iPhone and iPad Apps for a 5 Year Old

When we went to Hawaii in January, I spent a while loading up our iPads with apps geared toward each child. Since we have two iPads, we were able to specify the video content and apps on each iPad to cater to the age and interests of each child. My 5.5 year old, Aiden, rarely plays on the iPad. When given “screen” time, he almost always chooses to watch tv. Since he doesn’t get much screen time to begin with, gaming isn’t a mainstay for us. 

With that said, flying at night with two boys unlikely to sleep, I was prepared. I checked out ‘Best of’ lists, I browsed reviews, I put together quite a lot of apps for my boys to test. In the end, several apps were a bust, while others were clear winners. Some apps required a lot of parental involvement to click through screens or explain, so those were a bust from my perspective, at least for air travel.

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Top iPad Apps / iPhone Apps Decided By My 5-Year Old

Aiden gravitated toward just a small selection of apps, which he played almost exclusively on the plane ride there and back (instead of watching tv). His app preferences lean toward puzzle-based games right now (things that are challenging) vs just zone-out games (like racing cars or trains). 

  1. Pettson’s Inventions – this app kept him occupied for hours and was the most engrossing app he’s ever played. He was fascinated with trying to put the machinery together, though sometimes it did cause frustration. In the end, he completed the whole game. 
  2. DragonBox Algebra – this is a math-based app that is more game than anything, but it does secretly teach the basics of algebra, and I’m all for that. Aiden completed quite a number of levels in this recently!
  3. Dots / Two Dots - though higher levels can be frustrating, Aiden is as much addicted to this game as I am
  4. Plants vs Zombies – can be great fun, until you get eaten by zombies!
  5. Reading Rainbow – this was an unexpected win, with Aiden reading through a selection of books and exploring the app
  6. Fruit Ninja - an easy-to-play game that keeps you on your toes
  7. Anything by Toca Boca – Cars, Kitchen, Builders, Doctor, etc. With so many apps to choose from, you can choose ones your child will like for many years (from age 2+). We have found some apps more challenging than others, and some a great deal less interesting. But overall a guaranteed good app. 
These apps also merit inclusion, but eventually become frustrating:
  1. Where’s My Water – this one is a hit, but eventually gets quite difficult
  2. Sprinkle or Sprinkle Islands - very much like Where’s My Water, and also gets quite difficult

If you are looking for Educational Apps for 5 year olds, there’s quite a lot of options for “Kindergarten prep”, but in our experience they aren’t very interesting to play. Aiden did not enjoy playing any of the Starfall apps or the MeeGenius app, for example. App developer Originator make a series of apps that truly engage at different reading readiness levels: Endless Alphabet, Endless Wordplay, and Endless Reader. If you are willing to play alongside your child, you could also use a game such as Charades! that is endlessly fun for early readers. Right now, we use the iPad primarily for entertainment, so I never push Aiden to “play” anything he doesn’t want to play. 

Spring Break: Relaxing or Chaotic?

With two very active little boys, there’s not much “break” to Spring Break. Two weeks off school is necessary and great, but it did throw a wrench into a routine I felt we were all finally getting used to. I struggled to fit my work time in, but we did not struggle to create new memories. 

We went to the cottage. Twice. The first weekend (the first trip for the kids!), we discovered a leak (yay!) and our pump broke (yay!), but we had glorious sunshine. The second weekend, which originally looked like it was going to be nicer, wasn’t. Still, we went. We just didn’t stay long. It was cloudy but less chaotic. We now have a huge pile of odd sticks, shells and sea glass. Pinterest to the rescue

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We had a kid-free weekend to celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary (which is coming up in 2 weeks). We went to Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler. Why not just go to the cottage without the kids? First, we LOVE it at Nita Lake. Second, I scored a deal on a Facebook moms group! It felt so good to be lazy, get a massage and eat amazing food. 

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We spent a lot of time outside going to some favourite local parks, meeting with friends, or just chilling in the sun with scooters and bikes and sidewalk chalk. 

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We went to our favourite activity spots, namely the AquariumScience World and Maplewood Farm. These are always the top requests when we have a full day off!

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We threw in some last-minute fun! To top it off, we drove back from Whistler and decided to treat the kids to a visit to the PlayDome. I hadn’t been willing to take both kids myself mid-week, but I am SO glad we went. They both had a blast! 

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So, was it relaxing? Sometimes. You know, if you don’t count the unexpected leaks and things breaking and rain and ongoing frustrations in trying to find a boat. But, you know, if you forget about those things… then yes! 

Disney Aulani: A Family Paradise in Hawaii

For the past few weeks, I’ve been giving you a rundown on our January trip to Disney Aulani, an amazing resort on Oahu. It was our decision to go to Aulani primarily because it’s such a family-friendly resort, with so many activities and amenities that you don’t have to ever leave the resort. And, aside from a couple of walks and one dinner, we didn’t! We stayed at Aulani for 7 nights, enjoying everything the hotel had to offer. It was simply one of the most stunning resorts we’ve ever stayed at. 

