Life is crazy busy and if you’re a parent, you’re feeling it. Policing your kid’s screen time is probably the last thing on your mind, falling somewhere behind forgetting to pack your kid’s lunch again and frantically googling how to remove Sharpie from painted surfaces. But it’s important stuff, people. Much of the content geared towards kids is meant to entertain or distract, but a few companies focus on creating educational experiences that can make screen time valuable. That’s why the folks at Common Sense Media—a non-profit organization that focuses on child advocacy—create rating guides for all manner of movies, TV shows, apps, books, and even politics. We’ve followed their top-notch recommendations for the best literacy apps that encourage early readers to absorb essential skills like phonics, print awareness, vocabulary, and ABCs. So next time you have to keep Junior occupied with the glow from an electronic device, you won’t worry about whether or not it’ll be time wasted.
Best for: Vocabulary, Word Comprehension
(5 / 5)
Kudos: 2011 Children’s Technology Review Editor’s Choice Award, 2012 KAPI Award for Innovation in Children’s Media—Best Educational Product
This award winning children’s app by Noodleworks is populated by adorable characters and a full menu of animated and draggable features. With Noodlewords, kids can shake, blow, and tap to engage and learn new words. It’s best for emerging readers who are having trouble retaining basic vocabulary and at this point, only the action word sets are available.
Best for: Print Awareness, Emerging Readers
(5 / 5)
Cost: $4.99 (per month)
Kudos: Parent’s Choice Gold Award, Dr. Toy’s 100 Best Winner
Levar Burton is back and ready to help foster the same excitement about books that made Reading Rainbow such a success. Skybrary is Reading Rainbow’s monthly subscription website and app that allows kids to access over 500 digital titles, accompanied by video fieldtrips and interactive animations. Parents have their own dashboard to access information about their child’s progress and get recommendations for new books, which are added weekly. If Reading Rainbow fills you with nostalgia, you should take a look at Skybrary and encourage your children to get into a book.
Best for: Phonics
(5 / 5)
Kudos: Endless App Series has won App Store Editor’s Choice & 2013 App of the Year Runner Up
Originator makes the Endless series of apps, featuring the charming Endless Monsters and some of the most engaging animation out there. Endless Wordplay is an approach to teaching phonics utilizing spelling patterns and rhyming words. Kids never realize they’re reading because the Endless Monsters keep them busy, giggling at their grunting antics and mischievous pranks. Also recommended are the Endless Alphabet and Endless Readers Apps from the same series, which focus on ABCs and sight words. While a free trial is available, it only includes three words–but you can purchase a starter pak for $6.99 that’ll have your kid gobbling up phonics in no time.
Best for: ABCs
(5 / 5)
Kudos: Apple Design Award Winner, Independent Games Festival Grand Prize Finalist
You’ll be mesmerized right alongside your child by Metamorphabet, the app from Vector Park that allows kids to learn ABCs by simply touching letters and watching them transform. It’s a visually stunning piece of design that riffs on the nonsensical and gets kids involved in a “playful, interactive” way. Not convinced yet? Read this in-depth review from Andrew Webster, the game editor at The Verge , who says “this is the first video game I’ll let my daughter play,” and insists it is the “perfect introduction to touchscreens”.
Best for: Comprehensive Reading Program
(5 / 5)
Cost: $7.99 (monthly subscription)
Kudos: Teacher’s Choice Award from Learning Magazine, 2014 Mom’s Choice Award & Parent’s Choice Award
Homer is a subscription reading program that’ll give your kid a leg up on the preschool competition. This playful app is chock-full of games, stories, and songs that encourage the basic skills your child needs as they start down the path to becoming a reader. Homer’s developers have evidence–provided by a former assistant secretary of education–that using the app for just fifteen minutes per day raises a child’s reading scores by 74 percent. You can snag a 30-day trial over at Homer and experience what all the buzz is about.