There’s nothing like a beautiful, pristine new picture book, a gnawed-on board book, or a clear set of flashcards to get some young ones to understand the magic of the written word. Others, well, they need a little bit more persuading. Whichever category your children fall into, there are many, many online resources and mobile apps that can help your kids learn to read.
Toddlers just old enough to get a bit of screen time can use it learning their letters from Elmo or other beloved characters. For the kids who would always rather play games than sit down and read, there are apps that disguise their lessons as play. For those who love a good cartoon, there are digital libraries stocked with videos animating classic and new favorite kids books.
If you need to supplement your child’s classroom reading time, many of these apps use techniques developed by educators and researchers. Even the old standby Hooked on Phonics is available now for your tablet or phone.
The kids who love reading from the start can still benefit from the nearly endless libraries available online when book stores and physical libraries are unavailable — and yes, you can even get your favorite comics and graphic novels in ebook form.
Sure, there are purists who don’t want anything but paper and ink. But for many of us, and especially our children’s generation, reading is a multi-platform experience to enjoy online and off.
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Elmo Loves ABCs
Toddlers love this app, which encourages pre-readers to identify letters and learn to trace them, because they love Elmo. Grown-ups might love it for the old-school Sesame Street segments that pop up to demonstrate the letters and words.
Homer Learn to Read
This personalized, research-based subscription reading app progresses along as your child learns with the help of a very adorable pigeon. Kids ages 2 tp 8 can switch between read-along stories, games, and creative activities, plus they’re encouraged to trace letters rather than just tap them on a screen.
$7.95 a month
Bob Books Reading Magic
The classic beginning reader books are available in app form, encouraging preschoolers and Kindergarteners to drag and drop letters to build words. There’s also a Sight Word app for those trickier words.
The PBS kids’ show is excellent at weaving reading lessons into classic fairy tales, and young fans can get just as much out of these accompanying games on a computer, phone, or tablet. (Warning, the apps can be a bit glitchy, but they’re worth the trouble).
Dr. Seuss eBooks
Generations of parents and kids have enjoyed tying their tongues in knots reading Dr. Seuss books together. As much as we love having these in physical (sometimes tattered) book form handed down through those generations, digital collections like this one are very convenient for traveling. They also include interactive elements, sounds, and games.
ABC Mouse Early Learning Academy
The comprehensive “academy” starts off looking exactly like the inside of a classroom, but once kids click on one of the options, they’re going to forget they’re supposed to be learning something. In addition to other subjects, the subscription app has an exhaustive number of reading activities to teach everything from phonics to sentence structure. (Ages 2-8).
Hooked on Phonics
The tried-and-true reading program is still around, only now in the place of those cassette tapes, there’s an app with videos and games. It’s all based on the idea that if kids know the sounds the letters make, they can eventually string them together. You can sign up to receive workbooks and story books every month to match your child’s progress, or you can subscribe to the digital plan month-to-month, yearly, or for a lifetime plan.
This subscription service gives you access to a huge library of fiction and nonfiction picture books brought to life in clever animated videos that encourage kids to read along. The only drawback is that you’re going to have to up your own read-aloud skills after your kids get used to the pros.
Khan Academy Kids
This completely free (and ad-free) app fully engages and entertains kids as they gain reading and math skills. Its interface is also easy for them to work on their own while it still takes them through a step-by-step program, going from letter sounds and sight words to full sentences.
Even the most advanced technology in the world can’t beat the joy of having a real person read to you. This video-chat app makes that possible for friends and family who happen to be too far away to do so right now. When they’re done reading, they can also play games and color together, too. Caribu is free to download but there are in-app purchases.
We love getting kids’ ebooks and audiobooks for free from the library, but our favorite books aren’t always available, and sometimes we have a hard time browsing for something they’ll love. This app is a virtual library that also learns each child’s taste and reading level, and you don’t have to put your favorites on “hold” to wait for someone else to finish with any of its more than 35,000 books. The audiobooks are especially great for those who aren’t quite ready to read on their own. Check to see if your child’s school has signed up with Epic, which would make it free for you. If not, we think it’s worth the monthly subscription fee.
LeVar Burton’s Skybrary
This isn’t just about nostalgia from those of us who learned a love of reading from Burton — it’s about knowing that Burton and his team can curate the heck out of a library for kids. The Reading Rainbow host also reads aloud some of the books in this subscription-based library and he takes viewers on video field trips. The app also features games, interactive animations, and a parent dashboard, so you can keep track of what your child is reading. (For ages 2-9.)
This educational publisher gives you access to the same books, workbooks, and digital tools it sells to teachers. And rather than fill your home with more paper you’ll feel bad about tossing later, why not download their ebooks? The Reading Foundations and Reading Comprehension sections may be of particular interest to you.
Children ages 2-13 can benefit from this reading program, which uses games and a rewards system to motivate them. Even as they play, though, they’re getting those fundamentals, from phonics to vocabulary to reading comprehension.
Sight Words Ninja
The minute you see your kid practicing their sight words in Kindergarten, you think, “There’s got to be a better way.” And it’s true, you don’t have to use boring flashcards and lists to help your kid practice these words that defy phonetic logic. You can have them pretend to slice through them with a sword. (Hey, it’s better than gun play, right?)
We love that beautiful, magical moment when reading just clicks for your kid, and they can’t wait to get their hands on the next book. The only thing is, you might not be able to take them to the book store as often as they want to get the next installment of their favorite graphic novel series. Amazon-owned ComiXology is one platform that offers all the comics and graphic novels anyone can possibly read — from middle grade fave Dog Man to the darkest horror comics to the cutest manga —in ebook format. If you’ve got a particularly voracious reader, you may want to invest in ComiXology Unlimited for discounts.
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