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Teaching your child to read is a pivotal parenting milestone. Reading opens up a world of opportunities for your child, and helping them achieve success in this area can lead to better academic outcomes down the road.

If done correctly, teaching your child to read can also lead to a lifelong love of reading. But if done incorrectly, it can make reading feel like a chore — and that’s not what anyone wants.

That’s where educational apps and computer games come in. By gamifying the learning process, these programs make learning to read accessible and fun. When paired with hands-on activities, board games, and engaging beginning reader books, you can make learning to read an enjoyable experience for your child.

Criteria for Judging the Best Apps and Computer Games for Kids

Not all educational apps and computer games are created equally.

For these games to succeed in teaching kids to read, they need — first and foremost — to entertain your kids. Long lag times and difficult-to-use technology make learning less engaging for everyone involved. The best apps and games are streamlined for kids to use independently without breaking the bank.

Each of the seven apps and games listed in this article is judged not only for its educational value but also for its ease of use, engagement factor, and price.

7 Best Apps and Computer Games for Teaching Literacy

After careful research and consideration, here are the seven best apps and computer games for teaching kids how to read:

1. DuoABC (iOS | Android)
Best for: Pre-K through 2nd Grade
Cost: Free

Made by the same company as Duolingo, DuoABC is a simple phone game designed to help children develop early reading and literacy skills.

If you’ve ever learned another language with Duolingo, you’ll notice many of the same techniques used in DuoABC, including short lessons, cute characters, and a scaffolding learning system that helps users develop new skills while continuing to practice existing ones.

This system is perfect for kids. Each level starts with a short story, which is read aloud while words are highlighted. Kids are asked questions about the stories, which helps develop reading comprehension skills in tandem with early phonics skills.

Levels progress to teach kids letters, including how to write them and the sounds they make. It then goes on to teach basic sight words and eventually deciphering new words and reading independently. The game runs smoothly on a phone, and the combination of bright colors, fun characters, and instant feedback makes it a hit with young children.

Short levels allow parents to download this app onto their phone and give it to their children for a few minutes at a time. And the game is so easy to use that even preschoolers can play independently. So while you can sit and watch them learn if you like, you can also feel comfortable letting them play for a bit while you swap a load of laundry, knowing they won’t call you for help every three seconds.

2. Teach Your Monster to Read (iOS | Android | Web)
Best for: Pre-K through 1st Grade
Cost: Free

Another free app, Teach Your Monster to Read combines reading short stories with playing simple phonics games while going on a game-like adventure. Parents who have played games like Stardew Valley or Dreamlight Valley will recognize a familiar structure; the child is tasked with running errands for little monsters while trying to get a town up and running again. The difference is that the games in Teach Your Monster to Read are mostly reading and phonics-based.

The biggest downside is that it comes with a slight learning curve. Young kids, especially, may need to be shown how to move the character around on the screen and progress the story. While each line is voiced, you have to tap the dialogue box to have the game read the words aloud. This isn’t explicitly stated when you first start playing, which can make parents feel they need to be there to read each dialogue to their child. Additionally, children who tend to tap the screen excitedly or in the wrong place may lose out on portions of the story, leading to confusion. This means Teach Your Monster to Read is best enjoyed together rather than independently.

Despite these challenges, Teach Your Monster to Read is worth downloading as it provides a more traditional game experience that doesn’t really feel like learning and can be engaging for both you and your child.

3. Osmo Series (iOS – iPad only)
Best for: Kindergarten through Middle School
Cost: One-Time Cost

The Osmo series is by far the most expensive on our list, but it’s worth mentioning because the games are of such high quality. The company produces a series of games that teach skills in all sorts of areas, including reading, math, coding, and more.

Osmo combines technology with hands-on manipulatives, making learning accessible for even the youngest children and actively engaging. OsmoABC, designed to teach early literacy skills, starts with levels teaching basic CVC words and progresses to more complicated words with unusual phonetic rules.

Once you’ve set Osmo up, kids can play completely independently. Most games are self-explanatory. The use of physical manipulatives makes it more active and hands-on than other screen-time options. You can easily set your kid up at the counter and let them play Osmo for a while, providing valuable learning time without constant parental involvement.