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From the natural landscaping to the introducing of menehune, which are an integral part of the storytelling at Aulani, you would never think “Disney” while at the resort. The touches are subtle, hidden in some food items or in the gift store; more than anything, Aulani is “Disney” because it was built, from the ground up, with families in mind. The layers of detail put into making the resort an “experience” are astounding. 

Right from the get go, you are welcomed to Aulani with warmth. Kids are given a menehune necklace, adults either a lei or a bead necklace. All employees at Aulani, from the front staff to the servers to the army of people keeping the resort pristine, are very much “Disney” – smiling, outgoing, helpful and polite. We always felt welcome. We always felt spoiled. And that’s what you want from a vacation.  

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Our Rooms

We stayed in a Standard Room with one bed and one pull-out couch. We thought our travel agent had booked two queen beds (which do appear as an option on the website), but were told when we got there that it was not an option. No idea what happened there, so we just let it go. The sleeping arrangements were mostly the same anyway – the kids in one bed, us in another. We felt like the jump in price from the Standard Room to the Suites or Villas was not worth it.

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Our Standard Room came with a small kitchen area – mini fridge, sink, microwave and basic dishes. Even though the restaurants at Aulani are expensive (see all dining options reviewed here), it was still cheaper than a room upgrade that included a kitchen.

The beds were comfortable, though slightly on the firm side, and the room was kept quite tidy. We never experienced towel figurines as I hear sometimes happen, but we found the rooms to be a good quality. I have only two complaints: one, our glassware was very dirty (see photo here), making me wary of just how “clean” our tidy room was. Second, they really need a makeup mirror!! The vanity mirror is so far away on the large sink that it was difficult to apply make-up. 

A note on view options: the garden view is cheaper, but the landscaping is amazing, so don’t consider this a bad view. Our room had an ocean view, but from the back of a building, so our view was interrupted by a big parking garage. I think the garden view would have been nicer!

Beaches, Pools & Other Water Features

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This is where Aulani shines above every other resort in Hawaii and, I would say, many other tropical destinations as well. It’s like the Disneyland of tropical resorts. There are many pools, from the zero entry Waikolohe Pool to the adult only options, there are 2 spray park / splash zones (one for really small tots, one for older kids with 2 watersides at the Menehune Bridge), a lazy river, plus two larger watersides. And don’t forget the (extra cost) Rainbow Reef where you can swim with the fish!

I talk about all the water features in my What to Do at Disney Aulani post, but I do have to say this was the most impressive part of Aulani. All the pools are beautifully landscaped, very large, and so much fun! There are so many options that you can go from one area to another and really feel like you’re doing a lot of things in one day – in a very small space!

The beach at Aulani is a man-made lagoon, as is common with many Hawaii hotels. There are beach toys and water toys available to use or rent, so if you’re beach people, there’s a lot to do! We spent some time playing in the sand and water… but we’re mostly pool people!  

Before you go: print off my Aulani Lazy River Scavenger Hunt!

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Signs of Spring Printable

Spring came early to Vancouver this year. For the past month, the buds have been appearing and the flowers coming out. Now, in early March, our gardens are filled with daffodils and crocuses and tendrils of other plants are in abundance. To celebrate, I created a drawing prompt inviting the boys to document their own Signs of Spring. 

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I took the boys outside armed with pencil crayons and organized neatly with some inexpensive clipboards, to make it easier to draw on rough surfaces. The boys took great pride in drawing – Aiden was careful to document many kinds of flowers, some early shoots of plants, a little tree with lots of new shoots, and some unfurled ferns. Damien just scribbled, but it kept him occupied for a good 20 minutes running around to different areas of the garden and yelling how “need dark blue!” in excitement. It was a great afternoon!

Download the Signs of Spring Printable below (click for hi-res PDF):

Signs of spring

Disney Aulani Lazy River Scavenger Hunt

The Disney Aulani Waikolohe Stream features the lazy river, which includes a small ‘rapids’ section, and 2 water slides. Waikolohe means “mischievous water” in the Hawaiian language, and I think that is an apt description not only of the water features but of the hidden pictures throughout the rock features.

All the various pool areas are bordered by rock walls and features so seamlessly created as to look real, from the volcano rising in the centre where the two large waterslides culminate to the lazy river twirling around the property. If you look closely, however, you’ll note some hidden features in the rock walls. Every time I went around the property, I found myself spotting a new animal or sea creature popping out of the rocks. 

I fell in love with this feature of the property and thought I would create a scavenger hunt for others to play while staying at Disney Aulani.

Disney Aulani Lazy River Rock Pictures Scavenger Hunt


If you spot other creatures in the lazy river section (not the whole property, as I know they are everywhere), add a photo in the comments or email me the picture so I can add it! I have some photos that I think are something (here, here, here, here), but I couldn’t figure it out!

Since we had such a great time at Disney Aulani, I’ve created a series of reviews of our experience, including some tips on how to make the most of your stay with your family. For the full series of reviews, check here.