Your toddler is rapidly growing into a demanding and distractable dynamo eager to explore and experience the world. In a sea of possible preschool apps, which ones provide the best experiences and learning opportunities to prepare your curious tot for preschool and beyond?

Start by looking at the big picture. Preschool skills include much more than pre-reading, writing or arithmetic. The best apps for preschoolers not only address basic literacy and early math skills, but also expose children to a wide range of activities that can lay the foundation for school success in later years.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the preschool years are prime time for the development of basic cognitive skills like problem solving and completing puzzles. Increased imaginative play and opportunities to exercise social and emotional skills also play a part in these early years.

Try some of these educational preschool apps to encourage all facets of healthy growth and development for your little learner:

  • Numberlys ($5.99, ages 3+) This captivating storybook app features breathtaking graphics that rival the best award-winning picture books for kids—with the added bonus of being interactive. Because the story isn't "cartoony" or condescending, parents will be as entranced as their children. The games are simple—most involve little number characters creating a colorful world while turning numbers into letters. The app reinforces letter and number concepts while creating a truly joyful joint experience for children and parents alike.
  • Chalk Walk ($2.99, ages 3+) Go beyond poking and tapping with an app that's designed to reinforce the fine motor skills necessary to hold a pencil or drawing tool. In this game, your child must capture a series of colorful creatures with two fingers and squeeze them together, keeping her little fingers steady as she moves them along a trail or through a maze. The tool is designed to improve your child's grip and build the basic skills for handwriting.
  • Singing Fingers (free, ages 3+) Finger painting for the future! Just draw on the screen with your finger while making sounds into the microphone—retrace the lines and your masterpiece will talk back. Because the activity is open-ended, your child can indulge her creativity and never get tired of playing. The app also fine-tunes hand-eye coordination and comes with fun sound effects.
  • Toca Kitchen Monsters (free, ages 3+) Feed the monsters! Sounds fun, but there's a problem: These monsters are picky eaters (any resemblance to your own tiny tot is purely coincidental). Your child can choose a monster and then "feed" him from a variety of nutritious foods found in the virtual fridge. Your little foodie can also "cook" in a fake frying pan or pot—with some sizzling sound effects. Kids learn basic nutrition concepts while taming the terrible beasts. Warning: The monsters don't like broccoli—try it and see what happens!
  • Shape Builder: The Preschool Learning Puzzle Game ($.99, ages 3+) This puzzle-plus app will strengthen essential spatial cognitive skills as your child practices with letter, number, and musical instrument puzzle pieces. The simple sound effects—especially the clicking sound when the pieces snap together—is excellent positive reinforcement for the preschool set.
  • Bugs and Buttons ($2.99, ages 3+) Ooh, bugs! Touch the screen and make the bees swarm or the dragonflies buzz. Each game in this insect-based app targets a particular preschool skill set such as pattern recognition, counting or fine motor control. The games start simple but are progressive—they get harder and stay challenging as your child learns and improves. Lots of games and so many bugs to choose from!
  • A Jazzy Day: Swinging with the Big Band ($4.99, ages 3+) Rise and shine—it's going to be a jazzy day! In this music education book/game, adorable animals teach your child about jazz music and the instruments that create it. You can put this lively, be-bopping app experience into read or game mode. A valuable tool to spark interest in reading—and swinging!
  • Dr. Panda's Hospital: Doctor Game For Kids ($1.99, ages 4+) Put your pets in the hospital and make them well with this whimsical app. This tool teaches responsibility and simple science and medical concepts. Your child can choose different pet "patients" and give them shots, take their temperature or just keep them clean and comfortable. Great for explaining to young children what happens at the doctor and for alleviating fears.
  • Faces iMake ($.99, all ages) How about lettuce hair or a banana smile? Use this innovative app to make funny faces using virtual everyday objects like veggies. Other familiar household items like spoons and string can be used to fill out the face portraits. A super creative app that's silly enough to stimulate even the littlest "artistes."
  • Hickory Dickory Dock ($2.99, ages 4+) This visually stunning app uses a clock and a mouse to teach kids to tell time. Each number on the clock takes your child to a different game to play. The games only work fully when the clock is set to the right time so the app is best used with a parent in the beginning.