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.
These apps also merit inclusion, but eventually become frustrating:
- 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.
As you know, we are flying out tomorrow to go to the Disney Aulani resort in Hawaii. No, I haven’t started packing. But yes, I have done a lot of the prep work that will make packing easier. For example, I have already put together a stash of items to make travel easier with two kids. We fly out at night, so we are hoping (but not betting) on some sleep from the kids during the trip. But we’re arming ourselves with a well-packed backpack for each child.
- PlanetBox Shuttle packed with an assortment of reliable, healthy snacks as well as a few novel treats. We plan to eat dinner at the airport, so we don’t need a full meal on the plane, but snacks are always a good idea. Also a good idea: an empty water bottle per child, an extra bag of snacks for delays or security line-ups.
- iPad or phone customized per child. Our kids never get to play on iPads, so this is a treat for them. Though we offer the iPad to Damien in the morning when he wakes up (too damn early), this will be his first time playing apps. We have two iPads, so I’ve customized them per child, with either a movie or tv episodes plus a variety of age-appropriate apps (both educational and gaming).* Don’t forget some kids headphones (though you may want to beware those that limit volume, since planes can be noisy)
- New books are great for the airplane, plus they give you most of your nightly reading material for your trip. If you are traveling with devices, you can also install apps such as Reading Rainbow to broaden your library while you’re away. This trip we have a new I Spy for both kids to enjoy, plus a few short story books.
- Art supplies are essential in our house. This trip we are packing markers, plain paper, stickers, printed colouring sheets, printed mazes and worksheets from Education.com (or an activity book), plus some dry-erase worksheets from school and our Monster Doodles set. Playdoh would work as well, but Damien likes to throw it, so we’re skipping that this time.
- Games like Spot It, Rush Hour or I Spy-related games are small and versatile, as are the variety of Haba tin games. You don’t want to take anything with small pieces on the plane, in case they fall down.
- Toys that you want on the airplane should be small, like cars or dolls, but versatile for use in the hotel as well. One great tip I’ve read is to pack painters tape to allow your kids to create ‘rooms’ or ‘tracks’ anywhere you are – hotel, airplane – with minimal mess
- A warm scarf or mini pillow in case blankets are not available, plus any lovey that your child may need
- Extra clothes in case of accidents, packed in a bag, along with an extra pull-up in case nature calls at an inconvenient time.
- Wipes and/or kleenex, since messes are inevitable
The last tip is to try to relax! You can’t expect to keep your child on a perfect schedule in the middle of travel. Make sure you pack a bag for your comfort too, whether it’s warm socks or a pillow, or for younger children a breastfeeding pillow. I know the hard way how uncomfortable it is to hold a squirming 2.5 year old for several hours during the night without any support (which is why we’ll never travel with our car seat again
*Stay tuned for a review of apps for 2 and 5 year olds! I gathered some tried-and-true favourite apps but also tried to research some new ones. My experience with apps is that there are more ‘hits’ than ‘misses’, so hopefully we have found some new gems!