Actually educational toddler / preschool apps
July 21, 2015 2:31 PM   Subscribe

There are so many terrible educational apps which seem to be a combination of flash cards / slot machine with in-app purchases or hard to avoid ads. What are your favorite tablet apps which actually have taught your toddler something other than randomly swiping around the screen?

I understand that tablets are never as good as personal interaction for learning, but would like to have my child solving puzzles or doing phonics rather than watching a video when we do let them play with a tablet.

Things I really dislike:
1) Never ending in-app purchases
2) Games where solving the puzzle can be done just by trying all combinations quickly
3) Free games which have ridiculous permissions or ads

I'm fine with paying for apps. So far my child really likes the Toca Boca games, but I'm looking for something a bit more educational. Target age is ~ 4.
posted by benzenedream to Education (21 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
JungleTime was a neat little app that taught my kiddo to read an analog clock.
posted by H. Roark at 2:37 PM on July 21, 2015

My 4 year old likes Bugs and Buttons, which has some alphabet and counting games. Not sure it's actually taught him anything, but no ads and no purchases.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 2:40 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

At 4 your kid may already be beyond this, but we got a lot of joy out of the injini app, which reinforces letters, pattern matching, and lessons like that. It's not cheap, but there is a free trial version, and my son never got bored with it (he's 6 now and still pulls it up once in a while).

We also liked Agnitus and the Lola games (there are more than those two).
posted by Mchelly at 2:47 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites] has been amazing for my kids. It's a subscription model but it's totally worth it.
posted by ramix at 2:51 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Endless Alphabet!! Teaches letter recognition, letter sounds, vocabulary. It's amazing, and the only app my kid really liked for quite a while.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:59 PM on July 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

I don't know if this might be worth a try (from Projects).
posted by billiebee at 3:17 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding Endless Alphabet as the only app my 4 year old has liked. It does one thing but it does it well.
posted by tchemgrrl at 3:53 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Starfall ABCs, Memory Train, Montessori Crosswords, and Stack the States were big hits with the preschooler in my house.
posted by hush at 3:56 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Endless Alphabet and Starfall ABCs both get big ups here for having really focused my preschoolers on letter sounds and letter recognition. Endless ABC also taught them an amusing number of "big words." The other "Endless" apps are also good (although "Alphabet" is by far the best). Both have one-time in-app purchases.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:02 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Monkey Mathschool Sunshine is a good preschool math game. Prior to that, my kid liked the same company's Monkey Preschool Lunchbox (colors, puzzles, counting, first letter of words). TallyTots is great for numbers. Their alphabet one is good too, if your child is still learning ABCs. I also think a couple of open-ended creative apps are good to have around, like Drawing Pad for drawing and Toontastic for storytellling.
posted by xo at 5:04 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Websites instead:
Starfall, and Reading Eggs.
The latter has a 2 week trial. Sign up for the trial a couple of times to see how you like it, but it was really useful a few years ago.
posted by Elysum at 5:33 PM on July 21, 2015

We really like the Pepi Play apps and have them all. There are no in app purchases and as my daughter's skills have grown (we've had them since she was two, she's nearly three now) she has been interested in different aspects of the games and got more out of them, rather than getting bored. Pepi Ride (you decorate and then race a car around different tracks) is fun even for me to play and I'm in my late (sob) thirties.
posted by Wantok at 7:26 PM on July 21, 2015

I liked the Monkey Preschool Games and Endless Alphabet a lot too. Moose Math is a good one, as well as Earth School.
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 8:17 PM on July 21, 2015

My 3.5 year old daughter loves LetterSchool, a beautifully presented letter writing game which comes in US and UK versions. She's also learned something from Joy of Reading, Phonics Island, Aliens & Numbers, and Sight Words (the one that has cogs on the app icon).

She also loves the Nosy Crow interactive stories (Jack and the Beanstalk, Three Little Pigs, Snow White etc). And the Endless games mentioned by several other are excellent and I think really helped her to learn letter sounds at an early age.
posted by tomcooke at 11:35 PM on July 21, 2015

I'll add my vote to Endless Alphabet mentioned above.

As the creator of the Little Spinner app, that billiebee linked to in Projects, I've shared many of the same frustrations with apps for my daughter, in terms of ad-loaded apps, or those that require tonnes of individual purchases.

Some of the content in Little Spinner may be too easy for 4 years old, but he should enjoy the music, undersea, transport and alphabet spinners. He (or you) can also create your own spinners with words you'd like him to learn and you can also add pictures from things around you. Whilst the spinning mechanism is learning through random swiping, there is also the question mode which is more structured. If you unlock the full spinner pack, it gives you access to all the content, including new spinners that are added in the future. There is also a 24 hour free trial to see if it is right for you before committing to a purchase.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 12:22 AM on July 22, 2015

YoJigsaw's jigsaw puzzle app was my kids' favorite from the time they were about 2 until 5. The puzzles start off slowly, but get progressively harder / more complicated. You'll see their spatial and observation skills improve over time.

There are around 150 online albums of images (Everything from Hello Kitty to Pixar) but accessing them requires a data connection. However, you can also tell the program to create puzzles out of images in your device's gallery or Downloads folder. That can be especially fun for young children if they're working with images of themselves, friends or family.

* Android OS
* iOS
* PC / Mac versions are available at their website.

Something of note... I didn't have any issues with the app on my tablet, but at first, on my phone, my kids would swipe their fingers across the free ad (top or bottom) which would launch either my browser or the play store. They quickly learned not to do that, but it was a bit annoying for the first week or two. On a tablet, they had more screen real-estate so they never ran into it.
posted by zarq at 8:24 AM on July 22, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all the excellent recommendations. Any math related apps?
posted by benzenedream at 8:47 AM on July 22, 2015

Response by poster: (Oops, other than Mathschool Sunshine linked above. )
posted by benzenedream at 10:36 AM on July 22, 2015

Best answer: A major study on this just came out. I think the researchers name a few good apps by name.
posted by forkisbetter at 2:35 PM on July 22, 2015

Thinkrolls was really popular around here.
posted by SandiBeech at 4:51 PM on July 22, 2015

For math, I totally recommend Sushi Monster - It's for a little older than 4, though (I think my son first got into it at around 4 1/2, but he is a real numbers-head)
posted by Mchelly at 1:24 PM on July 28, 2015

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