Our Favorite Educational Apps for Your Toddler

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We make our way through the food store, chatting, talking, having my toddler help me (fling) put things in the cart, pick out her fruit, naming objects, identifying food, letting her choose what she wants, eating her snacks, drinking her drink, holding her fidget, and then we get to the finish line. The darn check out line. For us, that’s where it all falls apart for us. She has a hard time waiting, a hard time when my focus is elsewhere, she is surrounded by candy and little things so can reach and grab, there are a lot of things denied, and if you are a mom reading this, you can totally picture this scenario. Even though you know the woman behind you is about to judge you, you hand your child phone, kindle, Ipad, and let her play while you check out, bag your groceries, and get the heck out of there. You want to explain to the person who just can’t help but comment, We did not have that when we had kids, must be nice…. “Karen, you’re parents also did not always put you in a car seat, things change over time, we learn, we get more tools and tricks, and we are going to use them!” #KarenIsJustJealous Seriously, there is stigma around using technology, when it’s actually essential our kids learn how to use it, and it can be high quality, educational, or entertaining. I do include the recommendations from the AAP within this article, so just scroll down to read how much time per day your toddler should be spending on screen time, because that’s important to keep in mind.

what is the right kind of screen time

One of the questions I kept getting right after Christmas this year was wondering which educational apps I recommend. Many of you must have given your little ones a new iPad, or Kindle Fire and want to make sure you are filling it with all the right stuff. I appreciate this, because it’s important we pay attention to what our kids are doing on their devices. What is the right kind of app, “high quality” digital content? There are over 120,00 toddler apps out there so it’s overwhelming to sort through and figure out, all of them claiming some sort of benefit. But that’s why I am here, sharing all you need to know about toddler apps, what is quality content, our favorite apps, and even how much time your toddler should be spending on screen time.

Here are some guidelines to consider when determining what is a quality app for your toddler.

  1. Is it active?

    Is your child just sitting there watching? Are they mindlessly swiping? Is their brain thinking actively?

  2. Is is engaging?

    Will it keep their attention without a distraction? Are their pop-ups or is app sending them elsewhere? Can they stay with it for at least 2-5 minutes?

  3. Is it meaningful?

    Can they transfer learning to real life in some way? Does it interest them? Is it empowering? If answers are right or wrong, can the app adapt to that experience?

  4. Is it socially interactive?

    This is harder to find in apps that are for younger kids. But I do think about if the apps can be used together. Is it something that we could take turns within the app?

  5. Does the app have a learning goal?

    Some apps actually connect to the Common Core curriculum, and should have an established and clear learning goal.


Our Favorite 25 Apps

  1. Elmo Loves ABCs & Elmo Loves 123s

The app: Elmo Loves ABCs & Elmo Loves 123s
For ages: 3+
Why we like it:  I included both apps since I love them both and they are similar. ABCs combines mini episodes from Sesame Street TV show that connect with a corresponding letter. The app includes many concepts with the alphabet; tracing, letter recognition, object association, and even singing the alphabet. 123s is similar in that each number includes a classic clip from Sesame Street. Each number has three different videos & activities; a puzzle, count & fill the bucket game, and a search-and find-game. There is also an introduction to addition & subtraction.
Price: $4.99
Download on: iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

2. Sago Mini World

The app:  Sago Mini World -
For ages: 2+
Why we like it:  These are my favorite apps when you first introduce technology. They’re really simple, and we love all the Sago apps. After purchasing so many mini apps, we bought Sago Mini World, since it included 25 apps for $29.00. There are no-rules and easy-to-use exploratory interactions, graphics are whimsical & silly, and it’s open ended. If you want to download smaller games and are not ready to take the plunge into getting it all, we love Sago Mini Music Box, Sago Mini Robot Party, Sago Mini Trucks and Diggers, Sago Mini Planes , and Ocean Swimmer.
Price: $29.00 per year or $5.00 per month
Download on: iPad, Kindle Fire, Android

