From Star Trek to the hands of my almost-3 year old daughter, the iPad has come a long way. I’m still learning all that it has to offer my child, and the apps therein that help her learn to speak, read, write, calculate and more: compose her first opera.
While this list was composed with the child with Down syndrome in mind, it is easily applicable to most other development delays. My typically-developing 4 year old also happily engages himself with a good many of these apps, so keep the door open in terms of applicability.
Educational Apps for kids with Special Needs
Note that many of these apps have a “free” or “lite” version that you can try before you buy. These versions have fewer features, but just enough to give you an idea if it is an app that will work for you. We have tried to include the links for the free versions when offered.
You can find many of these apps for free or discounted periodically. We will make every attempt to list the discounts as we learn about them. Or you can follow some of the developers and FB groups listed below for regular app deals.
- Little Writer https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/little-writer-tracing-app/id515890480?mt=8 This app includes options for practicing numbers, letters (upper and lower case), shapes, ans words. Great beginning fine motor app. Geared toward younger kids.
- Touch and Write https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/touch-and-write/id504319132?mt=8 Fun writing app that allows you to choose your writing medium. Lime gelatin, chocolate pudding, and whipped cream are some of the options. Includes letter and number practice. Can customize with your own word list. Fun for all ages.
- Letter School https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/letterschool/id435476174?mt=8 This writing app has you practice each letter or number with progressively less help each time. A better choice for students already in school that can use a bit of practice.
- Write my Name https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/write-my-name-by-injini/id500623496?mt=8 Use this app for upper and lowercase alphabet as well as sight word practice. There are some nice customization options where you can download your own photos and add text. That is a great feature for learning family member names.
- Hungry, Hungry Hippos https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/hungry-hungry-hippos/id554722587?mt=8 I have to admit that we have not played this one yet, but it was free at the time and looks a lot like the game we had as youngsters. You can have multiple players.
- Spirodoodle https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/spirodoodle/id333181506?mt=8 This app provides a totally fun way to develop your artistic creativity along with your kids. It’s a lot like the Spirograph you might remember from your childhood with fun options to change the colors and designs. Even the adults like this one.
- Wood Puzzles Collection https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wood-puzzles-collection/id447622656?mt=8 Some sort of wood puzzle matching is nice for younger kids to help develop hand-eye coordination along with fine motor. There are a number of wood puzzle apps available. You can find things like the USA puzzle for older students.
- Dot to dot lite https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dottodot-numbers-letters-lite/id333210438?mt=8 This app offers many setting options to select difficulty. You can also select numbers and letters to include some learning into the fine motor tasks. Great for all ages.
- Sentence Maker https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sentence-maker-free/id518347992?mt=8 This app provides photographs with short sentences. Your child drags the words to the proper location in the sentence. Great for expanding speech and assisting with reading. Lots of customizing options.
- Sentence Builder https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sentence-builder-free-for/id512928918?mt=8 Listen to a sentence and then drag the words to the correct order. This is a favorite at our house due to the awesome options for customizing. You can create your own sentences, using your voice and photos.
- Clicker Sentences https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/clicker-sentences/id575603433?mt=8 Although it is a more pricey app, it has many uses in the classroom. Great for expanding expressive language as well as assisting with written skills. Recommended by Kit Tisdale.
- Questions to Learn https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/questions2learn-lite/id537208661?mt=8 Have not tried this app yet, but looks like it would be great for working on the question words we want our children to be able to use. The developers are very helpful and willing to answer questions.
- Preposition Builder https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/prepositionbuilder/id413939528?mt=8 Ever wonder how to reinforce prepositions? Now you have a way. You can use settings to select the prepositions you want to work on.
- Counting Bear https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/counting-bear/id414967966?mt=8 Nice visuals help your youngster count up to 20. Helps teach 1:1 correspondence. Recommended for younger kids.
- Counting Bee https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/counting-bees/id481053635?mt=8 Use your fine motor skills to make a line from the bee to the honey as you count to 20. Recommended for younger kids.
- Alien Buddies https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/alien-buddies-preschool-learning/id469461540?mt=8 Use this very engaging app to match colors, shapes, letters, and numbers. There are some dot-to-dot and puzzle options as well. This thing I like about this app is that you can work on numbers up to 50. Recommended for preschool and early elementary.
- Line ‘Em Up https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/line-em-up/id419041848?mt=8 This free app helps students learn number order. Can practice numbers to 100 in 10, 15, or 20 tile increments.
- Candy Count https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/candy-count-learn-colors-numbers/id454950461?mt=8 Nice app for working on sorting, counting, comparing, and arranging numbers. Good for preschool and early elementary students.
- Giggle Ghosts https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/giggle-ghosts-by-busy-bee/id468918330?mt=8 Cute app where you touch a chimney to blast air out which sends a gigging ghost off to be counted. Also works on fine motor. Recommended for preschool and early elementary.
- Kid-Calc https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/kidcalc-7-in-1-math-fun-including/id324332876?mt=8 We use this app for learning how to count by 2s, 5s, etc. Has nice features including number writing; addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; and a calculator. Recommended for elementary students and up.
- Kids Math https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ace-kids-math-games-hd-free/id367798719?mt=8 Use manipulatives without losing the pieces. Practice addition and subtraction with the settings that work for your child.
