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Free vs Paid Kids Reading Games: Pre-K through 5th Grade

Reading is a skill that quite literally lasts a lifetime, so it's important to start out with the right tools. But do you really need to pay for them to get ahead? Here's what we found.




Free vs Paid Kids Reading Games: Pre-K through 5th Grade
Want to know which apps are best to help your child learn and whether or not you should stick with a free app or spring for a paid one? We tested 7 of the best apps on the market to find out which one is best for teaching your child to read. After a comprehensive test, the free app Khan Academy Kids came out on top. Read on to find out why we were so impressed with this app and which other apps completed our top 3.

Table of Contents

  1. 1. Apps We Selected
  2. Our Pick Khan Academy Kids Khan Academy Kids Runner Up Kids Learn to Read Kids Learn to Read Also Groovy Teach Your Monster to Read: Phonics & Reading Game Teach Your Monster to Read: Phonics & Reading Game
  3. 2. Everything We Recommend
  4. 3. The 411 from our Appventurer
  5. 4. Other Apps Considered
Our Pick

Best app for comprehensive learning

  • Thousands of fun activities to help kids learn math, reading, spelling, and more
    4.8 Ratings 86K+ Reviews 1M+ Downloads


Khan Academy Kids is a truly fantastic app with a great user interface, fun and interactive features, and a kid-friendly design that is clear from the moment you open the app. 

Why we chose Khan Academy Kids:

  • Completely free to use, this app is fantastic and has a wide range of learning tools available.
  • Can work at the right level for your child, from pre-school to 2nd grade.
  • Very easy-to-use, which means your kids can learn independently.
  • Cool graphics and interactive characters make this game fun and engaging to play.
  • Huge variety of games and activities to help teach and test your progress.
  • 8 key categories that your child can use to learn in almost all of their school subjects. 

Khan Academy Kids is a great app that provides you with a comprehensive way to help your child learn. They can learn at their own pace, with fun games and or challenging activities, and you can adjust the level as they improve.

Read Khan Academy Kids' Full Review
Runner Up

Best App for All-Round Skill Mastery

A great app that teaches your kids to read following the same structure teachers use in school. 

Why we chose Learn to Read with Tommy Turtle:

  • Incredible value at only $2.99
  • Extremely child-friendly with visually stunning graphics.
  • Great for blending words!
  • Super easy to use, so navigating the game is simple, even for very young ones.
  • Creative way of learning as you build items to progress in the game.
  • Follows the same structure that kids are taught in school. 

It’s great for blending words and it uses form fun and creative strategies to make the learning fun. Not only will your kids learn to read with this game but they’ll have fun as they do it.

Read Learn to Read with Tommy Turtle's Full Review
Also Groovy

Best app for game-based learning

  • Award-winning educational game that’s helped millions of kids learn to read.
    4.6 Ratings 11K+ Reviews 500K+ Downloads


This super fun and engaging app is a great way to teach your ‘monster’ to read. The app uses bright and colorful visuals and fun interactive features to make learning interesting. 

Why we chose Teach Your Monster to Read:

  • At only $4.99, this app is a great way to teach your little one to read.
  • Very interactive and with bright colors and fun features, such as the ability to create your own monster, which makes this app more enjoyable
  • Uses a story to keep the kids engaged and make their learning fun
  • Very easy and simple to navigate the app, whether the kids are playing alone or with parental support
  • Has both reading and spelling available to give your child more support in their learning
  • 3 ability levels, so you can ensure you’re working at the right level for your child

There’s a variety of levels and different in-game tasks that will keep your child interested as they play the games, conquer different levels and learn how to read.

Read Teach Your Monster to Read's Full Review

Everything We Recommend

  • Our Pick

    Khan Academy Kids

    4.8 Ratings 86K+ Reviews 1M+ Downloads
    Our award-winning app is thoughtfully designed by experts in early childhood education to guide young learners on a delightful journey through key skills in math, reading, phonics, writing, social-emotional development, and more. It includes thousands of lessons, activities, books, and games that are age-appropriate for preschool through second grade. With catchy songs and yoga videos, your littles will also have fun moving, dancing, and getting the wiggles out.

    The app is perfect for learning at home or in school. Parents can choose lessons from the app’s library for their kids or use the personalized learning path that automatically adjusts to each child’s level. Teachers can quickly and easily find lessons by standard, make assignments, and monitor student progress through a suite of teacher tools.

    Khan Academy Kids is completely free, forever—no ads and no subscriptions necessary. And we’re always adding new content to keep kids engaged, including books, songs, and videos from Super Simple Songs®, Bellwether Media, National Geographic Young Explorer Magazine, and Alo Gives.

    Download today and let the joyful learning begin!

    We’d love to hear from you. Please visit us at, or drop us a line at

    Here’s a sample of what you’ll find in the app:

    • We’ve added all-new second grade lessons and a plethora of other delightful educational content to help littles learn their ABCs, discover space, practice mindfulness, and more.

