Need a second to finish making lunch? Or just one moment to complete a sentence without being interrupted by your energetic 3-year-old looking to you for round-the-clock quarantine entertainment? Don’t fret about reaching for the screen. There are great app options for even the most precocious toddlers. In fact, there are lots of games for 3-year-olds on your iPad that'll keep them busy and teach them a thing or two, and they probably won't even notice the second part happening.
Being stuck inside isn't so awful when the internet is full of amazing, interactive learning tools for kids who are missing out on their preschool lessons. ABC Mouse, for example, encourages children to complete puzzles, songs, and games to earn points (with over 2,000 activities to choose from), all the while working towards their next milestone. Bingo ABC introduces phonics through songs and sing-a-longs (you can even record your song with the Karaoke session in between playing games with farm animals and making up stories). Tally Tots uses 20 different games to get your kid comfortable with the concept of counting. Just like a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, these iPad games hide important lessons under the guise of fun. As a bonus, they provide parents with a much needed break. (Plus, most of them are either free or super affordable.)
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1. ABC Mouse
Designed for children ages two to eight, ABC Mouse is a free tool endorsed by many teachers so you can feel confident letting your child log in. Kids create their own kid avatar and then explore the ABC Mouse classroom. If they complete certain games, they can earn points to go shopping. Based on personal experience, it's especially good for increasing reading skills.
2. Bingo ABC
Bingo ABC is a song-based game app that uses music to teach and entertain kids for free. That means your child will learn phonics while singing along to classic nursery rhymes and playing games on a colorful animated farm.
3. PBS Parents Play and Learn
We love the concept behind this PBS free app. Rather than just hand your child the iPad, PBS has designed their Parent Play and Learn as a way for kids and their folks to work together. Featuring "a dozen games parents can play with their kids, each themed around a familiar location – including the garden, the grocery store, a restaurant, the kitchen, and many more," you can help your child fly a kite, make patterns, or even sail a boat.
4. Animal Sounds!
With more than 100 animal sounds, this completely free app should give you at least a few minutes to finish writing an email. And you can write it guilt-free, knowing your kid isn't just mooing at a screen, but really learning about animals (critters are divided into farm, Savannah/desert, jungle, insects, ocean, forest, mountain, city/countryside and dinosaurs sections).
5. Balloon Pop
The concept of Balloon Pop is mind-numbling simple: Pop the floating balloons on the screen. But you might be surprised to find yourself stealing the iPad away from your 3-year-old so you can have a go on the free app. Regardless of your age, this game is wonderfully mesmerizing.
6. Memory Match & Learn
Memory games have long been an educational tool so it's no wonder there's a free app version. Memory Match & Learn is particularly great for pre-schoolers because all the matching objects are designed with young kids in mind. Think colors, shapes, numbers, fruits, ABC’s, vegetables, and nature.
7. Puzzle Kids - Animals Shapes and Jigsaw Puzzles
Puzzle Kids isn't just a fun jigsaw diversion. It's a great way to boost your child's logic skills. And for added incentive, they can collect sticker and toy rewards as they master each puzzle. Plus, the educational tool is entirely free.
8. Kid Paint
If doodling isn't a game, we don't know what is. But rather than risk paint getting on the furniture, with Kid Paint, all those funs colors stay in the digital realm. Using the free app, kids can choose from 10 paint brush shapes and the app will save their work so they can share it after they've finished their mini masterpieces.
9. LeapFrog Academy
Whether it's math or STEM skills you're wanting your little one to develop, look no further than LeapFrog Academy. This app offers core development skills through a variety of interactive games for children ages three to six. Yes, it requires a subscription ($8 per month, $40 every 6 months, or $70 every 12 months), but this is a tool you'll be able to use for a few years.
It's never too early to start learning the Alphabet. And Metamorphabet can help even reluctant kids. What kid wouldn't enjoy poking, prodding, dragging, and spinning each of the 26 letters to "reveal surprising and luminous transformations." Sounds fun to us even if it costs $5.
11. Khan Academy Kids
You may be more familiar with the name Khan Academy from your own high school days, but the educational company now offers online learning tools for children, and they're free. Khan Academy Kids (for ages two to five) was designed with the Stanford Graduate School of Education and provides dozens of activities across multiple subjects while kids collect bugs, hats, and toys as rewards.
You'll be forgiven if you start singing "Let's all count with TallyTots" round the clock after letting your kid play this game. But the ear worm is worth it, we promise. Especially since this interactive app ($3) makes counting fun using fun objects like a seven-layer sandwich or colorful cupcakes.
13. Bugs & Buttons
Kids love critters. And Bugs & Buttons ($3) makes their insect affection even more fun by pairing creepy crawlies with learning concepts like buzzing a bumblebee through a maze.
14. Dr. Panda Town
In the super cute and free app Dr. Panda Town, Dr. Panda isn't just an adorable herbivore, he's your child's new best buddy. They can go on adventures together, fight crime, run a hair salon, you name it. Anything is possible in Dr. Panda Town and your kid in control.
15. The Platypus' Search
This $3 interactive book is all about diversity and friendship. Children must take Platypus through the woods on an adventure meeting all kinds of unique characters along the way. As the app's YouTube page explains, kids help the main characters find their lost objects using a flashlight "to look even in the darkest corners. Then they can join the party in the wood, creating a real music band, getting all the characters in the story to play, sing and dance together."
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