- Bugs and Buttons https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bugs-and-buttons/id446031868?mt=8 Beautiful graphics help your child to learn counting, patterns, tracking, sorting and more. Has 18 games and activities.
- Bugs and Bubbles https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bugs-and-bubbles/id500195730?mt=8 Another lovely app from the folks at Little Bit Studio. Your child can work on balance, colors, counting, letters, patterns, pinching, shapes, sorting, tracking and more. Excellent graphics.
- Bugs and Numbers https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bugs-and-numbers/id577575295?mt=8 More fun math games mixed with outstanding graphics! Work on basic skills including tapping and counting; to more challenging count to 100 and making comparisons; to measuring length and weight, working with currency, and practicing time. Excellent choice for all levels. Great app that can grow with your child.
- Adding Apples https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/adding-apples-hd/id464881662?mt=8 Excellent visuals help your child work on addition with hands-on counting.
- Subtracting Sardines https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/adding-apples-hd/id464881662?mt=8 Great way to practice subtraction with manipulatives.
- Multiplying Acorns https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/multiplying-acorns-hd-tasty/id477978513?mt=8 Work on multiplication facts with super graphics and hands on learning.
Little Speller https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sight-words-by-little-speller/id420828421?mt=8 Your child will learn to spell sight words by dragging letter tiles. This app is currently free.
Little Speller (Three letter words) https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/little-speller-three-letter/id434789689?mt=8 Beautiful photos and letter tiles are used to spell and learn words.
Rocket Speller https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/rocket-speller/id492504689?mt=8 This fun app offers a choice of rocket parts after spelling several words. Super kid-friendly with five levels of difficulty. Great for all ages.
Spell-O-Saur https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/spellosaur/id461007342?mt=8 This app allows you to add your own spelling words and test yourself. Great way to practice school spelling.
Magnetic ABC https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/abc-magnetic-alphabet-lite/id389132393?mt=8 We prefer the free version of this app which includes “magnetic” alphabet letters. You can use them to practice spelling and making words. The paid versions allow you to use for creating story scenes with magnetic fairy tale or space characters.
- Word Wizard https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/word-wizard-talking-movable/id447312716?mt=8 Use this cool talking alphabet to practice spelling. Use existing word lists or create your own.
Elmo ABCs https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/elmo-loves-abcs-lite-for-ipad/id427847605?mt=8 Learn alphabet letters, practice writing, and watch short clips from this childhood favorite. If your child likes Sesame Street, this is a must have app.
- Endless ABCs https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/endless-alphabet/id591626572?mt=8 Learn the alphabet and build vocabulary.
Little Reader https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/little-reader-3-letter-words/id514532596?mt=8 Match pictures and words. Lots of custom options including adding your own text, audio, and images.
- Learning A-Z https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/learning-a-z/id474207297?mt=8 Work on reading and comprehension at your child’s level. If your school has this, you might be able to access for free at home. Options to purchase books as well. Your student can listen to the book being read or read it to a friend. We use this regularly and make flashcards of new words to learn.
Monster at the End of the Book https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/another-monster-at-end-this/id473095033?mt=8 If your child likes Sesame Street, and is early elementary or younger, this is a fun interactive book where they can knock down blocks and remove paper clips.
Cookie Monster https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/great-cookie-thief…-sesame/id536771665?mt=8 Another fun and interactive book with Sesame Street favorite, Cookie Monster.
Toy Story https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/toy-story-read-along/id364376920?mt=8 Excellent interactive read-along.
Madagascar, Ice Age, Pirates, Kung Fu Panda, etc. Many of the popular kid movies have corresponding interactive or follow-along books. Browse to find your favorites.
I Like https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/i-like-books-37-picture-books/id460795092?mt=8 You can download all 37 books for a small cost or each one individually for free. Nice beginning reader books with colorful photographs.
Lulu in Polynesia https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lulu-in-polynesia/id510098538?mt=8 Cute children’s book with songs and fun activities throughout.
Lulu in Australia https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lulu-in-australia/id470856714?mt=8 Another in the Lulu series. Cute story with engaging facts and activities.
Penelope the Purple Pirate https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/penelope-the-purple-pirate/id413515760?mt=8 Nice interactive adventure story.
Treasure Kai https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/treasure-kai-lost-gold-shark/id418289114?mt=8 Adventure story with lots of discoveries along the way. Recommended for elementary students and up. Click here for a video. http://treasurekai.com/
Roxie’s Doors https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/roxies-doors/id450154138?mt=8 Fun “I Spy” type of app.
- Toca Doctor
- Toca Hair Salon
- Mickey Mouse Road Rally
- Word World
These app developers have a number of high-quality apps which are appealing to kids as well as adults. It’s a good idea to check them periodically to see what’s new.
Little Bit Studio
Facebook Groups To Follow
You can “Like” the following Facebook groups to learn about free apps and discounts.
- Smart Apps For Kids
- App Friday
Special thanks to Lisa Orvis, who runs the Educational Strategies for Children with Down syndrome group on facebook (it’s a closed group but Lisa will add you if you knock at the door) for all of her recommendations and specific detailing of app functions.
Any to add? Or favorites you already use?
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.