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best free apps for 3 year olds
Khan Academy Kids
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This educational program tops all of the “best of” app lists – and for good reason. Khan Academy is a non-profit run by experts with a mission to provide free educational content.
Their kid-centered version has personalized learning plans with activities, books, and videos that focus on literacy, math, and social-emotional skills. Your child won’t feel like they’re in a boring educational app, thanks to the five fun animal characters who follow the journey.
Khan Academy Kids has won multiple parenting awards, plus it’s free of subscriptions, in-app purchases, and ads!
Thousands of adults have dabbled with the original Duolingo to learn another language. However, your 3-year-old is probably still trying to master one language. Duolingo ABC can help them!
The same multilingual owl we know and love will assist your child through “bite-sized” lessons and games that review letters and their pronunciations. Like its adult counterpart, it’s intended to be consumed in daily lessons and rewarded with stars.
Personally, I like how the app includes prompting the child to pronounce words. The phone or tablet’s microphone picks it up and “checks” their pronunciation.
My 3-year-old loves this Sesame Street app! It’s jam-packed with games and videos starring the Sesame Street gang. At the app’s home page, your little one can decide to either watch a video, like Hurray-Hurrah for Broccoli with Miss Abby Cadabby herself, or watch Ernie annoy his roommate Bert. If they’re so inclined, they can dive into an educational game instead.
What your toddler will learn is dependent on the game itself, because the lessons are varied. Elmo’s Brain Games, for example, gets Elmo and your child ready for preschool with games focusing on memory and counting.
In this house, we appreciated the game Potty Plan with Elmo and Abby. It certainly came in handy during potty training!
ABC Alphabet Phonics
When it comes to early phonics, you probably can’t have enough apps on the subject. This phonics app is one that boasts an interface so easy “even a 9-month-old baby” could use it.
Is the easy interface what makes this app so awesome? It’s part of it but you have got to check out the voice feature. Mom or dad can record their own voice and the app will use it! Yes, this app will teach your 3-year-old their ABCs using your voice!
Furthermore, dynamic gameplay adjusts the difficulty and speed as your child goes. So many toddler apps are slow-paced. Not this one. It keeps pace with your child.
ABC Kids Tracing & Phonics
How about some basics of handwriting? Your 3-year-old is nearing preschool and that will begin their handwriting journey.
In the ABC Kids Tracing & Phonics app, children are shown individual letters and are instructed to trace them with their fingers. As they trace, the app also identifies the letter and introduces its phonetic sound. The app covers both uppercase and lowercase letters.
I love this app because my son is always so happy after he traces a letter. “I did it!” he tells me every time. Trust me, it’s awesome. Plus, this app is the full version and has absolutely no ads!
Best Free Apps for Learning STEM
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
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Math Kids is an app is aimed at preschoolers ready to learn the basics of math! It starts out simple with counting and comparing, like which group of objects has more. It then progresses to simple addition and subtraction.
If you’re worried this mathematical work will be too difficult for your child, don’t be. I was worried too, but most of the addition and subtraction questions are multiple-choice and, of course, there’s no penalty for a wrong answer. Apps like this one are intended merely to expose children to basic math. Perfection is not necessary.
Park Math by Duck Duck Moose
Get used to seeing the name Duck Duck Moose on this list. This app company was acquired by Khan Academy and produces high-quality apps for youngsters that are free of all in-app purchases.
Park Math is a sweet little game based in a park and hosted by animals. This app focuses on very early mathematical concepts, perfect for a 3-year-old who might not even able to pronounce “mathematical” correctly yet. It especially emphasizes common core math concepts.
In this park, your little one will engage in activities like sorting a group of dogs from smallest to largest, counting food items to feed a hippo, and learn basic addition and subtraction with ducks and apple trees.
Ocean by Marco Polo Learning Inc.
Every kid’s tablet should have an app that encourages learning about nature and all its majesty. This Ocean app brings the deep blue sea right to your child’s screen. This app is award-winning as well.
