by Doctor Mummy | 22:45

When L was two we bought her a kindle-fire for kids. I had some concerns about screen-time, but I really liked the control the kindle fire gave me and especially the ability to set it up so she had to use it for educational purposes each day before she could play.

 

She’s had it for nearly a year now and it’s one of the best purchases we’ve made. During my tricky pregnancy, L had more screen-time than I would ideally have liked, but seeing all the things she has learned from it has helped to assuage my guilt a bit.

 

No-one is saying that kids can’t learn all of these things perfectly well without technology, but if you’re going to allow screen-time then educational screen-time might be helpful.

 

With that in mind I’ve put together a run-down of the top five apps that are, in my opinion, the best learning apps for toddlers.

 

What makes them ‘the best’?

I downloaded a whole range of apps for L when we got her kindle fire. I weighted it heavily in terms of educational content but threw in the odd ‘Peppa Pig’ and ‘Frozen’ app just because she loves them.

 

This list is essentially the five apps that L has learned the most from. They aren’t necessarily the ones that I would have chosen of all the apps available, but they are the ones that she has voluntarily played regularly and that I have noticed a significant change in knowledge and learning as a result of their use.

 

The way I see it, there’s no point listing apps that I think have the best potential for learning, if L doesn’t enjoy them and won’t play them. These apps are our ‘tried and tested’ best learning apps for toddlers and have continued to engage L for at least a year.

 

All of these apps are available for free as part of ‘Fire for Kids Unlimited‘ or can be downloaded from the Apple or Google Play stores for use on other tablets and phones.

 

The top spot: Number 1 – Elmo Loves 123s/Elmo Loves ABCs

What does it teach?

 

Technically two apps but as they follow the same format I’ve awarded them the top spot jointly.

 

Why do they get the top spot? Simple – L absolutely loves these apps and thanks to them has developed a love of numbers and, to a slightly lesser extent, letters.

 

Essentially the ‘123s’ app covers the number 1-20 and the ‘ABCs’ app the letters of the alphabet (upper and lowercase). The child is invited to choose a number or letter, trace it, then watch three video clips that reinforce the number or letter, colour in related pictures and then play a relevant game.

 

Narrated by Elmo (from Sesame Street) it is full of encouragement and positive feedback.

 

It’s bright, engaging, full of music and singing, colourful and really attractive to toddlers. L was already confident with counting but can now correctly identify the numbers 1-20 when written down and is starting to recognise letters of the alphabet. She is making progress with drawing numbers and letters too.

 

Good and bad points?

The biggest endorsement of this game is how much my daughter loves it. She gets really excited if she sees a number or letter when we’re out and about (it amazes me how many she notices that I am completely oblivious to) and she will quite often sing an accompanying song from the app after she has correctly identified it.

 

She has always preferred maths and numbers and my attempts to engage her with the alphabet have had limited success, so the ABCs game has been great for moving us on from that. I imagine once she is confident in drawing and recognising numbers and letters it will soon lose its appeal but for those still getting to grips with this, it’s well worth downloading.

 

My one irritation is that the letters and numbers can be traced starting from anywhere and in a disjointed fashion (for example taking four strokes to draw a number two) and the game still recognises it as correct and shouts ‘you did it’.

 

I also have to warn you that some of the songs are irritatingly catchy – I spent an entire day at work singing ‘one, two, three, four chickens just back from the shore, I love counting, counting to the number four…’

 

 

 

Number 2 – Blaze and the Monster Machines: Dinosaur Rescue

What does it teach?

 

Designed to teach basic physics by solving STEM-inspired puzzles (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). Essentially each level has a puzzle to solve in order to collect a gem and free a dinosaur.

 

Toddlers are expected to move or adjust gadgets and obstacles to achieve their goal, for example raise the height of a water cannon so water washes away sand to reveal a crystal or bounce lasers off mirrors to hatch a dinosaur egg.

 

 

It’s bright and engaging and although I felt the puzzles were sometimes a bit repetitive, L didn’t seem to find this and still plays it regularly nearly a year down the line.

 

Good and bad points?