3. PBS Kids videos & games

The app: PBS Kids Videos & PBS Kids Games
For ages: 3+
Why we like it: PBS Kids Videos is real simple, and includes clips from tons of PBS kids shows ranging from 2- 20 minutes long. Currently 14 different preschool and early elementary-appropriate PBS shows like Dinosaur TrainClifford, and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood are listed on this video portal site. These are high quality TV shows. PBS Kids Games has more than 25 games with popular characters from PBS. I love that there is always an educational message built in and includes skills such as; pattern and shape matching, strategy, music, letter or word recognition, naming, and storytelling.
Price: FREE
Download on: iPad, Kindle Fire, Android

4. Epic

The app: Epic! Unlimited Books for Kids
For ages: 2+
Why we like it:  We just started this one and it’s basically Netflix for books. It’s a subscription based ebook services for kids ages 2-12. There are more than 25,000 books, offered in many languages, and you can search by subject, genre, age, there are audio books, and my favorite feature is the “read-to-me” versions. Many of her favorite books are on here, she can search by her favorite things (trains) and even mark her favorites which is sort of like a Netflix Que.
Price: Free to Try & $7.99 per month
Download on:  iPad, Kindle Fire, Android

5. Endless Alphabet

The app: Endless Alphabet
For ages: 3+
Why we like it:  This app’s name is a little misleading, because the focus is on vocabulary, secondary to letter matching, and exposure to letter sounds.. Monsters spit out pretty great vocabulary words (bellow, gargantuan, opera, etc.), and then kids have to put the words back together by matching each letter while it says the phonetic sound. Once the word has been recreated, there is a short video showing children what the word means. It’s endless because new words are constantly added, and you do need internet for this one. I love all the Endless apps (Endless Reader, Numbers, Spanish, Word Play etc.) and so they are definitely worth checking out.
Price: $8.99
Download on: iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

our favorite educational apps for your toddler - she got guts

6. Choice Works

The app: Choiceworks App
For ages: 5+ ( we started using schedule component at 2 years old)
Why we like it: I used this app when I worked with kids with autism and I am obsessed and now use it as a picture schedule with Adeline. It’s designed to help kids learn the following life skills’; schedules, task completion, waiting, and dealing with emotion. I love the schedule board because you can photograph or video the tasks in the moment, use your own voice, and there is a to do list column and an “all done” column. The waiting board has a timer, and activities of things you can do while waiting. They offer their own visuals or you can add your own.
Price: $6.99
Download on: iPad

7. YouTube Kids

The app: YouTube Kids
For ages: 3+ with parent monitoring
Why we like it:  It’s very similar to YouTube, but geared towards kids. You can access to clips or full shows to quality kids TV such as Thomas and Friends, music clips, and there are education focused clips in the “Learning” section from brands such as PBS Kids, TED-Ed. and Khan Academy. There is a lot of negative information out there about this app, because it’s not perfect. It has advertising, and inappropriate content has gotten in there. I like that you are able to set a timer that limits the amount of time allowed on you tube, you can whitelist channels, disable search, and only pick channels that are curated by humans, so if you're worried about what content might pop up, you can preview it all yourself to make sure it's a good fit for your kid. 
Price: Free
Download on: iPad, Kindle Fire, Android

8. Smart baby Shapes

The app: Shapes!
For ages: 2+
Why we like it:  This is great app for a very young toddler just getting introduced to technology. It is app that works on the basics; colors, shapes, and sizes. All 3 games start really simple and get more complex, kids have to match items by color, shape, and size.

Price: Free
Download on: iPad

9. Toca Boca Doctor& Toca Pet Doctor

The app:  Toca Boca Doctor & Pet Doctor
For ages: 3+
Why we like it: I really like all the Toca Boca apps, but I figured I would keep it simple and share the apps Addie is currently using the most. I like these apps because they are medically based, and since Adeline is medically complex it’s good for her to play games with this subject. In Doctor,kids will experience activities that occur in the doctor, cleaning teeth, eliminating lice, and giving shots. There are various puzzles for example which generally involve visual matching, with some logic and tilting the device to move items. Some of the scenes show blood, such as a puzzle giving the patient a shot or cleaning up a cut and applying a bandage.  In pet doctor, there are 15 sick or injured animals and you can nurse them back to heath. You can apply simple cures, bandages, eye drops, toothbrushes, by swiping, holding, tapping. Once the animals feels better you can feed the animal and they go to sleep.
Price: $1.99 & $2.99
Download on: iPad, Android, Kindle

