When I was pregnant I said “I will never let my child have any screen time.”
When she was 6 months old and actually awake for most of the day, so I said “I will let her watch educational videos only.”
By her first birthday, my toddler had taken over my old iPad.
Though some parents are able to keep screen time to a minimum, I don’t see it as a realistic expectation for myself.
Instead I have “smart” screen time.
I deleted youtube and other video apps from my daugher’s iPad because I wanted her to actively engage with the activities.
There are so many apps out there that it’s hard to tell which app is actually worth your time. Mehvish, at the The Young Learner, and I are here to help! We both picked out our favorite FREE apps for toddlers!
My Top 5 Free Apps for Toddler
Age range: It is recommended for 4 year old but my daughter has played this app since she was 18 months.
Summary: It’s a step by step cooking app for your toddler where they choose what they want to make, put the ingredients together, mix, bake or cook, decorate and eat their creation!
Skills worked on: This is a great app to work on motor sequence planning because it helps toddlers start to build cognitive processing skills that they can use in the future for logic puzzles. Basically it teaches your toddler that things are done in a certain sequence. Another plus is the fact that starts to make a positive association with food for those picky eaters!
Paid features: The free version of the app comes with two meals unlocked. To unlock more meals you can pay.
Age range: Again the age recommendation for this says 4 years and older but I think it’s suitable for 2 years and up.
Summary: Remember the Sims game? This is the toddler version of that minus the social media aspect of it! There are many versions of this app, but I have the original app which is the My Town-Home. It’s a home with it seems infinite number of family members where you can feed the fish, change up décor, play with toys or even use the bathroom.
Skills worked on: This game is very different than the typical games out there for kids because there is no real “function” or goal to this app. It doesn’t work on any of those traditional pre school skills, but instead on imagination. “Open ended play”, in other words, thinking outside the box teaches your toddler to imagine scenarios. It’s also great for language development because you can have conversations about the scenes.
Paid features: The free version of the app comes with almost all the features unlocked. You do get annoying ads, but for me that’s a small price to pay!
Age range: The recommendation is for Pre school aged children.
Summary: The premises of the app is there is a world with these animals that can interact with each other to “play” different games together. The activities range from dress up, shapes, puzzles and even some basic sharing (not social media, toys!)
Skills worked on: Because this app has so many different activities it works on most of the early pre school skills (hand eye coordination, cognitive thinking, motor sequencing etc). What makes this app stand out is that it works on early social skills. The app has the characters “visit” each other’s house, talk and play together, so it teaches your toddler how to approach friends and play with them!
Paid features: The free version of the app gets basically everything you need. You can get a subscription, but honestly, the free version is good enough
Age range: The recommendation is ages 2+.
Summary: This is perfect for your toddler who loves Legos! You set up a train, make stops to pick up cargo and passengers and problem solve. As you drive the train you see lots of animals that you can interact with.
Skills worked on: When driving the train, you have to stop at multiple places and perform different tasks. Sometimes it is picking up some cargo and sometimes it is punching tickets for passenger. The biggest skill worked on in this app is motor sequence planning, again, that is the skill kids need to figure out what to do first when approaching a puzzle.
Paid features: The free version of the app gets everything plus apps. There are a couple of other Lego Duplo apps you can explore too!
Age range: The recommendation is ages 2+.
Summary: You chose ingredients from the fridge, cook them and then feed them to the monster. Just like a lot of the Toca Boca apps, the combinations of how you can serve food is endless.
Skills worked on: This app works on some sequence planning, but the highlight for this app is the exposure to food. I like that the app shows your toddler how to cook the same food in different ways. The cherry on top: the monster doesn’t always like the food, but if you cook it differently he’ll eat it! It teaches your toddler that just because you don’t like raw broccoli, doesn’t mean you don’t like any kind of broccoli.
Paid features: The free version of the app has all the feature. I think this is an amazing find because most Toca Boca apps are paid apps. They are used in early childhood education and will definitely engage your toddler.
