Must-Have Apps for Kids Under 5

Young kids can play and learn on mobile devices

The Ultimate Guide to Online Learning at Home
The Ultimate Guide to Online Learning at Home

When it comes to screen time, tablets and smartphones have a great advantage over the television; they are interactive. Recent studies have shown that smartphones and tablets can be just as effective as books for children as young as 2 years old, and parents can interact with their kids while they are playing, which has been shown to aid in learning.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has relaxed its guidelines on screen time for kids, allowing for 1 to 2 hours of screen time a day depending on the age of the child.

Now the question becomes which are the best apps for toddlers, pre-K, and kindergarteners. Here's a selection of the best mobile apps for kids who are 5 and under.

Endless Alphabet

A screenshot of the Endless Alphabet web page.

Endless Alphabet is among the best apps at reinforcing phonetics and can be used as an excellent teaching tool. The app spreads letters on the screen like a puzzle, and the child puts the puzzle together by moving the letters into place and forming a word. While the letter is being moved, it repeats its phonetic sound, and when it is put in place, the app says both the letter name and the phonetic sound it makes.

One way to use this app is to ask your child to pick out a particular letter. The app can be great for two and three-year-olds to learn their letters and can help kickstart four and five-year-olds into reading.

  • Best for Ages: 2-5
  • Price: Free with in-app purchases

The Monster at the End of This Book

A screenshot of tthe Pneguin Random House Listing for the Monster at the End of This Book.

The Monster at the End of This Book was a mainstay of just about every preschooler's book collection in the '70s. Now, the familiar Sesame Street classic has been animated and digitized to bring fun with Grover to smartphones and tablets. Each page contains hands-on activities for your young children. They can tickle Grover by tapping on him on the screen or touch a wall to knock it down. The spoken words appear on the screen to encourage word recognition, and the topic of monsters or anxieties can be addressed with your young ones in a friendly setting.

  • Best for Ages: 4+
  • Price: $2.92 on Android, $4.99 on iOS

Monkey Preschool Lunchbox

Screenshot of the Monkey Preschool Lunchbox website.

The Monkey Preschool Lunchbox app introduces young children to colors, shapes, letters, counting, and pattern recognition. The child helps the monkey count fruit and solve puzzles. Matching card games use fruit on each card. Kids are awarded with an animated cartoon sticker when they win a few activities. Expect lots of sounds and fruit names. Each game flows into the next and games include: Spot the Difference, Shapes, Puzzle, Colors, Matching, and Letters.

  • Best for Ages: 2+
  • Price: $1.99 on Android and iOS

AlphaTots Alphabet

The AlphaTots logo

The AlphaTots Alphabet app uses 26 action verbs and 26 puzzles and games to introduce your toddler to the letters of the alphabet. Soon, the app is encouraging your child to recite the ABCs on their own. The flashcard app is interactive and teaches both uppercase and lowercase versions of each letter.

  • Best for Ages: 4+
  • Price: $2.99 on Android and iOS

Starfall ABCs

Screenshot of the Stafall ABCs website.

Starfall ABCs is a great app for kids just starting out with the ABCs. There are plenty of games and activities, the animations are engaging, and the app does a great job of emphasizing both letter names and phonetics.

  • Best for Ages: 2-3
  • Price: Free

PBS Kids Video and PBS Kids Games

Screenshot of the PBS Kids website.

PBS has the most amazing kid-friendly (and parent-friendly) content available. Best of all, much of it is free and not plastered with advertisements. PBS is known for having great messages for kids.

This entry is actually two apps: PBS Kids Video, which is basically Netflix with Curious George, Daniel Tiger, Wild Kratts, Super Why!, Elmo, Dr. Seuss, and other well-known characters, and the Play PBS Kids Games app, a fun arcade with dozens of games based on the PBS characters.

  • Best for Ages: 2-5
  • Price: Free

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Sesame Street

Screenshot of the Sesame Street website.

Sesame Street needs little introduction for most of us. The Sesame Street app includes clips with your favorite characters from Elmo and Big Bird to Bert and Ernie. Instead of traditional categories, the videos are broken down by character, so your kid can quickly find their favorites. There are also fun interactive games that can help teach numbers and letters.

  • Best for Ages: 2-3
  • Price: Free

The Wheels on the Bus

Screenshot from The Wheels on the Bus app for Android.

The Wheels on the Bus app is an entertaining mixture of fun games for kids two to three years old. The games include educational offerings such as peekaboo letters, which features letters hiding behind objects, and Happy Math, a fun game that will have your toddler counting objects. Best of all, the lite version contains enough content to keep most kids happy for a while.

  • Best for Ages: 2-3
  • Price: Free with in-app purchases.