    • Editors' Choice—Apple App Store
    • Common Sense Media—5-star Educational Value, 5-star Ease of Play
    • Children's Technology Review Editor's Choice Award for Excellence in Design—100% Rating
    • Parents' Choice Foundation Gold Award

    • Reading and literacy—phonics, letters, spelling, and comprehension
    • Language—vocabulary and parts of speech
    • Math—counting, numbers, addition, subtraction, shapes, and measuring
    • Executive function and logic—focus, memory, and problem-solving

    • Adaptive learning path allows each child to learn at their own pace
    • Children learn independently in the Library—a collection of activities, books, and videos
    • Kids can read books on their own or follow along with recorded audio narration

    • Five whimsical characters encourage children to think and learn
    • Highly interactive educational games and activities

    • Social-emotional—relationships, self-control, and empathy
    • Creative expression—drawing, storytelling, and coloring

    • Developed in collaboration with experts at the Stanford Graduate School of Education
    • Aligns with Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework and Common Core Standards

    Khan Academy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission of providing a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. Khan Academy Kids was created by experienced early learning experts who have created 22 other top-selling titles and received 22 Parents’ Choice Awards, 19 Children’s Technology Review Awards, and a KAPi award for Best Children’s App at the International Consumer Electronics Show. The Khan Academy Kids team is a passionate group of engineers, artists, designers, and educators who joined Khan Academy from Duck Duck Moose, a maker of popular educational apps for kids. Khan Academy Kids is 100% free, without ads or subscriptions.

    Skyship Entertainment™ is the creator of the beloved children’s brand, Super Simple™. Their award-winning Super Simple Songs® combines delightful animation and puppetry with original and classic kids’ songs to help make learning simple and fun. With over 10 billion views and 10 million subscribers on YouTube, their songs and videos are favorites with parents, teachers, and kids around the globe.
    In-App Purchases
  • Runner Up

    Kids Learn to Read

    4.3 Ratings 1K+ Reviews 100K+ Downloads
    Already enjoyed by over five million families, Learn to Read with Tommy Turtle is a delightful game that invites preschool-aged children to blend sounds into words, read and form simple words, identify spoken words and learn word families.

    Its six sections include:

    Magic Letter Bridge: kids learn to blend letter sounds into words by moving Tommy the Turtle across the letter bridge

    Skateboards and Helmet: children practice reading as they are asked to fit Tommy's animal friends with skateboards and helmets
    Turn the Blocks: kids make words in a way that's fun by turning real-looking blocks with letters on each side until the word is spelled out.

    Word Ball: children learn to identify spoken words by helping Tommy bat the right ball

    Word Magic: kids learn about word families as they fill the corresponding pot with potion and watch magic happen

    Rocket Words: children get to practice word families as they assemble and launch a rocket into space

    If your children do not know the alphabet sounds yet, we recommend our Learn Letter Sounds with Carnival Kids app. And if your kids need to learn or practice the names of the letters, try our Learn ABC Letters with Captain Cat app.

    Every section is designed to let children enjoy success time after time and receive positive reinforcement from the likable teacher, so they want to keep learning. Once your child is involved and happy, you can relax, with the assurance that he or she is having a great time - and learning.
    In-App Purchases
  • Also Groovy
    BAFTA-nominated, government approved and played over 300 million times by over 30 million kids.

    Teach Your Monster to Read is an award-winning phonics and reading game that’s helped millions of children learn to read.

    • Parents have seen significant improvements in their children’s literacy within weeks.
    • Teachers claim it’s a wonderful and captivating classroom tool that helps their students learn to read.
    • Kids love making their monster and teaching it read. They learn through play.

    Children create a monster and take it on a magical journey over three extensive games - meeting a host of colourful characters along the way and improving their reading skills as they progress.

    • Covers the first two years of learning to read, from matching letters and sounds to enjoying little books.
    • Designed in collaboration with leading academics and game designers.
    • Complements all synthetic phonics programmes used in schools.
    • Suitable for school and home use.
    • Includes all 3 educational games! First Steps, Fun With Words and Champion Reader!

    The game is rigorous and works with any phonics scheme so it’s perfect for use in school and at home. It’s developed in collaboration with leading academics at the University of Roehampton and has been approved by the UK government as part of the Hungry Little Minds campaign.

    This educational app is commonly used in preschool, primary school, kindergarten and first grade as an interactive teaching resource.

    Teach Your Monster to Read has been created by Teach Monster Games Ltd. which is a subsidiary of The Usborne Foundation. The Usborne Foundation is a charity founded by children’s publisher, Peter Usborne MBE. Harnessing research, design and technology, we create playful media addressing issues from literacy to health. Funds raised from the game go back into the charity, to help us become sustainable and build new projects.

    • Complements Phases 2-5 of UK Government-approved Letters and Sounds and other major systematic synthetic phonics programmes.
    • Absolutely no in-app purchases, hidden costs or in-game adverts. Perfect for kids!
    • Suitable for ages 3-6.
    • Designed in collaboration with reading experts from Roehampton University.

    "This game is the absolute best quality phonics game I have come across for educational and fun value."
    Marie Lewis, Rochdale

    “My class have reaped loads of benefits from using the programme and the difference in some of their reading skills has been dramatic."
    Maria Andrews, Foundation Phase Teacher

    "This is a fabulous game. I'm not kidding when I say that my daughter essentially learned all her letter sounds using First steps, with relatively minimal input from me! Great for parents to practise their letter sounds too."
    Eleanor Jones

    Teach Monster Games Ltd is a subsidiary of The Usborne Foundation, a registered charity in England and Wales, charity number 1121957.
    In-App Purchases
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The 411 from our Appventurer

Anton Mark
Written by:

Anton Mark

As a freelancer, I use all types of different apps so that I can manage my time and remain organized with ease. I’m always on the go so I love anything that can help me to stay on top of my tasks but for fun, I love playing games or watching movies.

I’m a huge sports fan so I’ll usually be checking the latest scores or following up on my teams and I also like to expand my mind with audiobooks and podcasts. Using apps allows me to get through so much more in a typical day that I simply wouldn’t be able to cover otherwise and I love it.

Being able to write about apps is pretty great as I get to research the best apps out there and find the hidden gems that people may not know about then share that information to help others discover their new favorite apps.  

Free vs Paid Kids Reading Games: Pre-K through 5th Grade



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