4. Starfall (iOS | Android | Web)
Best for: Preschool through 2nd Grade
Cost: Free with paid membership option

Starfall is a comprehensive online reading program that has been around for years. It features a variety of simple games and activities designed to teach phonics, sight words, reading comprehension, and more.

One great feature of Starfall is that it has options for pre-readers, beginning readers, and more advanced readers. You can choose your child’s level and let them play games and activities specifically tailored to their skills. The games are bright, colorful, and feature fun songs and characters that keep kids engaged.

While Starfall does have a paid membership option, many of the games and activities are available for free. You can use Starfall on a computer or download the app for on-the-go learning. The activities are designed to be completed in short bursts, making it perfect for quick learning sessions.

5. Homer (iOS | Android)
Best for: Ages 2-8
Cost: Monthly subscription

Homer is a comprehensive learning program that grows with your child. It starts with simple games and activities for toddlers and progresses to more advanced reading and math skills for early elementary students.

One standout feature of Homer is its personalized learning path. When you sign up, you input your child’s age and current skill level. Homer then creates a customized learning plan with activities and lessons tailored to your child’s needs. As they progress, the program adjusts to continue challenging them at the right level.

Homer incorporates a variety of activities to keep kids engaged, including stories, games, songs, and printable worksheets for offline learning. The lessons are designed by education experts and align with school curriculums, so you can feel confident your child is gaining the skills they need.

The downside of Homer is that it does require a monthly subscription, which may not be feasible for all families. However, they do offer a free 30-day trial so you can test it out before committing.

6. ABCmouse (iOS | Android)
Best for: Ages 2-8
Cost: Monthly subscription

ABCmouse is another comprehensive learning program that spans multiple subjects, including reading, math, science, and art. Like Homer, it offers a personalized learning path based on your child’s age and skill level.

ABCmouse features a huge library of activities, games, songs, puzzles, and printables. The program is designed to feel more like play than learning, with colorful illustrations and fun characters guiding the way.

One unique aspect of ABCmouse is its Step-by-Step Learning Path. This is a carefully designed sequence of lessons that builds skills progressively. Parents can also access reports to see what their child is learning and track their progress over time.

ABCmouse does require a subscription, but they frequently offer discounts and promotions. You can also sign up for a free 30-day trial to see if it’s a good fit for your family.

7. Reading Eggs (iOS | Android)
Best for: Ages 2-13
Cost: Monthly subscription

Reading Eggs is a learn-to-read program that uses a variety of interactive activities and e-books to teach phonics, sight words, spelling, vocabulary, and comprehension. It’s designed for kids ages 2-13 and customizes lessons based on skill level.

One of the best aspects of Reading Eggs is its huge library of over 3,000 e-books. Kids can choose books that interest them and read independently or have the story read aloud. The program tracks their progress and offers rewards for completing books and activities.

Reading Eggs also incorporates a variety of fun characters and games to keep kids motivated. The lessons are short and engaging, with colorful animations and catchy songs. Parents can access detailed reports of their child’s progress and print out certificates of achievement.

Like many of the other comprehensive programs, Reading Eggs does require a monthly subscription. However, they offer a generous free trial period so you can make sure it’s a good fit before subscribing.

Choosing the Best App or Game for Your Child

With so many great options out there, how do you choose the best app or game for your child? Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Age and skill level: Make sure the app or game is appropriate for your child’s age and current reading level. Many programs offer placement tests or personalized learning paths to ensure a good fit.
  • Engagement factor: Look for apps and games with bright colors, fun characters, and a variety of activities to keep your child interested. Read reviews to see what other parents and kids think.
  • Ease of use: Consider how easy the app or game is for your child to navigate independently. Some may require more parental involvement than others.
  • Cost: Free apps and games can be a great option, but sometimes a paid subscription is worth it for more comprehensive content and features. Look for free trials before committing.
  • Supplemental materials: Some programs offer printable worksheets, offline activities, or physical books and games to extend the learning. Consider whether these extras would be useful for your family.

Remember, while apps and games can be valuable learning tools, they shouldn’t completely replace other forms of literacy learning. Continue reading aloud to your child, playing word games, and encouraging a love of books alongside the digital options.

With the right balance of online and offline learning activities, you can set your child up for reading success and foster a lifelong love of learning.