Toddler Tech: Great Online Learning Tools for Preschoolers

By Rob Klindt

It’s never too early to hop aboard the learning train. That’s the thought some parents have when they let very young children play with the family iPad, smartphone or computer. But are these children really learning useful information, or simply watching random programs that play on the device?

That’s where educational websites and apps come in. Most developers know toddlers love to push buttons, watch colorful videos and respond to sounds, so they incorporate these interactive elements into educational software aimed at the preschool and K-6 set. And it’s paid off. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2012 that pre-K-through-12 education software and digital content is a $7.5 billion industry in the United States.

While many educators tout online technology and selected media as excellent tools to help toddlers get a jump-start on learning, not everyone agrees. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents wait until their child is at least 2 years old.

In an online report, the AAP writes that children younger than 2 shouldn’t be exposed at all to television, computers or other entertainment media. The academy maintains that children in that age group can learn better by interacting directly with people and their physical environment instead of staring into a virtual world behind a computer or television screen.

But for older children, online educational websites, apps and games can offer a wealth of knowledge, experience and entertainment. Before you choose a program, however, it’s important to know what to look for in quality educational software.

Design and Features

iWriteWords is an app that helps toddllers learn letter shapes

iWriteWords is an app that help toddlers learn letter shapes and get the hang of handwriting.

A successful educational website or app designed specifically for younger children will have several common design elements and features.

  • Bright and vivid colors
  • Emphasis on music, sounds and graphics instead of text
  • Animated icons or characters
  • Easy navigation
  • User interaction ability

Sites to Consider

These are some of the more popular websites and apps that are tailored specifically for toddlers and children up to age 12. They all make liberal use of colors, sounds, animation and interactivity while still focusing on primary education.

  • iWriteWords. Designed for toddlers ages 3 and older, this nicely designed app for Apple devices teaches kids handwriting skills by letting them trace letters, words and numbers with their fingers. Icons and musical notes guide them through simple lessons. For iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone. $2.99.
    Visit the site
  • Starfall. This colorful and entertaining website takes a systematic approach to teaching children in kindergarten through second grade how to read with phonics. The site offers a formal Kindergarten Reading and Language Arts Curriculum that is aligned with Common Core State Standards. Basic programs are free; paid upgrades are available.
    Visit the site
  • Baby Flash Cards. Fast and fun, this animated app helps toddlers identify everyday objects, colors, animals, numbers and letters. It’s designed for use at home or on the go with newer Android tablets and smartphones, and Apple iPads and iPhones. Free.
    Visit the site
  • e-Learning for Kids. This robust website offers interactive courses in math, science, English, life skills and language arts for children in grades K-6. Music, sound effects and animation keep students engaged during courses. The non-profit site is run by volunteers. Free; donations accepted.
    Visit the site
  • First-School. As its name suggests, this website focuses on the “firsts” in a child’s educational life including the alphabet and primary numbers. Preschoolers up through age 6 can try their hands at online jigsaw puzzles, picture-matching games, and number and letter identification. Free.
    Visit the site