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
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.
These apps also merit inclusion, but eventually become frustrating:
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.
Yesterday, I tried to prepare for the visit to the Dr by looking for a new iPhone app for Aiden. Generally speaking, he only spends time on the iPhone during our morning cuddles, and mostly he just watches short YouTube clips. Most apps he has a very short attention span for.
By luck, I stumbled across the Toddler Teasers set of iPhone apps and gave the animals version a try. I was blown away. Aiden instantly understood what to do.
The apps are simple… audio prompts asks a series of quiz sets such as “Touch the dog” and “Point to the pig”, giving 3 or more options to choose from. The levels increase with success, adding more variables. Aiden whipped through them no problem, I was floored. When you get a right answer, the app cheers. A wrong answer prompts to continue trying.
After a pre-determined number of quizzes, there is a sticker page. Although he was a little slower to understand what to do there, he now knows. Today, I bought add-ons at $0.99 each for the alphabet, colours, foods, cars and numbers. There are more choices too. He had no problem with the colours or foods, which totally surprised me. He even knew some letters!
Totally loving this app. I had no idea that Aiden knew so much!! And he LOVES it – he laughs and smiles and cheers when he gets things right. Great to pull out in a pinch when waiting for food at a restaurant, in a doctor’s office, or to play together to learn in a different way (I found that my repetition of the questions increased his accuracy).
Aiden is obsessed with “baby”. It’s the source of the majority of our tantrums. And also some of our cutest cuddle moments. For many months now, Aiden has associated the iPhone with looking at pictures and videos of himself – hence, “baby.”
While we have a few games, some of which can grab his attention for a couple of minutes, and we’ve tried some shows, by far he prefers the photos and videos of himself. He knows how to swipe forward and backward through the album and how to press ‘play’ on the videos. Sometimes he’ll press something and get “sta” (stuck), but generally he’s quite good at it.
Right now, I try to limit him to one “baby” session a day, usually sometime in the morning when he’s the most whiny and clingy. Aside from that, we try to keep the iPhones hidden. Just like with tv, it’s our choice to try to stimulate Aiden with play instead. So, Mommy & Daddy now read paper books (!!) downstairs.
Are gadgets an issue in your house too? How do you deal with it?
I’m all for reading to your child and for encouraging a love of reading. We’ve also toyed with getting an iPad at some point so that Aiden can enjoy interactive books, vs any computer “learning” aid. A new App is making the waves for how well it can ‘interact’ with your child. Sounds good, right? But this… this will make you cry:
I’ve been using Camera+ for all of my photos lately from my iPhone. Even if you don’t like adding filters or changes to your iPhone photos, you’ll want to consider this app. The biggest plus, in my books, is simply the speed – the application launches, and takes photos, faster than the in-build iPhone camera application!
There are lots of features about why I consider this to be an ideal app for parents of small kids:
Camera+ launches faster than the in-build camera
You don’t need to wait for the photo to save before taking another photo (it background saves)
You can set the camera to "burst" mode to capture many images in a row (great for a moving target like a toddler)
You can save images or upload directly to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc
You can save or upload single or multiple images
There are many effects (FX) to choose from, as well as simple scene mode fixes and borders. And cropping!!
There are fancier features that make this app unique, like the touch exposure and focus, but even if you just use these basic features, you’ll never go back to the regular camera. Now, if only they did video too!!
I have tried several other photo applications for the iPhone including Hipstamatic, Instagram, QuadCamera, CameraBag, Darkroom, and more. Sometimes to get the effect or crop I wanted, I ended up using a couple of applications in a row. Very annoying. I don’t often add effects, but sometimes it’s nice to play around. I’ve decided I like apps that add effects after the photo is taken, so no potentially good photos are ruined by unexpected effects results.
I’ll use a few of my less-than-great images to demonstrate how I used Camera+ to make them into great images.
In particular, I was able to take an otherwise low-quality image (right) of Aiden and make it seem unique. By making the photo black & white, you couldn’t tell that we had on our “doing the laundry” sheets, which aren’t so white anymore, and I further enhanced the theme of “old man pajamas” by using an old-fashioned border.
The app is also fun for non-baby photos, as I demonstrated last night. While waiting for Aiden to fall asleep, I took a self portrait and got many positive comments. However, I can’t claim all the glory! Using the Camera+ Polarize FX and Vignette border, I was able to take a grainy low-light image that made me look kind of blah and turn it into something more glam:
Nothing compares to the SLR for clarity, but you can achieve some great shots with your iPhone given the right conditions. For inspiration, check out the Killer Photos with Your iPhone book co-authored by my friend, Kris Krug.