In this self-directed science app, children explore the ocean with puzzle games that shoot out facts about sea creatures, like “humpback whales use songs to talk,” or “an octopus can open a jar!”
Beyond sea creatures, your child can build a coral reef, a ship, and even a submarine. As a result, don’t be surprised when your child starts spouting off marine facts.
Best Free Apps for Creating
If you have a budding artist on your hands, download some apps that allow them to foster their creativity!
Finger Paint Coloring Book
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Your toddler can choose from coloring book templates or blank paper for freestyle coloring with the Finger Paint Coloring Book app.
What’s fun about this creative app is that you can choose from “printed” colors in addition to standard solid colors. For example, your 3-year-old can choose to color a doll’s shirt with the plaid marker. Want to save their artwork? There are 8 spots available to save your toddler’s painting to view later.
This coloring app includes a whopping 160 coloring pages. There are 20 different categories and over 100 colors of virtual crayons. The app even has a multi-touch feature, so you or a friend can color with your child.
This app does include in-app purchases. To unlock an additional five coloring books, it will cost a few bucks. However, these extra books are purely that – extra. Your child will be more than satisfied with the included books.
Scribaloo Paint by Fionnuala Hanahoe
This a no-frills finger painting app. The interface couldn’t be simpler: on the edges, there are the paint swatches and tools. From there, your child just freeform paints using their fingers.
As they draw, they create a beautiful watercolor-like piece of work. If you see the result and love it (of course you will!), you can take a picture of their masterpiece and save it to your phone. From there, whether you make it your phone wallpaper is up to you.
Kids Puzzles Game for Toddlers
This puzzle game was designed to resemble wooden board puzzles. Like those puzzles, this game’s puzzles help develop your child’s memory, critical thinking, and fine motor skills.
The free version of this app includes 15 animal puzzles. You can upgrade with an in-app purchase to 30 animal puzzles.
Princess Fairy Tale Maker by Duck Duck Moose
Is your child a storyteller? Or maybe you have to tell them seven different fairy tales at bedtime? If so, encourage them to create their own!
In this app, you’ll get 32 animated backgrounds and over 190 animated stickers. These stickers include the favorites: princesses, mermaids, and fairies. They’re more than mythical; they’re also empowering. Check out the princess who visits the moon!
The best part? Your child can record their own voice and have their characters speak!
Superhero Comic Book Maker by Duck Duck Moose
If you have a child who isn’t into the fairy tale scene, maybe comic book characters are more their speed. Like the Princess Fairy Tale Maker, this is a drag-and-drop sticker game and that is powered by imagination.
Your 3-year-old’s comic book will be populated with such characters as Captain Banana Man, Big Foot, and some friendly aliens. Listen, it sounds wacky and it is, but your kid will think it’s hysterical.
Just like the previous princess game, your child can also lend their voice to this comic book game!
Best Free Apps for Videos
Sometimes, we all just want to watch a show or movie. These apps feature kid-friendly media.
PBS KIDS Video
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Repeat after me: Daniel Tiger. Okay, that’s not all that’s on this app, of course. The PBS KIDS Video app gives you free access to PBS shows without any sort of subscription. You can even watch live on your area’s local PBS station.
With that all said and done, I use this app for Daniel Tiger. The songs may get stuck in your head, but they are useful. We often sing “Grownups come back!” when mommy or daddy has to leave.
This app also features other hit PBS shows, like Molly of Denali. This show follows a 10-year-old girl living her life in Alaska. Likewise, it also has Clifford, Arthur, Sesame Street, and Esme and Roy.
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DisneyNow is an app that features content from Disney Channel, Disney Junior, and Disney XD. Your 3-year-old will be pumped to watch episodes of favorites like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Doc McStuffins, and PJ Masks.
The app itself is free to download but to access the content, you will need a cable subscription that includes the Disney channels.
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Like Disney Now, the Nick Jr. app works with your cable subscription to unlock some content. With a cable subscription, your 3-year-old can watch full episodes of Nick Jr. shows like Paw Patrol, Baby Shark, Blue’s Clues and You, and more.