L really enjoys it and talks about concepts such as ‘higher and lower’, how objects will fall and so on. The solution to the puzzle is provided initially but after that toddlers are expected to work it out for themselves.

 

I’ve noticed her problem solving has really improved since playing this game and in particular her approach to trial and error. She found it frustrating initially when she couldn’t get the gadgets to do what she wanted but after a bit of support and encouragement she now seems to enjoy playing until she figures it out.

 

I can sometimes hear her saying ‘no, try another way’ when she’s playing it and I think teaching her that it’s OK for her initial strategy not to work and to try a different approach is a useful skill.

 

 

Number 3 – Intellijoy’s Kids ABC Phonics

What does it teach?

 

An excellent game that (obviously) teaches phonics. It goes through each letter, with a block that shows the letter and three words starting with that letter. It teaches the sound and the basics of stringing sounds together to build words.

 

There are four activities – ‘Learn Letter Sounds’ (the block exercise described above), ‘Build Letter Blocks’ (making a block with a letter and three words starting with that letter), ‘Pop Letter Bubbles’ (pop bubbles containing the letter that matches an audible phonics sound) and ‘Make Words’ (put three letters together to form basic words).

 

It’s cleverly designed – the ‘Make Words’ mode has puzzle shapes so letters can’t be put in the wrong order as the puzzle piece won’t fit, helping toddlers to get the answer right even at the pre-reading stage.

 

Completing the tasks is rewarded with items to decorate a float, which L was very motivated by!

 

Good and bad points?

 

Instructions are given verbally and L has been happy to play it by herself in the car on long journeys. It’s bright, engaging and interactive and not too musical (good and bad as L loves songs but hours of the Elmo apps’ singing can get irritating!).

 

I do wish that it was designed so the toddler had to do the basic games first before the more complicated ones. L was quite happy to try to spell words before she’d done the basic letter sounds and then would get frustrated when I tried to help her or get her to do it in the ‘right’ order – she’s independent!

 

The games can be replayed numerous times, but they remember where you were so it continues to move on with the letters. I would have liked the option to go back and replay letters she’d recently done if she wanted; toddlers usually like repetition and she whizzed through the games quickly, not always paying enough attention to the letters and sounds!

 

 

Number 4 – Gruffalo Puzzles and Gruffalo Games for Kids

What does it teach?

 

Again, technically two apps, but similar enough to share a slot. Gruffalo Games includes: 3 in a row, nut catch, snap, marching bugs and match me. Gruffalo Puzzles includes: Mouse Match, Owl’s Odd One Out, Paint with Fox, Gruffalo Marbles, Forest Race and Snake Maze.

 

Both apps teach patterns, comparison, logic and problem solving. Activities such as ‘snap’ are played against the Gruffalo, which L loved and she was very determined to beat him!

 

Gruffalo Games appears to match the activity level of the person playing, initially the Gruffalo was quite slow and ‘Snap’ was easy for L, but over time it seemed to become more challenging as he became faster.

 

Gruffalo Puzzles allows you to select from three activity levels, with the harder levels only unlocked by completing the easier ones.

 

Good and bad points?

The apps are bright and colourful with good graphics and music. L has played them for over a year now and still enjoys them. I initially didn’t think they were especially educational, but watching L as she tries to figure out the patterns and how to beat the game, I realised that they are – it’s just more subtle.

 

They look fun to play and have encouraged us to play things like Snap and ‘3 in a row’ in real life.

 

The only issue I have noticed is that sometimes Gruffalo Games seems to glitch slightly with ‘Snap’ – there have been times when I couldn’t beat the gruffalo as he was so fast!

 

They sit slightly closer to ‘fun’ than ‘learning’ compared to some of the other apps, but have stood the test of time and encouraged enthusiastic re-reading of the Gruffalo books.

 

Number 5 – Counting with dinosaurs

What does it teach?

 

This app is designed to teach counting to ten, number recognition and simple addition and subtraction. Each number is presented, different objects are displayed to reinforce it (2 eggs, 2 dinosaurs, 2 fingers, etc) and then as children progress through the levels they are introduced to the concepts of ‘one more than’ and ‘one less than’.