The Young Learner’s Top Apps
Age range: Recommended for 2.5 years and above
Summary: It is a spa in which your toddler can perform skincare, haircare, make up and even dress up characters with clothes and accessories. Each activity has several parts to it making it super interactive and fun. The quality of the graphics is amazing! Who knows, maybe you might even pick up some beauty tips too!
Skills worked on: An amazing app for young girls to enjoy what they cannot do their own faces yet but really want to. It works on hand eye coordination, cognitive thought process and sequencing. Encouraging creativity and imagination this app is lots of fun!
Paid features: The paid version of this app unlocks various makeup, trendier clothes and more. However, the free version is more than enough to make you want to have this app.
Age range: Recommended for 2 years and above
Summary: It is a language based app themed around animals. The activities are:
- Bath time
- Pet vet (this is our favourite, its just so creative)
- Finding the difference
- Feed the animals
- Connect the dots
- Letter tracing
- Match letters to words
Skills worked on: Each activity teaches a different set of skills, from letter recognition to cognitive thinking. Most of the activities have a critical thinking component. Because there aren’t clear instructions, it forces your toddler to “figure it out”. This app really makes them put their “thinking caps” on! The sound effects and graphics are one of the best I have seen.
Paid features: I actually ended up purchasing this app in full for $5 (the only one I actually ever purchased) But, it was definitely worth it! There are enough activities on the free version but we were curious about the animals that were sick and wanted to see what was wrong!
Age range: Recommended for 2 years and above
Summary: This app is different things in the kitchen. The activities vary from making food, recycling, toasting bread, knowing your vegetables and setting the table.
Skills worked on: A really nicely laid out app that teaches many skills. Your toddler will practise hand control and movement to the right spot. They will also practise counting and arranging from smallest to biggest. This app has a lot to do with sorting and classifying which is a really important concept for young kids to grasp.
Paid features: The paid version allows a lot more games such as fruit Face, matching, memory game, healthy foods, making eggs and much more. For starters however the free version is good enough.
4) Teddy Bear Colors (iOS link) (Not available on Android)
Age range: Recommended for 1.5 years and above
Summary: This app is about Teddy Bears and has puzzles, colouring, matching, mazes, and a running game. Our favourite is the colouring.
Skills worked on: Even though the look is a little old school, love this one for early learners. It really builds the foundation of learning through very simple activities that are laid out in a clear way. It helps kids learn how to use their fingers to move objects and really engages them in the simple activities. There is some free play in this one such as the magic draw, sticker book and colouring so kids can use their imagination freely.
Paid features: The free version of the app comes with unlocking a whole set of other activities but honestly there is no need! There is more than enough to keep your toddler busy and engaged.
Age range: Recommended for 1 year and above
Summary: This app full of activities! This app is meant mostly for little kids who are learning use an iPad. It easy and straight forward. The activities revolve around learning colours, shapes, and songs. Every click provides entertainment.
Skills worked on: A great app to start your toddler on to open the world of learning through media. This app is free and it provides a lot for a young child. There is a lot of basic language. Simple hand movement games not only teach your child to use touch screens, but work on hand eye coordination.
Paid features: This app is completely free!
These were our favorite picks! What are your favorite apps for toddlers? How much screen time do you allow your toddler? Let me know!
More about The Young Learner:
My name is Mehwish Siddiqui and I am a teacher in Vancouver, B.C. I have a little girl who is three years old. I have an instagram blog (https://www.instagram.com/theyounglearner/) dedicated to my daughter’s learning experience through play. I use educational items as well as everyday items to create activities for my little one. As a teacher, I have often seen students lack confidence in using basic tools such as glue, scissors, holding a pencil and much more. I believe, we need to develop their fine motor and hand eye coordination skills from the beginning. I thoroughly believe that young children need to exposed to lots of learning opportunities in their early years. This helps build their confidence and encourages the love of learning.