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.
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).
- 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.
- 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!
- Dots / Two Dots – though higher levels can be frustrating, Aiden is as much addicted to this game as I am
- Plants vs Zombies – can be great fun, until you get eaten by zombies!
- Reading Rainbow – this was an unexpected win, with Aiden reading through a selection of books and exploring the app
- Fruit Ninja – an easy-to-play game that keeps you on your toes
- 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.
- Where’s My Water – this one is a hit, but eventually gets quite difficult
- 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.