If you’re headed out of town today for the Thanksgiving holiday, chances are your head is swimming with long lists of things to pack for your trip. Diapers, wipes, butt balm … sippy cups, crackers, raisins … training pants, travel potty, 6 extra sets of clothes. The list goes on and on.
Well, here’s one item you can check off your list: some new apps for your phone or tablet, to ensure that your little ones stay entertained and well-behaved as you go over the river and through the woods. After all, you can’t read to them while you’re behind the wheel; you can only play so many rounds of I Spy; and singing “Wheels on the Bus” for hours on end makes me want a drink — not recommended when you’re in gridlock on the interstate.
These apps have all been tested and loved by my 4-year-old son. I was wary at first of introducing him to the world of apps — this is a child who loves intensely, and the last thing he needs is another obsession — but with some basic rules we’ve kept it under control. He can only play these games when we’re well into the trip — when our plane is in the air or once the car has gotten on the interstate — and he knows that if he misbehaves on the trip he’ll lose his tablet privileges.
We keep the volume low or off (headphones would also be a good option), and in an airport we turn the WiFi option off. (If you’re using a device with 3G or 4G connections, I recommend putting parental controls on any downloads, and disabling in-app purchases. My son knows that if an ad pops up he needs to press the X and make it go away, but fat preschooler fingers sometimes go astray, so I like having parental controls as a failsafe.)
I actually downloaded this for myself, but my son got a glimpse of the cartoon airplanes and had to try it. It took him a while to get the hang of it, but now he plays the game easily. You play as the manager of an airport; you’re in charge of directing planes to take off and land, and sending them to be washed and repaired. You manage several airplanes at a time, and you’ve got to keep them happy! With several levels at each of nine different airports, this game will keep your child entertained through several layovers. iOS and Android; $0.99
Kids Preschool Puzzles
With more than 100 simple puzzles, in shapes such as letters and numbers, vehicles, animals and household items, this app is great for kids just learning to use a touchscreen. You can also choose to have the app display and/or speak the name of the object when the puzzle is completed, for an extra learning boost. There are a few odd choices — one puzzle showing a Russian nesting doll is labeled “matryoshka,” hardly a common word — but even so, this remains one of our favorite apps. Android; $2.99, or try the lite version for free
Your Lego-obsessed kid can now take those bright plastic blocks on the go. This app lets kids load up a train with cargo, guide it along a track, and drive it into the station. It’s different every time, meaning that your child can play this for a while without getting bored. This train-focused app is just one of several Lego Duplo apps, and there are plenty more built around Lego Juniors and other Lego series. iOS and Android; free
With five different activities, this game has plenty to offer kids. They can send a dirty car through a carwash (and then upgrade its paint job with stickers and airbrushes); or they can sort recyclables into bins and then dump the bins in a recycling truck. My son’s favorite game: operating a bulldozer to pile up a giant mound of dirt. We’d previously only played this on an iPad, but it’s recently become available for Android devices, so we’ll be adding it to our family’s library of apps. iOS and Android; $1.99
Vehicles and Trucks for Kids
This app combines a classic memory game with images and sounds from dozens of vehicles. Set the level at easy, medium or hard to provide the right challenge for your child. Play along with your little one and you can teach him or her the names of the vehicles; you’ll see bicycles, forklifts, ambulances, cars, helicopters and more. I was pleasantly surprised to see how easily my son got the hang of this; I truly didn’t think he was ready for the harder levels of this game, but after one or two games he was matching up images like it was no big thing. Android; $1.39, or use the lite version for free
If your children play games on phones or tablets, what are some of their favorites? Share in the comments.