10. Disney Now

The app: Disney Now & Disney Junior Play
For ages: 3+
Why we like it:  It’s basically an app that gives you access to a ton of Disney shows and clips. Disney producing some high quality shows and this allows you to switch it into “Disney Jr. Mode”. If you have the Disney channel you can sign in through your TV service and get access to more. Netflix has stopped showing some of the Disney shows so I also love that you have access to that.
Price: Free
Download on:  iPad

our favorite educational apps for your toddler - she got guts

11. Daniel Tiger stop & Go Potty

The app: Daniel Tiger’s Stop & Go Potty App
For ages: 2+
Why we like it: This app is perfect for your soon to be potty trained or newly potty trained toddler. This app is super-simple and catchy song and lots of explicit dialogue. The lesson is that you need to stop playing if you have to use the bathroom, one of the hardest things for toddlers. You can open the potty seat, take toilet paper, flush, and wash hands. When finished, kids go back to their play session and see that everything is there waiting for them. Kids can also help change baby Margaret's diaper or sing along with the simple song that will be in your head for days, : "When you have to go potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way."
Price: $2.99
Download on: iPad, Kindle Fire

12. Wee Puzzles

The app: Wee Puzzles
For ages: 3+
Why we like it:  There are over 50 drag and drop puzzles with pirates, dinosaurs, trains, gardening, rockets, submarines or farm animals. There is varying difficulty level, with a fun animation once you complete the puzzle.
Price: $1.99
Download on: iPad

13. Metamorphabet

The app: Metamorphabet
For ages: 2+
Why we like it: This app focuses on letters and words that begin with that letter. This app is captiviating and I find myself really engaged with its quirky and engaging animations. Each letter changes into the word it represents. The game is appealing across ages because it does have more complex vocaublary with words such as “amble” or “daydream” and introduces kids to concepts such as “knight” begins with the letter “k” but makes the /n/ sound.

Price: $3.99
Download on: 

14. Fish School

The app: Fish School
For ages: 2+
Why we like it: This is a great app for the really young and all games are centered around basic knowledge of numbers, letters, shapes, and colors through play. It’s a really easy interface, graphics are enticing, and the fish form letters, tapping letters that do not belong, counting eggs, etc.
Price: Free
Download on: iPad, Android

15. Writing Wizard

The app: Writing Wizard
For ages: 3+
Why we like it:  This is my favorite handwriting app and when I taught many OTs used it. You can choose the font, difficulty,, uppercase or lowercase letters, shapes, numbers, or words. First you watch a hand with a pointed finger writing the letter, number, shape, or word, then red arrows appear to show tracing direction, and sounds cue kids on what to do next. You can tap, swipe, or tilt the device to play with the animations.
Price: $4.99 iTunes; $3.99 Amazon
Download on: iPad, Kindle Fire, Android

our favorite educational apps for your toddler - she got guts

16. Happy Valley Friends

The app: Happy Valley Friends Letters, Numbers, and Shapes
For ages: 3+
Why we like it:  It has 18 different educational games & 6 mini games with a focus on letters, shapes, numbers, patterns, time, math, etc. It’s connected to Pre K and Kindergarten national curriculum, but I am currently using this with my 3 year old. The mini games include puzzles, a photo booth, matching games, and more.
Price: $2.99
Download on: iPad, Android

17. Breathe, think, do with sesame

The app: Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street
For ages: 3-4+
Why we like it:  I love apps that consider life skills for toddler. In this app, a blue monster has to try and get through some everyday frustrations, tying shoes, dealing with sesperation anxiety, taking turns, and going to bed, and how to deal with them. Kids learn how to identify the problems, and learn how to calm down with deliberate deep breathing, and strategies for how to work through some of the problems. For example, if a child is feeling frustrated about waiting their turn, the app will show them a few things they can do instead of getting mad.
Price: Free
Download on: iPad, Android

18. Alphatots

The app: AlphaTots
For ages: 3+
Why we like it:  This app is really simple, but super engaging. All the letters are on the screen and kids can choose to either sing the entire alphabet or press a letter for 3 seconds to watch a short animation. They say the letter, letter sound, and then an interactive video is played. For example, when you press O it has 3 doors that /O/pen and 1 door has a surprise behind it.
Price: $2.99
Download on: iPad, Kindle Fire, Android Nook