Does that mean this app is useless without a cable subscription? Nope! A lot of the app’s content is available without one. For instance, as I type, I can access some full episodes, video clips, and all the games. For content requiring your cable subscription, you’ll notice a lock icon in the corner.
What my little one and I enjoy about the Nick Jr. app is how it mixes together favorite characters. Many games aren’t purely centered on one show. Finding Your Feelings is a cute game about emotions and it brings together characters from Paw Patrol, Blaze, Bubble Guppies, and Team UmiZoomi.
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YouTube Kids is a child-friendly version of YouTube. Content is curated for children from preschool age to 12 years old. When you download the app, you’ll be prompted to create a free account. This is so the app can suggest content geared towards your child’s age.
YouTube Kids is where your child can watch all Blippi videos (that’s good or bad, depending on your viewpoint). You can also throw a dance party with preschool music channels, like Super Simple Songs, Cocomelon, and Little Baby Bum. If you haven’t heard of any of these channels, don’t worry – you’re about to!
Best Free Apps for Moving and Mindfulness
Get your little one’s body moving and their mind relaxed with these wellness apps.
Breathe, Think, Do by Sesame Street
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This mindfulness app is intended for children aged 2-5. It was actually created as part of Sesame Street’s Little Children, Big Challenges. According to the program’s mission, it was created to help children “navigate challenges and build lifelong skills for resilience.”
Specifically, this app focuses on coping with frustration and anger. Different activities encourage children to stop and breathe and think. Kids can help a Sesame monster take deep breaths and come up with constructive solutions to his problem.
For parents, there is also a section with resources to assist you in helping your child as well through life’s challenges.
GoNoodle may be an app full of videos, but these videos are made to get kids moving! The app creators realized kids are less active now than ever, so they decided to make movement more fun.
GoNoodle is actually used in many public school systems. In fact, in these schools, students saw a 13% improvement in healthy weight and a 37% decrease in classroom disciplinary events thanks to this app!
Periodically, videos will start with ads. They’re about 10 seconds long and kid-appropriate content, but if advertisements are something you’re uncomfortable with, keep this in mind.
Super Stretch Yoga
This fun interactive app introduces children to yoga! It’s never too early to start yoga. This ancient practice can help children cope with anxiety and boost their body awareness and self-esteem.
It keeps it interesting with cartoon demonstrations of different yoga poses. Unsurprisingly, a downward dog is illustrated with a dog. Other animal instructors include a monkey, an elephant, and an eagle.
After the animal demonstration, there are videos of children performing the poses so your child knows what to copy. The poses are beginner-level, easy-to-do, and your kid will have fun doing them!
Best Free Apps for Games
These apps don’t promise to review phonics with your child, but they will certainly entertain (and kill some time)!
Trucks by Duck Duck Moose
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I wasn’t going to let this section end without a Duck Duck Moose offering! However, unlike the other DDM apps, Trucksdoesn’t set its sight on educating – it’s just pure four-wheeled fun.
In this game, your kid will interact with vehicles of all types, including fire trucks, police cars, and even ice cream trucks. Different areas of the app have varied activities, such as soaping and rinsing up a car in the car wash, cleaning the streets with a trash truck, or bulldozing at a construction site.
Learn and Play by Fisher-Price
Fisher-Price is a brand that knows what’s it doing when it comes to quality children’s products. Its Learn and Play app, a collaboration with the learning program Homer, is no different.
The app features Fisher-Price characters kids know and love from toys, like Puppy, Sis, and Little People characters. One activity even lets your little one call these characters and chat with them!
Other activities are Hidden Animals, Art Studio, Play with Letters, Little People stickers, and Sing-Along songs. The app also has a Parent section with tips and tricks for you from experts.
My 3-year-old son is a big fan of the Dr. Panda games. The eponymous panda holds numerous professions beyond MD, all of which earn their own app.
Most of these games cost a few dollars or include in-app purchases. However, your child can run his restaurant for free.
Once you seat the patrons, they place their order. The player then puts together their meals before serving them. Your child will also have to clean up after the customers so there’s a hidden lesson!
