We know that screen time is a controversial topic for toddlers. Some claim that loading up their phones with age-appropriate content is the only way to keep their kids entertained during long car rides, restaurant trips, or other scenarios where you need to be occupied with something else.
Others argue that screen time needs to be limited as much as possible, even if it means making do with a game of peek-a-boo or flipping through a picture book during dinner.
There are some great free apps out there that are safe for toddlers and preschoolers to play while learning in a fun way. Parentaldaily has compiled a list of the best toddler apps to download if you’re looking for something fun but educational for your little ones on those days when you can’t find anything else to keep them entertained.
The list includes apps for interactive activities, teaching colors and numbers, and even discovering animals worldwide. The apps are easy for toddlers to use independently but fun enough for parents or older siblings to get involved.
How we test apps for toddlers?
When testing or evaluating apps for toddlers, we look at three things: educational value, entertainment value, and ease of use.
Whatever your child’s age, these criteria are essential to consider. As the parent or caregiver, you should quickly engage your child with an app, ideally within the first five minutes. Even that much time is precious for toddlers, but it’s a good guidepost for how engaging and intuitive the app will be over the long term.
The app should also be fun—if your child does not enjoy playing with it, you won’t have much luck getting them to play independently. If there is no cause for excitement in the app itself, kids may lose interest before you know it; if they have difficulty figuring things out on their own, you might have to play along with them for days before they figure things out for them themselves.
A toddler’s brain develops rapidly—more connections are being made between neurons than ever before—which is precisely why giving them as much exposure to new stimuli as possible is so important. You don’t want to deprive your child of this opportunity by exposing them only to media that they can easily navigate and understand.
We test them with the children of family friends and coworkers who have toddlers. This has enabled us to notice patterns in what children do and don’t find engaging.
If an app claims to teach a particular subject area, we try to use that as a framework for testing it—what things do you want children to learn? If it’s math skills, we’ll count objects or add groups of buttons on the screen. If it’s foreign language vocabulary, we’ll point out things in the game that are in English and say the word in a conversational tone while tapping on the object so that they associate the word with the object in both languages.
We may even try singing nursery rhymes in English while tapping on things and reinforcing what they’ve heard by repeating the words ourselves. We also examine how their attention is held—does it quickly lose interest?
We first consulted a consumer panel of parents and their children to find the best apps for toddlers. We asked them to rate various apps on a scale of 1 to 5, then averaged the results. Next, our experts spent hours playing with each app in the top 13 and considered the following factors: how easy is it to use for parents and children independently? Is it worth its price? How long and effectively can it hold your kid’s attention? Is it age appropriate? Are there any tech pitfalls we should be concerned about?
The result was an expert-approved list of the best apps for toddlers—in every category, from entertainment to education.
Below are the 13 best apps for toddlers
|Why We Recommend
|Full curriculum with games, videos, and interactive activities
|Best overall app with a comprehensive learning experience
|Educational games and videos
|Best free app with quality educational content
|Educational games for colors, shapes, and matching
|Best educational app for toddlers
|Parental monitoring and control features for children’s devices
|Best app for parental monitoring and control
|Khan Academy Kids
|Learning games and activities for reading and math
|Best app to grow with your child’s academic progress
|Homer Learn & Grow
|Adaptive reading and math lessons with progress tracking
|Best app for early literacy with an award from Good Housekeeping Parenting
|Elmo Loves 123s
|Educational games for learning numbers
|Best app for learning numbers and counting skills
|Daniel Tiger’s Feelings
|Games and activities for emotional intelligence and empathy
|Best app for emotional learning and social skills development
|Video calls with Elmo and interactive activities
|Best app for encouraging social skills and communication
|Digital library with books, audiobooks, and videos for kids
|Best app for early reading and building literacy skills
|Alphabet learning games and activities
|Best app for learning the alphabet and letter recognition
|Shapes recognition and matching games
|Best app for learning shapes and spatial reasoning
|Interactive movement and mindfulness activities
|Best app for exercise and physical activity
1. Best Overall: ABCmouse
Why We Recommend It: It’s great because the app is filled with fun and interactive math, reading, writing, and more lessons. Lessons are tailored to your child’s interests and based on age, so your child will interact with exciting content that will promote learning while having fun! While some games and activities are available without a subscription, a lot of the fun stuff—like the ability to earn virtual coins to spend on pets and other prizes—requires a subscription to ABCmouse.
