Most young children are already using apps on phones or tablets, at least occasionally. Whatever you think of kids’ screen time, we want it to be quality time. There is some evidence that interactive apps support early academic development, but finding quality early literacy apps can be difficult and time-consuming. Lots of what’s available is (IMHO) simply rubbish.
It’s helpful to read adult reviews of apps for children, but a lot of online information is available about them already, and to REALLY road-test an app, I like to watch a young child using it. My colleague Caitlin Stephenson and I have thus filmed Harrison (aged 4, nearly 5) trying out some of my favourite early phonemic awareness and phonics iPad apps for young children.
The resulting video is below. We hope it gives you a taste of how each app works, to help you decide whether it would suit the small person/people in your life. The video is 16 minutes long, and the apps tried are listed below (numbers in brackets are start times on the video clock):
- Graphogame (0:06)
- Phonics Hero*(1:50)
- Hairy Letters from Nessy (3:26)
- Bob Books Reading Magic 1 (5:00)
- Reading Raven (6:25)
- Reading Doctor Letter Sounds 1 Pro (8:32)
- Cake Shop Letters (or if you prefer, Spooky Letters or Dinosaur Letters) (10:10)
- Initial Code from Sounds-Write (full version is here) (11:37)
- Wordchain 1 (13:04)
- Phonics Read CVC 100 Words by Joe Scrivens (14:36, note he was pretty tired by then)
The only tablet I have is an iPad, but some of these apps are available for other platforms. Many also work on iPhones. If you’re not in Australia, please note that my app store links are all to the Australian store, so you’ll have to search your local store for apps that take your fancy.
I’m not quoting prices here because they often change, and things that I’ve said are free suddenly aren’t, while things I’ve said are expensive drop in price. Also, some apps have hundreds of activities, while some have only one/a few, so it’s like comparing apples and banquets. I’ve decided to leave the value-for-money question up to you.
Other early literacy iPad apps IMHO worth considering for young children include:
- Alphablocks Letter Fun and Meet the Alphablocks
- Atlas Mission
- CVC Word Sort
- CVC Words Short Vowel Phonics
- Hear and Blend the Alphabet & Sounds Have Letters 1
- Jolly Phonics Letter Sounds (for Android here) & Jolly Phonics Fun
- Let’s Read 1 apps (link is to the bundle but they may be purchased separately)
- Little Speller & Little Reader – Three Letter Words (turn off Mixed Words and set word length to only 3 letters in the menu for beginners).
- Making Words Kindergarten and First Grade
- Maria – Learn To Read
- Oz Phonics Reading Intro, 1 & 2
- Phonics Bingo, CVC Phonics Spelling Practice & Train Phonics (Joe Scrivens’ Phonics Bundle)
- Phonics Flashcards & I Can Spell With Phonics
- Phonics Play Project Pluto (Phase 2)
- PLD Reading Race 1a & Spellstar 1a
- Pocket Phonics
- Reading Magic 1 & Spelling Magic 1 (and other Preschool University apps)
- Ready, Set, Read
- Read With Phonics
- Starfall Learn To Read
- Teach Your Monster To Read
- What’s Changed?
- Word Sounds/Phonemes
- Word Wizard for Kids, also for Android
Beginners’ decodable books allow children to practice phonics skills by reading stories containing simplified spelling patterns, and some of these are also available as apps:
- Decodable Readers Australia
- Fitzroy Readers 1-10, also available for Android
- Little Learners Love Literacy
- Pocket Phonics Stories
- Quackenworth Vowel Stories
Apologies to all the people who make good apps of which I’m not aware. I’d love to hear about them, and wish I had more time to search for and try them.
I hope this blog post helps you find apps that the small people in your life enjoy, and which help them develop great early literacy skills.
* Note that I don’t make or sell any of these apps, but if you go to the Phonics Hero website via a link on this website and buy a subscription, I get a small commission. I was recommending this app for about two years before being offered the commission, so thought “why not?” – it helps make maintaining this website more viable, and I don’t recommend the app any more now than I did then.