 

Good and bad points?

 

It does what it sets out to and there is plenty of repetition to reinforce each number, which is great with young kids. It also progresses quite rapidly from number recognition to addition and subtraction.

 

Correct answers and progress is rewarded with dinosaur eggs that hatch. L loved this feature and it motivated her to keep playing it for longer than she would otherwise have done.

 

It only gets the number 5 slot as even though it did help L get to grips with basic addition and subtraction, the fact that it only goes up to number ten meant that she outgrew it fairly quickly. It’s probably best for younger toddlers who are just starting out with counting, numbers and maths.

 

 

Be guided by your child

L is stubborn and determined. I have done my best to get her to do various activities that I think would be educational, to no avail. She has to be enthusiastic and interested in what she’s learning and my job is to find different tools to encourage this.

 

The kindle fire for kids is one tool for learning and I’ve seen the benefits that L has gained from it, but if you’re going to use a tablet remember that kids need some ‘just for fun’ content too.

 

We have limits for the screen-time Ls allowed and she has to use learning apps before fun apps but, sometimes, after a long day at nursery, she just wants to sit and break the ice on a ‘Frozen’ puzzle or paint with Peppa pig. I try not to get so caught up in ‘what she’s learning’ that I forget that toddlers need some downtime too.

 

I hope that you’ve found this guide to the best learning apps for toddlers helpful. If you have any thoughts on these apps or any suggestions for other learning apps for toddlers then please comment below and let me know!

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Comments

shalisha alston

Wow. We’ve come a long way. When I was growing up, we didn’t have or learn from Kindle. It makes sense too that if kids don’t enjoy the app, they won’t play with them. The other day I was on the train, and a little girl, maybe 2 years old was watching an educational app on colors and shapes. I thought it was adorable. Better than television. Great post.

Aug 04.2018 | 11:50 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Shalisha, thanks for commenting. I didn’t have a phone or tablet as a kid either, but they are so readily available now that it’s helpful to know how to get the most from them!

    Aug 05.2018 | 10:33 pm

Brianne

I wish the Kindle fire was around when my kids were younger, I think it would have been a very useful and educational tool for them to start learning from.
Now that they are older and have more interest in un-educational games I find it difficult to get them to even look at educational apps. I have to be crafty and sneak them in where I can!
I love this article, I think it will help many parents with young ones choose some great apps for their little ones.

Aug 06.2018 | 05:25 am

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Brianne, thanks for commenting. So glad that you liked the article!

    Aug 06.2018 | 12:49 pm

Benji

Thanks for creating this great resource for parents. Some of these apps look really cool and useful, but do you think that there is a bit of redundancy to having two apps about letters- Elmo Loves ABC and Intellijoy’s Kids ABC Phonics? Or do they each focus on separate elements of letters and can be useful combined?

Aug 06.2018 | 12:08 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Benji, thanks for commenting. Good question as to why I’ve included two letters apps. The Elmo app teaches writing and recognition of letters (the alphabet), whilst the phonics app teaches the sounds of the letters and how to start using them as building blocks for words. The ideal would be for a toddler to work through the Elmo app first and then the phonics app, but if the toddler is anything like my daughter they will do things in their own order and ignore any suggestions from parents!

    Aug 06.2018 | 12:53 pm

Holly

Oh wow! I love the idea of all these apps. We have a Kindle Fire that my kids play with all the time but I’ve never found any that I truly love. I will definitely have to look into some of these for my kids to play with. Thanks for the list!

Aug 06.2018 | 08:16 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Holly, thanks for commenting. So glad that you found this article useful and really hope that the apps help your kids!

    Aug 08.2018 | 10:20 pm

Jane

Great post – I’ve been looking for some recommended educational aps for my daughter to try – might go with some of the suggestions you’ve made on your post. Thanks.

Aug 09.2018 | 08:50 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Jane, thanks for commenting and so glad that you found this article useful. Hope the apps work well for your daughter!

    Aug 10.2018 | 10:41 pm

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