ABCmouse is an online learning program for kids from 2 to 8 years old. It’s not just for preschool, but also for that period of time where kids are beginning to be read to by their parents less, and when their skills are beginning to lag behind their peers who attend preschool.
With over 200 interactive learning activities across several categories, ABCmouse helps your child develop in the areas of reading, writing and math. Best of all, it’s fun! Each activity has a high replay value, which means your child will be coming back again and again to learn new things.
The best part is that you can try it free for a month before committing to a subscription. The cost is only $13 per month (a savings of 50%!), and you can try it out for free before deciding whether or not you’d like to subscribe.
2. Best Free Apps: PBS Kids
Why We Recommend It: PBS Kids is a free, safe, educational app that offers children between the ages of two and eight access to games, videos, and other fun content from various popular PBS programs. It’s great for parents looking for an alternative to the sometimes-costly subscription services like Netflix or Hulu. And since it doesn’t require a cable subscription, you can install it on multiple devices to let your whole family tune in.
The app offers popular PBS shows, including Dinosaur Train, Sesame Street, and Super WHY! (which we love at our house). Your child can watch the most recent broadcast videos or explore popular episodes from each show. Various activities are also built-in into the app, including word scramble, matching games, and even a paint pad where your child can create their masterpiece.
The only downside to this app is that some of the content is blocked in your geographic region, so if you’re outside of the US, you won’t be able to stream the video (although most of the games are accessible).
3. Best Educational App: Monkey Preschool Lunchbox
The Monkey Preschool Lunchbox app is excellent for kids to play independently or for parents and kids to play together. It has seven different games covering colors, shapes, letters, counting, sizes, matching, and differences. Each game was carefully crafted to be fun and educational at the same time.
The lovable animated monkey helps guide you through the games by encouraging kids to learn about colors, fruit names, alphabet letters, counting numbers up to 10, matching pairs of things (like clothes), and more! The games are super-easy—it’s like playing a board game, except it looks like a big bunch of digital cards.
There are so many ways it can help your child learn at home or on the go: even if you’re sitting in front of an interactive whiteboard at school where you’d typically be doing these kinds of activities, why not use this app? The Monkey Preschool Lunchbox will help keep your child engaged with puzzles and activities tailored to their skill level!
4. Best for Parental Monitoring: Bark
Bark is an app that lets you monitor your child’s device usage and establish limits by delivering alerts in real-time when they go over their allowance of either screen time or internet usage. It also sends signals if it detects content such as pornography or violence in its search results and if an unsafe website is in the history list.
However, unlike other parental control apps, Bark does not restrict your child’s online activity. It only monitors them silently in the background. That way, you don’t have to worry about your child bypassing security measures like keystroke monitoring, browser lock-down, or content filtering. You can use Bark at home with your own device or your kid’s devices even when you’re not around—such as when they’re at school.
5. Best App to Grow With Your Kids: Khan Academy Kids
Khan Academy’s free online courses are a great place to brush up on anything from basic math and chemistry to finance and history; they’re designed for anyone to access and are particularly useful for people who want to go back and fill in the knowledge that they missed out on the first time around—whether because of a learning disability or just a lousy teacher.
Now the organization has released a new app dedicated solely to younger students called Khan Academy Kids (henceforth referred to as KAK). It’s an adaptation of their existing content, also available via their website, with added extras like voice recognition capabilities and rewards for completing each section.
KAK wants to solve the problem of young children drifting away from learning before they can develop those early skills. The app explicitly targets kids ages 4-10, but it’s possible that some older kids would benefit from it as well—the difficulty levels can be tailored to suit them.
KAK comprises over 5,000 videos covering kindergarten through 6th-grade level material, divided into four “curriculums”: math and number sense, reading and language arts, science and social studies, and problem-solving. Each curriculum contains appropriate videos divided by grade level so that kids can watch at
6. Best App with Good Housekeeping: Homer Learn & Grow
When your child first begins school, an adjustment period can be difficult for both parents and kids. Kids need to learn to be comfortable with a new way of learning, but it’s also important for parents not to feel guilty about their role in how their children are adjusting to this new environment.