Barbie Magical Fashion
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Got a Barbie fan in your house? They’ll probably get a kick out of this fashionista app. Barbie first needs her hair and makeup done. After that, you’ll need to pick her jewelry before you can choose her beautiful gown.
Still, I will say the most magical part of this app is just how quickly it all goes down. Where can I get Barbie’s curling iron that gives instant wave and volume with a quick tap?
Heads up – this app does include some in-app purchases. The game can be played for free, but things like additional outfits can be purchased during play. These purchases can be tempting to little ones, like a mermaid pack, so keep a close eye.
Toca Kitchen Monsters
Toca Boca is a popular app creator amongst kids, thanks to its whimsical animation. Most of the games cost a dollar or two, but the Kitchen Monsters can be on your child’s tablet for free.
In this game, so-called kitchen monsters are hungry, and it is up to your son or daughter to feed them. Don’t worry – these monsters may look absurd, but they’re perfectly friendly.
The game encourages kids to get creative and “play” with their food. The app suggests boiling a salad or offers up what I can only imagine is a monster blueberry!
Musical Me! by Duck Duck Moose
This game could fit in both the learn and play categories, but it’s so much fun, it wins a place here. Musical Me introduces your child to the tenets of music, including pitch and rhythm.
Mozzarella the Mouse (I know, adorable) will teach the basic building blocks of music and offer free play with different instruments. There’s even an activity that works on how to read music for aspiring musicians.
This app features 14 familiar children’s songs like Mary Had a Little Lamb and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, so your little one will recognize their favorite tunes.
FAQs – Free Apps for 3-Year-Olds
What are the guidelines on screen time for 3-year-olds?
Screen time guidelines can be a sensitive subject for some. Officially, the W.H.O. recommends children under 5 receive limited to no screen time. The CDC recommends only an hour a day.
However, in today’s world, electronics are almost as plentiful as air. Some days, that hour turns into two or three. I understand this completely; some days I just need some uninterrupted time to put dinner together or clean the house.
When it comes to screen time, it’s most important to focus on the quality of what your child is watching or playing. For instance, a game that teaches phonics has more value than a video your child simply watches and doesn’t interact with.
Of course, always supervise your child’s screen time. Kids today are great with tablets and phones and can buy in-game purchases with the click of a finger before you notice!
What’s important to look for in apps for 3-year-olds?
For a young child, you really want to focus on apps with an educational aspect. You want any screen time they have to be of quality.
At 3 years old, kids are learning the foundations that will prepare them for school. These are things like the ABCs, numbers, shapes, and even sight words.
That said, not every minute or screen time has to be a phonics exercise. Now and then, sometimes it’s best to just let a game be a game. For pure entertainment, pick simple games that won’t be frustrating for your 3-year-old. Look into games that include their favorite characters, like Paw Patrol, Daniel Tiger, or PJ Masks (licensed characters like that do tend to come only in paid apps, however).
Is it ever worth paying for apps for 3-year-olds?
Yes. Listen, I know toddlers have attention spans that make goldfish seem attentive. If your kid is going to be flipping through different apps, you definitely don’t want to shell out a bunch of money on dozens of apps.
That being said, there are a few apps out there worth the money. Subscription services like ABC Mouse, Homer, and Noggin are praised for their content for good reason.
Still, after testing said apps, you may want to save your money for another year or two. Those apps are mostly geared towards kids already in school and maybe too advanced for a 3-year-old.
For paid apps for 3-year-olds, Pinkfong, Sesame Street, and Sago Mini have some good options.
Should I buy a tablet for my 3-year-old?
This is an entirely personal decision. All the apps on this list can be downloaded on a tablet or just on your phone. Some parents prefer to have control of the device, like when it is their own phone.
Personally, I was always terrified of handing over my phone to my son because he has a tendency to drop everything. Because of this, I opted for a tablet with a kid-proof case.
Most importantly, if you do decide to buy your 3-year-old his or her own tablet, look for a tablet designed with children in mind. Tablets like these have strong parental controls and tend to be more robust physically.
Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.