It is part of a push to encourage poorer families to work with their children to develop their language and literacy skills at home.
According to DfE data, disadvantaged children are on average four months behind their better-off peers in their overall development at the age of five.
Under the scheme, families in 12 pilot areas will get free access to a choice of two of the best apps focused on early language, literacy and communication.
The aim is to help parents think about how to use children’s screen time constructively and find learning activities for them before they start reception.
Tech companies that field apps for the scheme that meet the educational criteria – including elements of play, interaction and ranging difficulty levels – will be given a DfE “stamp of approval” to help parents make choices about apps.
Children and families minister Kemi Badenoch said: “A great education is the key to unlocking every child’s potential and ensuring no-one is left behind.
“We want to work together with families to give all children the best possible start and support parents to begin the learning process at home.
“Digital technology means there is a wealth of fun activities at parents’ fingertips, but the content of these is important too.
“That’s why we want to help parents make confident, informed choices about the resources they use, so they can help inspire a love of learning in their children.”
The scheme was first announced in February by then-education secretary Damian Hinds.
The areas that will benefit from the scheme from next year are Middlesbrough, Oldham and Halton in the North and Stoke-on-Trent, Sandwell and Leicester in the Midlands.
In London, families in Enfield, Tower Hamlets and Brent will be invited to take part, and elsewhere families in Peterborough, Luton and Plymouth will also be invited to participate.