Now, a new app aims to help both parties through this transition: Homer Learn & Grow is an expert-designed, kid-powered, playful learning app designed by early childhood education experts that helps children build the confidence they need for school and develop a love for learning. With HOMER, kids can explore and playfully learn essential skills like literacy, math, social skills, and more—all while having fun.
HOMER (Help Our Kids Excel at Math and Reading) is a free mobile app that helps kids build the confidence they need for school. Experts created HOMER in early learning to make essential math, reading, and writing skills fun and easy for kids to master at home or on the go. By following one of the many engaging activities (e.g., learning to write their names, counting coins, solving fundamental addition problems), kids develop the foundational skills they need to be ready for school—and it all happens with a swipe of a finger.
In addition to its engaging activities, HOMER helps parents connect with teachers and experts who offer tips, resources, and guidance on topics like understanding your child’s readiness for kindergarten, using apps at home, or encouraging your child’s language development. With its innovative approach to early learning, HOMER is designed to help kids grow from learners into confident learners—people who understand how to learn and who know that they can do anything.
HOMER is unique because it focuses on helping kids build their confidence with hints of humor and rewarding positive behavior. The app provides positive reinforcement while guiding you through content tailored just for your child.
7. Best App for Learning Numbers: Elmo Loves 123s
If you have a kid, you know that learning numbers are integral to development. The Elmo Loves 123s Kids app is a digital tool to help children recognize numbers and count objects. This app has fun games, videos, and other activities to keep kids entertained while learning essential skills.
The app features three main areas:
- “Play,” where there are several different games to choose from, including number tracing, counting groups of objects, and adding/subtracting. “
- Learn,” which has videos that teach kids about numbers and counting.
- “Create,” where there are coloring pages and other fun activities that let your child explore their creativity.
Kids will trace numbers on the screen using their fingers or a stylus in the number identification game. As they trace the number, Elmo will call out the corresponding number. Also, as kids trace a number, it gets progressively more challenging with each number they touch.
Your child will be immersed in a world of numbers as they play with their favorite Sesame Street friends! Help them learn their number identification skills by tracing the numbers as they appear on the screen. They can also use their fingers to count groups of objects. The app teaches addition and subtraction by prompting your child to measure things in a series. Your child can even practice problem-solving by using multiplication to solve problems!
In addition to these educational games, they can play Sesame Street video clips featuring characters from the show. There are also coloring pages featuring Elmo and his friends and a set of challenges for when your child is ready for something new! The app encourages creativity with fun art activities allowing your child to draw and color objects with paintbrushes.
8. Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings
What’s not to love about the adorable Daniel Tiger? His Neighborhood is full of fun characters, and his positive attitude is contagious. Parents can take their kids through the Neighborhood with Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings app. The app features three interactive games for children ages 2-5.
The group game teaches children about feelings like anger, happiness, sadness, and silliness! It asks questions like “Which feeling do you feel when you’re done with your dinner?” and “Which feeling do you feel when you wake up from a nap?” With each question, the app shows an image of a different character expressing that feeling. Children can tap each symbol to hear them talk about that feeling. They can also tap each picture to see it big on the screen so they can learn what it looks like.
9. Best App for Social Skills: Elmo Calls
If you’ve got a toddler, they’re probably already a big Elmo fan. Elmo is a great character—he’s cheerful and friendly, a good role model for your child, and his songs are catchy. We were excited to partner with Sesame Street on their new app, Elmo Calls Kids.
It’s full of fun phone calls from Elmo to help teach your child about healthy habits, self-confidence, and letters. The best part? It was designed by experts in pediatrics and early childhood development at the University of Michigan, who understand what kids need to learn at each stage of development. And since it’s free (for Android and iOS!), there’s no excuse not to check it out! So if you have a toddler in your life—or know someone who does—grab your phone and download it today.
