Listen, y’all, I’m crazy picky about my kids’ screen time. To the point where people have made fun of me in the past.
However, I do admit that there are some times when I just need a good kids’ app, you know? When I need an app for my kids to play with, I’m still extremely picky about it.
Here’s what I look for when I’m choosing free apps for preschoolers:
I want any kids’ app to be free, because nobody has spare dollars ready for apps. I also demand that there be no in-app purchases. EVER.
The other thing apps that I let my preschoolers play with must NOT have is the ability to “make friends online.” No preschooler needs an online friend. No chat function, no avatars that post the rankings, just no.
Next, the app has to be usable when not connected to WiFi. I don’t want to throw any shade, but preschool apps that require Wifi…they suck. (So, I guess I lied, and I did want to throw a little shade…) You ever been an airplane with a child happily playing the app and then takeoff happens and there’s no more connection and the app just stops? #neveragain
Finally, I only let my preschooler play apps that DO NOT have rewards, like stars or things like that. I do that to try to minimize the amount of positive feedback they get from playing on a screen.
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 preschoolers right now. (Or it means that I only let my elementary aged child play them. I’m looking at you, Teach Your Monster to Read app. It’s fabulous, but not for my preschooler because in the game the player earns stars. Plus, my preschooler doesn’t recognize all of her letters yet, so it’s a little beyond her.)
Because I am picky, this list is super short. However, I think this is an instance when quality wins out over quantity.
Also, don’t feel bad if you have dozens of apps on your phone for your kids!! We all do what’s right for our families and how they handle screen time! Now is not the time to compare – this list is to help you, not to make you feel guilty.
Hopefully you can find some good ones in this list that are right for your family!
The Best FREE Apps for Preschoolers
Listen, Khan Academy Kids is the best app for children. There, I said it. (May the internet gods be kind to me even though I used the dreaded word, “best.”) It has a curriculum (yes, an actual curriculum) for kids 2 years old through first grade. It meets all of my requirements for a good app, and then some. 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.
Fish School by Duck Duck Moose
It can be tempting to push “educational” apps on our kids before they are ready. It becomes them just pushing on things on the screen until they get the answer right instead of understanding what is happening – that’s not helping anybody. Fish School is not like that. It focuses on truly preschool-age appropriate things like letter recognition or easy matching games. It is one of my favorite free apps for preschoolers.
Wheels on the Bus by Duck Duck Moose
Wheels on the Bus is a fun musical app. It plays the classic song and allows children to make the bus move and react. For example, they can make the windshield wipers move.
The reason I like this app is because you can change the song to different languages or instruments. Never again hate the voice on a game your kid is playing – just change it to the violin, or piano, or French!
If your child likes apps in this style with music and a reactive screen, my preschoolers also liked Old MacDonald by Duck Duck Moose. They did not get all of the jokes, however (a cow was reading The Moo Yorker, etc.), so it was not as big of a hit as The Wheels on the Bus.
Trucks and More Trucks by Duck Duck Moose
These two apps are “sandbox style” free apps for preschoolers. There is no story line or game. The player builds trucks and uses them to do things like pick up trash, or move rubble. It was a huge hit with both kids, and I like that the noises are not obnoxious.
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.