19. Monkey Preschool Lunch Box

The app: Monkey Preschool Lunchbox
For ages: 3+
Why we like it:  It’s a really simple educational game for kids that quickly goes through activities such as matching, counting, finding the item that’s different, choosing an item that starts with a certain letter, and assembling a small puzzle. Kids can choose a sticker to add to their collection.
Price: $1.99
Download on: iPad, Andriod, Kindle Fire

20. Starfall

The app: Starfall
For ages: 3+
Why we like it:  We were using just the free aspects of this website for awhile now and just took the plunge and bought the yearly package so we could access to all. As a teacher, we used this website all the time to supplement what kids were learning in class, etc. Starfall has a large collection of math and reading activities for young categories; math, literacy, or extras. In the areas of math, there are activities with addition and subtraction, numbers, and geometry. In terms of literacy, there are letters, phonics, sight words, beginner books. There is also simple classic songs and rhymes, and simple games based on holidays.
Price: Free - $35 per year
Download on: iPad, Website

our favorite educational apps for your toddler - she got guts

21. Bugs & buttons

The app: Bugs and Buttons
For ages: 4+
Why we like it: There is a collection of 18 games that focus on recognizing, numbers, letters, colors, and patterns, and there are other games that focus on prediction with mazes, racing, and tic-tac-toe, etc. All the games include tapping bugs and buttons and drag them around the screen. There is a tutorial that models the activity, and the activity that increase in more difficult levels and they can earn stamps .
Price: $2.99
Download on: iPad, Kindle Fire, and Android

22. Avokiddo ABC Ride

The app: Avokiddo ABC Ride
For ages: 3+
Why we like it:  This app looks like everything is made from cardboard, and two kids bike along, finding letters as they go.The instructions for discovering each letter are delivered alliteratively - "Tie the tire to the tree and take a ride to touch the letter t." There are 26 activities, 1 for each letter of the alphabet and I really like the gentle voice narration.   There are options with this app depending on the age of the player, you can turn off word spelling, and turn it back on when they’re ready for more a challenge.
Price: $2.99
Download on: iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

23. My Very Hungry Caterpillar

The app: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
For ages: 2+
Why we like it: I love all things Eric Carle, and this app is activities based on the book, Hungry Caterpillar. This game goes through the entire life cycle of a butterfly. They start with an egg, tap to hatch, and kids can feed the caterpillar different foods and make sure it rests. Different activities are unlocked until
Price: $3.99
Download on: iPad, Kindle Fire, Android

24. Drive about Number Neighborhood

The app: Drive About: Number Neighborhood
For ages: 4+
Why we like it:  This app focuses on math with 9 mini games you can access as you drive vehicles across land, sea, or air. Math concepts include; counting, ordering, matching, number identification, and number writing.
Price: $3.99
Download on: iPad

25. Super Why ABc Adventures

The app: Super Why ABC Adventures
For ages: 3+
Why we like it:  Super Why is a high quality TV show, and I like the corresponding apps as well. This app focuses primarily on the alphabet: capital and lowercase letters, letter sounds, and letter writing. Each character leads a cute mini-game; kids earn a sticker to play with in the sticker activity when they finish a game. I really like that there is a progress tracker so you can see which letter your kid worked on and there are also some sing along videos.  
Price: $3.99
Download on:  iPad, Android, Kindle Fire


setting limits on screen time

our favorite educational apps for your toddler - she got guts

Now that I’ve shared all my favorites, it’s important to be aware of some of the new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s important that as a family you create a social media plan, figure out the amount of time your child should spend per day on media, the type of media they can view, and designate media free times together. For us, during any time we are in the hospital, doctors, or traveling, AB has no screen time limits. She is not allowed screen time during mealtimes at home, but is allowed her device when she is finished eating when we dine out. She is offered other toys and activities during those times. During the day, she is on her tablet and watches TV about 2 hours per day and she is currently 3 years old.

These recommendations were taken directly from the AAP website and include;

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.

  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health. 

The AAP recommends parents prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers. Some media can have educational value for children starting at around 18 months of age, but it’s critically important that this be high-quality programming, such as the content offered by Sesame Workshop and PBS. Parents of young children should watch media with their child, to help children understand what they are seeing.
— American Academy of Pediatrics

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