10. Best Reading App: Epic
The Epic kids’ books and reading app makes it easy to discover their interests, get excited about reading, and develop a lifelong love of books and learning. With thousands of interactive stories, games, and videos, Epic gives your child a safe space to explore, play and read on their terms—without ads, in-app purchases, or distractions. Parents have heard that their kids are reading more than ever with Epic!
With Epic, kids can:
- Read, watch, or listen to a book at any time – on the couch or in the car – anywhere!
- Personalize their profile by selecting favorite colors, setting a nickname, and adding photos to their library
- Explore freely by searching for any topic or title they want—no in-app purchases required!
- Read books aloud with word highlighting that helps them build new vocabulary and read fluently
11. Best App for Learning the Alphabet: Starfall ABCs
The Starfall ABCs app is a great way to teach your child their ABCs and a straightforward way to build their early literacy skills. It’s a little overwhelming how much content there is in this app—but in the best way. It teaches everything your child will need to master the alphabet and lays the perfect foundation for them to become successful early readers.
They’ll learn all the letters and their sounds and be taught to identify each letter and its corresponding name visually. They’ll also learn some advanced phonics skills, like blending sounds to make more complicated words, which can be tricky for young kids, so it’s great that they’re introduced to this concept early on.
Tons of games and activities will help teach your child all of these things, but the Starfall ABCs app sets itself apart from other ABC apps by having a ton of great content that will keep your child engaged for years.
12. Best App for Learning Shapes: Goodness Shapes
Goodness Shapes is a puzzle game for preschool-aged children (and their parents) that uses shapes to teach kids about color, size, and values. It’s the first in a series of games, apps, and toys produced by Little Pim—a fun, educational brand that gives kids an early start in learning languages with animated, musical videos.
This mobile app has puzzles where kids have to slide and sort shapes, each introducing a different element to the game. The first set of puzzles is about identifying specific forms by sliding colored circles into matching slots. This teaches kids about the difference between squares, triangles, and circles and gives them practice with shapes that are already familiar. In another series of puzzles, kids have to slide and sort shapes by color, then shape.
Each shape has a different color scheme—red-orange on top, yellow in the middle and green at the bottom, another yellow-red-blue, etc. These exercises teach kids about color shades, which are more relevant than you might think to teach them about mixing paint or primary colors together to get secondary colors!
13. Best App for Exercise: GoNoodle
GoNoodle is the only app with hundreds of unique, fun, and educational videos to help kids learn and have fun simultaneously. For example, a yoga video will get your kids on their feet, stretching and moving while they calm their minds and focus. Or try one of our dance videos to get your kids moving to music while they practice creative movement—no matter what they’re into, there’s a video for every personality type and interest. No matter what kind of kid you have, we’ve got them covered:
Parents can control the length of time their kids spend watching GoNoodle by setting daily screen limits or a timer for each video. And with the GoNoodle Parents’ Dashboard, parents can view their child’s viewing history to see what their child is watching and when.
It also has some super easy-to-use tools for teachers and school administrators who want to use GoNoodle—it’s perfect for after-school enrichment classes, physical education classes, and recess breaks! Teachers can sign up for a free account here. Like parents can set video timers, teachers can also set screen limits on classes based on student grade level. Classroom leaders can also send notifications.
How Much Screen Time Should Toddlers Have?
Everyone can agree that screen time is inappropriate for children.
To what extent, however?
How much is too much?
Researchers asked 8 to 11-year-olds about their media consumption patterns in a Common Sense Media study.
They discovered that children use electronic gadgets on average for one hour each day and that as they age, they use them for more extended periods.
This amount of screen time is acceptable in and of itself, but most experts advise avoiding allowing your child to use a device for more extended periods while they are awake.
The fact that there are so many activities your child may engage in besides watching television or playing video games is one factor in this. For example, they can play with you and other people, make up stories, or enjoy themselves without technology.
Also, it has been demonstrated that children who watch much television or play video games are less imaginative and creative.
Toddlers under two are advised to have no screen time, and children over two are reported to have one hour per day of high-quality television.
Toddler video games must always contain some and be age-appropriate (i.e., not violent).
Parvinder Singh is a seasoned IT developer and network engineer with over 5 years of experience. He is also a skilled tech columnist, offering insights on the latest trends and developments in the tech industry.