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5 fun, educational apps for kids

I don't know how you feel about kids and iPads, tablets or smartphones. Heck, I'm not even sure how I feel about it. But, I'm a realist and I know my 4-year-old will get online now and again. So, I say, if she's going to be on "the pad" as she calls it, she might as well do some learning. I mean, if I'm being honest - she's used my iPad since she was about 18-months old.

But, before you judge my parenting, you should know a few things: she's very smart and I watch her like a hawk. In my old television news days, I talked to many experts who all seem to agree that you should limit your child's time on electronic devices. I agree. But, they also say, it depends what they're doing, what they're watching and how they're interacting.

Emma may think she's "playing" but, it is much more. I'm a big fan of flash cards, they work well, really get kids to anticipate, learn and have fun. So, along with me and my flash cards, pre-school teachers and some great apps, Emma has learned her abc's, counting, sign language, shapes, colors, and more.

So yes, there is an app for that. Here are some of our free favorites for preschoolers (and beyond, really).

Elmo loves ABCs lite for iPad

This is one of the first apps that I downloaded for learning. (We had lullaby and nature sounds apps). If your child loves Elmo this is perfect.  This teaches the letters of the alphabet in a fun and interesting way. The app lets you trace the letters, teaches words that begin with each letter and more. There's fun, music, colorful little characters, and more. Kids will learn colors and songs, too. It's easy for kids to manage and it's fun for them to see and interact with - lovable Elmo. The app is free, but there are more advanced versions that you can purchase. ($2.99 and $4.99) Early Learning Academy (A-Z Music Videos)

This is the app that really taught Emma her alphabet. I'm sure you've heard of - it's a great tool for learning, but it isn't free. This app is. Sort of. It basically allows you to watch a few videos for free. I think A, B and one or two other letters. But, as your child watches them, they earn tickets. With the tickets, you can purchase other videos to watch. So your child earns the opportunity to learn more. The songs and videos are super cute, and very funny. They're also catchy. I remember my husband and I would walk around singing them. It's a great way for kids to have fun while learning. It's super easy for kids to figure out where to go and what to do next.

Phonics Farm Preschool and Kindergarten

Your child will need a bit of help setting this one up. You put in your child's name, level and what you'd like to focus on learning. The kids earn farm stickers for correct answers. Pick a game and go. You can learn letter sounds, blending sounds or more advanced fluent reading. They also have tips for parents. You can buy a full version, but this free part is enough to get a good grasp of letters, sounds, words, and more. It's down-on-the-farm-fun with plenty of animals and foods.

ABC Spelling Magic from Preschool University

This app teaches spelling by getting your kids to interact by moving letters around to spell each word. It's fairly easy, but you may need to show your little one how it works a time or two. There's a magic wand to help if your child is stuck on a word which can keep them from getting frustrated. Kids will also learn colors, and how to spell them, they'll learn about feelings like happy, sad, shy and excited. It has plenty of options including numbers, shapes, objects around us, and fruits and veggies. The limited version - which has plenty on it - is free, but you can buy a full version. We've always just used the free version and found it to be great.

Cubic Frog Preschool Edukids Room

This app is nice because it's always telling your child what a great job they're doing when they answer the questions correctly. If they get it wrong, it tells them to try again, and again, until they get it right. It has matching games, letter games, time-telling tricks, and more. It really makes learning fun. The basic app is free, but as always, you can buy a more elaborate version as well.

So there you go. Let your little ones go online without feeling guilty. Sit down and watch, cheer them on, help them out - or maybe get a load of laundry done. Learning can be fun.

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