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Apps To Teach Your Kids About Reading, Because Digital Can Be Amazing

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Having grown up entertaining myself without a tablet or phone by my side, I sometimes go into curmudgeon mode when I see how often today's kids turn to tech when they have an idle moment. But I'm not such a progress-hating Luddite that I don't appreciate the benefits our smart technology has for children. For example, you can supplement the literacy skills they learn at home and school with one of the best reading apps for kids.

As we know, reading is both a vital life skill and a source of endless joy and information. It's considered such an important part of child development that the American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to begin reading to children from infancy on, according to The New York Times. Now, it seems, smart technology may play a role in improving children's reading and academic skills. Researchers working in economically disadvantaged areas of Africa have found that children who were given tablets with literacy apps scored better on reading-preparedness tests than children without the tablets.

No one's suggesting that kids spend all of their free time swiping over letters and playing phonics games, of course. And nothing will ever take the place of the cherished bedtime-story ritual. But for parents who want to give their children a little extra reading boost (or who want an alternative to standard video games), here are some apps worth downloading.

1. Endless Reader

Endless Reader, free with in-app purchases, iOS

Beginning readers can master sight words with this award-winning app. When they assemble interactive puzzles correctly, a picture of the object or concept ("dog," "up," etc.) appears. The app also uses sentence puzzles to teach the context of the words.

2. Wonster Words

Wonster Words, free with in-app purchases, iOS and Android

More too-cute monsters help kids read and sound out words, and decode digraphs and other letter blends. It's also low-stress, with no quizzes or scoring systems, so users can learn at their own pace.

3. Pocket Phonics

Pocket Phonics, $7, iOS

In addition to teaching letter sounds and blends, this app for kids 4 to 7 has a handwriting feature and a series of 43 books for various reading levels, with read-along captions to make reading easy and fun.

4. Dr. Seuss' ABC

Dr. Seuss' ABC, $1, iOS and Android

What reading experience would be complete without the good Doctor? This interactive app uses the familiar alphabet book in read-to-me and independent-reading formats. Before long, your preschooler will be able to follow along from Aunt Annie's alligator to the Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz.

5. Super Why! Power to Read

Super Why! Power to Read, $4, iOS and Android

Leave it to the venerable PBS to create a, well, super reading app. Using the familiar TV characters, kids learn letters, phonics, rhymes, writing, and reading comprehension; for instance, in Super Why's Story Saver, users have to find the right word to complete sentences and finish the story.

6. Starfall Learn to Read

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Starfall Learn to Read, free, iOS and Google

Using phonics to build reading fluency, Zac the Rat guides early readers through movies, songs, and activities. Parents will appreciate the fact that the app was created by a family of teachers, and that the activities all support state educational standards nationwide.

7. Second Grade Reading Comprehension

Second Grade Reading Comprehension, free, iOS and Google

Early grade-schoolers need to become proficient not only in reading, but in understanding the texts they read. This app offers a number of quick stories to read, each with its own set of comprehension quizzes and vocabulary builders. Abitalk also has many other learning apps for kids from toddlers to teens.

8. Epic!

Epic! Free trial, then $7.99/month, iOS and Android

For kids who have the basics of reading down, but need to keep practicing, the Epic! app will be your BFF. It offers over 40,000 kid-friendly books for kids ages 2 to 12; you’ll find titles you’ve likely never read before (known as Epic Originals), and some old favorites. There are also audiobooks, quizzes, Spanish stories, and more. Plus if you happen to be an educator, the app is 100% free.

9. Duolingo ABC

Duolingo ABC, free, iOS

If you’ve ever tried to master another language, you may have heard of Duolingo, but now they have an app to help kids with reading, too. Designed by literacy and early-education experts, the app will help kids master reading in a fun way using letter tracing (to get familiar writing letters), interactive stories, and games like matching the picture to the correct word. Plus parents will appreciate that it’s ad-free and can be played offline (say on a car trip with sparse cell service).

10. Reading Eggs

Reading Eggs, free for first month, then $9.99/month, iOS and Android

Developed by educational experts, Reading Eggs is used in many schools as a fun way to teach phonics and literacy. It’s self-paced, so kids move at the speed in which they’re actually learning, and there’s content that’s appropriate for kids as young as 2 and as old as 12. There are thousands of lessons, games, and books to choose from, plus this app includes a parents' dashboard where you’ll receive progress reports that show where your child is growing and where they may need a little extra work.

11. Reading Raven

Reading Raven, $3.99, iOS

This learn-to-read educational app feels more like a game than a lesson, but kids will learn a ton. There are 11 interactive games to choose from (for example, kids can use a butterfly net to trap them and make a certain sound, or they can stack up rhyming words to make a rocket ship). It’s customizable, so you can have two separate profiles if you have more than one child, and kids can pause the game at any time and it will save their progress.

12. News-O-Matic

News-O-Matic, free with in-app purchases, iOS and Android

Giving new readers access to content they’re genuinely interested in is one of the best ways to encourage them to get into the habit of reading for pleasure. News-O-Matic is a daily, ad-free newspaper designed just for kids ages 6 to 14 (you can select their reading level within the app, and a child psychologist reviews each article to make sure the content is appropriate). There are five new articles added each day, and they range in topics from science, technology, sports, news, art, and more, plus each article is available in English, Spanish, French, and Arabic. And if your child encounters a word they don’t know yet, audio definitions are provided.

13. Homer

Homer, free trial then $7.99/month, iOS and Android

A Homer membership actually includes full access to two apps: Homer Reading, which teaches literacy and Homer Stories, a robust library of interactive stories. According to the app stores, Homer is “proven to increase early reading scores by 74% with just 15 minutes a day.” You can choose from a set of categories to find the one that most aligns with your child’s current interests (say trains, or reptiles, or seasons) and the content and games will be catered to their hobbies and likes (and you may see some familiar faces, like Thomas the Tank Engine).

14. FarFaria

FarFaria, free trial then $3.99/month, iOS and Android

FarFaria brings story books to life with beautiful illustrations and a read-along feature or an option for the child to read to themselves (or to their caregiver). You can select your child’s reading level, which is aligned with the Common-Core curriculum, and a subscription includes new titles added each week, so no one gets bored. According to the app store, kids read five times more when using FarFaria, which makes sense because the design is so nice to look at.

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