These days, parents often try to set limits on their kids’ screen time, while encouraging them to read more books. But what if you could use that screen time to encourage reading and developing vocabulary skills? That’s the idea behind mobile device reading apps, and they’re especially geared toward younger kids — preschoolers, kindergartners, and the early grades — who are just gearing up to the world of words.
It’s no secret that kids love smartphones and tablets because they’re engaging and easy to use. But they’re also learning tools that inspire kids by demonstrating experiences and offering information, while at the same time teaching reading, language, spelling, and comprehension. We’ve gathered a few of the most highly regarded reading apps for kids spanning iOS, Android, and Kindle phones and tablets. While many apps are targeted to specific age groups, some also have a wide range of variations that cover different learning levels and interests. And all of them are free.
Learn to Read with Tommy Turtle
The lite version of Learn to Read with Tommy Turtle, a charming kid’s game that encourages preschool children to blend sounds into words, read and say words, identify words, and learn word families, is absolutely free and a great way for kids to get started with reading and comprehension. The app’s free sections include Magic Letter Bridge, where kids are taught to blend letter sounds into words by scooting Tommy across the letter bridge. Then there’s Skateboards and Helmet, where the kiddos can practice reading as they outfit Tommy’s animal buddies with skateboards and helmets. Finally, Turn the Blocks lets kids formulate new words by rotating lettered blocks on their sides until a real word emerges from the combination. Additional paid modules are also available, but optional. All app sections focus on successful outcomes and concentrate on positive reinforcement from an agreeable teacher, so kids are encouraged to keep reading.
Starfall Learn to Read
Zac the Rat has taught countless kids to read, and he can teach yours too. It may be fun, but Zac is not fooling around. Each app section features a vowel sound and its related spelling. Kids can hear, touch, read, and master this sound and spelling through activities, movies, and songs. The idea is that kids will eventually recognize the relationship between spoken and written language, and of course, have fun and understand that reading is fun. This app works especially well for new readers and English language learners.
Sight Words Photo Touch
Sight Words gives kids a fun way to expand their vocabulary through sight, sound, and touch, organized by cognitive level, including preschool, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade. The interface is so easy to use that even a 9-month-old can appreciate the app, though it’s targeted to kids up to six years old. Parents and older siblings can add their own voices and items to the app’s interface by taking pictures of familiar items or possessions around the house. This personalizes the app for the child so they have a stake in the game. The app can also adjust the game dynamically to change the number of objects per page to keep kids challenged and entertained.
ABC Kids – Tracing & Phonics
ABC Kids is a free phonics and alphabet teaching app that enlivens learning for toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners. Its tracing games help kids recognize upper and lower case letter shapes and to associate them with phonic sounds. It uses any alphabet knowledge kids already have for completing letter matching exercises. Younger kids of any preschool age can just follow the arrows with their fingers and even collect stickers and toys as rewards for completing tracing games. The interface focuses the wee ones on alphabet reading and writing that helps kids learn the English alphabet. It’s all free with no ads, in-app purchases, or gimmicks.
Khan Academy Kids
This free, award-winning app features thousands of activities, books, songs, and games for toddlers, preschoolers, kindergartners, and first graders. A rotating cast of characters guides kids through lessons while customizing their experience. Khan offers a series of lessons in reading and literacy, language, math, and thought process, and teaches subjects and concepts like phonics, alphabet, spelling, writing, vocabulary, opposites, prepositions, verbs, counting, numbers, addition, subtraction, shapes, and focus, memory, and problem-solving. Kids can learn independently at their own pace and either read books on their own or follow along with audio narration — and collect bugs, hats, and toys as they learn. The app was developed with experts at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and comports with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework and Common Core Standards.
Reading Prep Comprehension
Reading Prep Comprehension is a series of apps for students seeking to augment their reading and comprehension skills. The free app features 12 original age-appropriate stories targeted to grades 3, 4, and 5 with a mix of fiction and non-fiction and Q&A to see how well kids understand the narrative. The texts are specifically geared to Common Core State Standards and can serve in classrooms as well as at home. A subscription is also available offering hundreds of stories for grades 2 through 8, complete with student profiles, review of past test scores, audio, and word highlighting, but that is entirely optional.
Word Domino Free
This word game has a bit of a different focus and is targeted to slightly older kids as well as adults to play along. The goal is to build words with the given syllables on the board and within the specified category. It allows children six and older to improve their vocabulary and reading skills, as well as focus their attention. The game, which is designed for smartphones or tablets, features three levels of difficulty, while the free version offers eight categories. It supports English, Spanish, French, and German.
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