There's an overwhelming number of paid apps for kids to choose from, but which ones are worth shelling out for? Here are some fun and educational apps for 3- to 4-year-olds that'll give you the best bang for your buck -- and you won't feel guilty about letting your kid use them.
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Toddlers will love to learn the ABCs by "building" robots, "digging" for treasure, and "zapping" alien spaceships...along with 26 other action verbs that help guide them through letters and sounds. The app features 26 puzzles and mini-games all geared towards helping your child learn the alphabet, as well as fun activities, like alphabet sing-a-longs and an interactive tool that encourages kids to recite the ABCs on their own. ($2.99, iPhone, iPad; $2.99, Android)
Peg + Cat Big Gig
Your kid will hardly know she's learning math when she sings and dances along with the characters Peg and Cat. Through singing, Peg and Cat will help your child identify numbers, count up and down by ones and twos, and repeat patterns. Kids are rewarded with a special show just for them. ($1.99; iPhone, iPad; $1.99; Android; $1.99; Amazon)
This simple electronic matching game features around 30 farm and safari animal cards to flip and match just like an old-school memory game -- and you don't have to worry about losing any cards! When kids succeed at a match, they'll hear cool animal sounds and see the animals do a cute jiggle. This app is perfect for developing concentration, memorization, and cognitive skills. ($.99; iPhone, iPad)
Monkey Preschool Lunchbox
Introduce your preschooler to letters, colors, shapes, counting, and pattern recognition. The goal of the game, through six different activities, is to fill a monkey's lunch box with fruit. Your child will have fun helping the monkey count fruit, match cards with fruit on them, and solve puzzles. When a few activities are won in a row, kids can choose a cartoon sticker and place it on a personalized virtual canvas board. ($1.99, iPhone, iPad; $1.99, Android)
Wheels on the Bus
Put your kid in the driver's seat and let her enjoy this interactive version of the classic nursery rhyme song. Kids can listen to the song in five different languages while reading the lyrics in English and touch different objects on the screen to open bus doors, make windshield wipers go "swish, swish, swish," and make bubbles pop. There's even a feature that records your little angel's voice. ($1.99, iPhone, iPad; $1.99, Android)
Your kids will feel like they're at the boardwalk arcade when playing this app's four educational games: ABC Invasion, Pinball 123, Claw-Crane Matching, and a Whack-a-Mole. The animation and real-life sound effects will captivate your kids while teaching them alphabet recognition (both uppercase and lowercase letters) and basic counting, and improving their cognitive development. ($0.99; iPhone, iPad)
The Monster at the End of This Book
If your child is a Sesame Street fan, she'll go crazy over this interactive rendition of the classic picture book from the 1970s. This 12-page book offers different activities on every single page. Grover's voice can be heard urging kids not to turn pages so they can stay far away from the monster at the end of the book. The app is hands-on, asking kids to untie ropes, touch a knot to make it unravel, knock down brick walls, and tickle Grover by tapping on his image. Plus, as the book's words appear on each page, various characters say them out loud and reveal hints that help kids interact with the book. If your child is struggling with fear and anxiety issues, this app offers a great way to open the door for conversations about emotions and monsters under the bed. ($4.99, iPhone, iPad; $2.24, Android)
Daniel Tiger's Grr-ific Feelings
Use trolley games, sing-alongs, drawings, and a feelings booth -- all featuring PBS Kids character Daniel Tiger -- to help your child explore her feelings. Children using the app will be encouraged to: practice calming down by taking deep breaths, feel proud when helping Daniel clean up, help Daniel count to four when he feels mad, and laugh with Daniel when he performs his happy dance. ($2.99; iPad, Android)
JumpStart Preschool Magic of Learning
Join Frankie the Dog on a magical learning adventure through four types of games (a total of 15 games). Bug Catcher focuses on color, shape, and number recognition; Present Search teaches children to listen closely and follow instructions; Matching Duckies develops memory by uncovering a picture; and Barnyard Fun helps kids identify uppercase and lowercase letters. The app will keep your preschooler busy while it teaches valuable math, reading, and critical thinking skills. ($1.99; iPhone, iPad).
Etch a Sketch HD for iPad
Your kids can create and clear artwork on an iPad just as you did on the classic toy as a youngster. Draw freehand with your fingers or use virtual knobs -- just make sure your child is careful when shaking the iPad to "erase" an image! You can upload personal photos; you can also have your kid draw on and then proudly post his creations to your Facebook page. ($2.99; iPad only)
If your child loves to sprawl out on the floor and solve puzzles, then he'll love this interactive touch- screen jigsaw puzzle. Shapes snap into place on top of silhouette puzzles (all of which have about 5 to 10 pieces) with outlines of musical instruments, the alphabet, fruits and veggies, animals, objects, and numbers. Your child can build his vocabulary, improve fine motor skills, and feel a sense of accomplishment. When a puzzle is finished and the real image is revealed, kids hear sound effects and a voice recording by a licensed speech therapist that says the object's name word. Shapebuilder Lite lets you test the app for free. ($2.99, iPhone, iPad; $0.99, Android)
Dip your child's toe into basic math, reading, and spelling concepts. Select subjects (sight words, numbers, addition, subtraction, letters, and spelling) and set different difficulty levels. Your kids will love this super-engaging app and the reward system that lets them earn coins for correct answers. The rewards can be used to buy virtual stickers to place onto fun backdrops or buy fish to create an aquarium. TeachMe: Toddler and TeachMe: First Grade apps are available for kids of all ages to practice important skills. ($1.99; iPhone, iPad)
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