I tend to be fairly restrictive of my kids’ screen time. But sometimes, like on a plane, I just want to hand them the tablet and say, “Go with God, y’all.”
In order to do that I have to be super restrictive about what apps I let them have access to. But being picky has meant that I have found some really great FREE apps for elementary kids!
Here’s what I look for when I’m choosing free apps for first, second, third, and fourth graders:
I want my kids’ apps to be free, because nobody has spare dollars ready for apps. I also demand that there be NO in-app purchases or the ability to make in-app purchases. EVER.
No third party advertisements, either. Even tech-savy kids can’t tell the difference between app-function and advertisement.
I also prefer apps that have no ability to chat with other users or provide a “back door” to the internet. It’s not that I don’t trust people, it’s just that I don’t trust people with my kid.
Finally, I try to avoid most apps that have rewards like stars or things like that, focusing instead on apps that encourage creativity. (However, a few that have things to earn were quality enough to make this list.)
Related: Want to know how I came to these three guidelines? Check out this booklist of my favorite books for grownups about screen time and families. They’re all MUST READS.
Not a lot of apps fit those criteria. In fact, some really good apps don’t make the cut. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, they just aren’t right for my family and our kids right now.
The Best FREE Apps for Elementary Age Kids
Khan Academy Kids is incredible! It meets all of my requirements for a good app, and then some. Technically the app is meant to be used by kids 2 years old through first grade. However, this is a great FREE app for kids in second or third grade also, especially if your child is working on reading skills and perhaps not quite on grade level. (Been there, you got this!) There’s an amazing coloring and drawing feature, too, so you don’t need an extra “coloring book” app. I can not believe Khan Academy Kids is still free!!
Pet Bingo by Duck Duck Moose
Pet Bingo is a math game. It is marketed for ages kindergarten through fourth grade, but I think that skews a little young, unless your kindergartener happens to be a math genius. I would recommend this for first grade and up. The app uses games to let kids practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I like it because there are explanations if they get the problem wrong, complete with diagrams for those visual learners!
This free app for elementary age kids lets users make stop-motion movies with their LEGO sets. It. Is. So. Cool. The makers of the app recommend for ages 8 and up, but I believe that is because there is an ability to post the videos to the LEGO site for sharing. (Did you hear that? Social media compatible – AKA don’t let them play this without supervision! Vigilance, y’all.) Kids younger than 8 could easily make videos with parental guidance.
After shooting your scenes, add in sound effects and some visual effects. No quests or prizes, just creativity – highly recommend! HOWEVER, FYI that you can’t really download the videos easily. So, it’s not great for sending them to Grandma.
Also, the ads for this app make it seem like you have to buy the specific LEGO set to go with it, but that’s not true. You can use whatever LEGO you have.
I really like this free app, and it has no in-app purchases or advertising!! However, word of warning that LEGO has lots of apps, but most of them have in-app purchases. Buyer beware!
Full disclosure, Teach Your Monster to Read is not always free. However, if you follow them on social media they’ll publicize when it is free, normally two or three weeks at a time a few times every year. (Here’s their Facebook page.)
This app from Usborne Books focuses on the sounds letters make and letter blends. It is the BEST learn-to-read app that I have ever seen. It does give stars for completing different tasks, and readers can use those stars to personalize their “monster.”
I have it on this list of apps for elementary age kids and not the preschool app list because it is really only helpful after the child can recognize all of the letters consistently. If you try this app and your kids don’t quite understand the concept of the letter sounds, just save it for a few months and try again.
Bible App for Kids by Life.Church
Bible App for Kids is mainly a Bible storybook. The animations that go with each story as it is read are colorful and engaging. There are also things to find on each screen. They have over 40 Bible stories for kids to explore!! (I mean, I have a hard time even thinking of 40 kid-appropriate Bible stories, so this is pretty comprehensive!)
There are also some other features like coloring Bible pictures and quite a few simple games. Overall, a fabulous free resource!
One thing I do not love about this app is that there are stars you can earn after completing challenges. My kids, like most, get a little sucked into “EARN THE STAR!!” and completely ignore the Bible story, even skipping pages that don’t have star-earning-potential. Just something to keep in mind. (That’s why I have it on this list and not my list of Best Apps for Preschoolers.)
Let’s just be honest here, your child will probably not ever beg to use the New City Catechism app. However, if you are looking for an easy way to pass on what you believe, this app will help you do it. It is an Evangelical catechism, and there is both an adult and kid version on this free app.
The main reason I like the app is because each catechism question and answer has a catchy kids’ song with it. You can listen to them all for free in the app! As far as kids’ songs go, these are pretty good. Don’t be surprised if you catch yourself singing, “There are 3 persons in one God!” under your breath at the grocery store.
Superhero Comic Book Maker and Princess Fairy Tale Maker by Duck Duck Moose
These two apps are for making stories. The two versions are both good, but my kids (both genders) have both preferred the Superhero version. Kids can even record their voices and move the characters to make their story come to life! It is pure creativity – no pre-made stories, no quests. I like these apps because you can save the kids’ creations to your phone roll and send them to family and friends!
Related: Want more online resources? Check out this list of HUNDREDS of online storytimes! It’s perfect if you’re looking for things to do at home with toddlers or preschoolers.