both to indicate whether the choice was correct or incorrect. Parents should work together with their children using these workbooks, as some children may not be able to read the questions.

Best for Educational Games: VTech InnoTab Educational Tablets

New InnoTab Max Android Tablet for Kids
VTech
Pros
  • Can be personalized

  • Up to six hours of battery life

Cons
  • Memory card not included

Educational learning tablets such as the VTech InnoTab series of tablets also encourage children to play letter and phonics games utilizing a durable touchscreen. Games are downloaded online through the Learning Lodge or with cartridges purchased at retail stores. With these tablets, children can browse the internet, watch videos and text family members through a secure connection with teacher-approved websites VTech also has an Android-based tablet, the InnoTab MAX.

Best for Beginners: VTech Lil' SmartTop

VTech Lil' SmartTop

Amazon

Pros
  • Budget-friendly

  • Four modes of play

Cons
  • Only available in English

  • Screen is not backlit

If you're wanting a phonics toy that's great for beginners, check out this toy from VTech. Shaped like a laptop, children ages 18 months old and up can enjoy four modes of play that teach stories, shapes, letters, phonics, and music. Within those four modes of play, there's 20 melodies and 10 different activities.

There's also a built-in handle, so children can transport the toy wherever they go with ease. It requires two AA batteries and comes with a USB cable to hook up to a computer for more personalization.

Final Verdict

With our best overall pick, the LeapFrog My Own Leaptop (view at Amazon), kids can dance along to 16 songs and learn through four different gaming modes: ABCs, Messages, Games, and Music. There’s also the VTech InnoTab Educational Tablets (view on Amazon), which are a series of tablets that encourage children to play letter and phonics games on a durable touchscreen. Download games online through the Learning Lodge or use cartridges purchased at retail stores.

What to Look for in Phonics Toys for Preschoolers

Entertainment Value

Whether your child will be using their phonics toy with you or by themselves, you want a toy that’s entertaining. Look for a toy that not only hits the mark educationally for your child, but also features games and activities that your child enjoys. At this age, learning should be fun.

Some phonics toys also come with a camera function. Most kids will love the opportunity to take pictures just like their parents and big siblings do!

Age-Appropriateness

Before buying a phonics toy, you want to ensure it’s age-appropriate for your child. Check the manufacturer’s age recommendation before purchasing, but also consider your child’s learning level. 

If your child is behind on learning the alphabet or needs some extra support, consider a phonics toy that focuses on letters and their sounds. Or, if they are ready to sound out words, look for a toy that lets them do that. Overall, you want a toy that meets your child where they are, but encourages them to learn and grow.

Level of Challenge

A good phonics toy should be challenging for your child, but not frustrating. You want to encourage your child to continue learning and adding to what they already know. But if the toy's games and activities are way too difficult for your child, they may become discouraged and lose interest in the toy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you teach phonics?

    Start by teaching your child the sounds that the letters make. Only teach short vowel sounds to start. Next, teach them to blend sounds together with simple, three-letter words that are spelled phonetically, such as "bed," "mom," or "cat." Later, you can teach your child how to combine consonants, such as in /th/ or /sh/, and to combine vowels to make long vowel sounds.

  • What are the benefits of phonics?

    Phonics gives children the tools they need to decode written language. With a solid understanding of phonics, kids can figure out how to read and say words that they have never seen before. This skill is essential for your child to be a true reader.

  • Why is phonics important in teaching reading?

    Phonics is the backbone of learning to read. When children can identity phonemes, or parts of words, they can string them together to decipher whole words. Kids who have a solid understanding of phonics and who have sight words memorized will be strong readers.

  • Why is phonics important in the early years?

    Learning phonics in the early years prepares children to master reading and writing as they grow and develop. A preschooler who knows all the letter sounds will more easily grasp how to blend sounds to form words in kindergarten.

    Learning to read works best when kids master each skill before applying the next, such as learning letter sounds before combining them into words, sentences, and finally whole stories.

  • How does phonics contribute to reading success?


    Reading is more than just memorizing words. A strong reader uses their knowledge of language to decipher new words and figure out what they might mean. Phonics is the first step of reading and comprehension. Kids who master letter sounds and their combinations are best prepared to continue to improve as readers.

Why Trust Verywell Family

Katrina Cossey has been a digital content producer and news and feature writer for more than six years. She has covered local and national news as well as writing and researching parenting topics. Katrina is a parent herself, and bought the LeapFrog LeapReader for a young family member. She loved how the large stylus pen taught children vocabulary words and how to sound them out.