Finally, spring break is here. If your family has vacation plans, there’s no doubt that you’re excited about the fun and sun you’re about to enjoy…it’s the “getting there” part that’s the problem. Whether you’ll be journeying by land, air, or sea, traveling with kids can be a bit of a challenge. Even seasoned fliers and road-trippers with the best of tricks up their sleeves will run out of kiddie entertainment options at some point. Patience will run thin, “are-we-there-yets” and “how-much-longers” will start, and the relaxing family vacation you’ve been dreaming about might not seem like such a good idea after all.
So, what are parents to do when the coloring books have been tossed aside and the “punch buggy” game has dissolved into a backseat brawl? According to author Jinny Gudmundsen, that’s when it’s time to pull out the iPad.
“If your family owns an iPad, it’s likely that you also don’t travel without it,” explains Gudmundsen, author of iPad Apps For Kids For Dummies®. “And while you’ve probably handed it over to your kids for a few moments of peace and quiet in the past, there’s a good chance you’re missing out on the games and apps that will really hold kids’ attention, have educational value, and make your travels a little more pleasant.”
Gudmundsen, who is the respected USA TODAY Kid-Tech columnist and also a mother who has traveled with her two kids, has made it her mission to help families find the best apps for their kids. She has personally taken a multitude of kid-friendly apps on a test run, and in iPad Apps For Kids For Dummies® she breaks them all down—including the best of the best when it comes to apps for surviving your next road trip.
“When you know what to look for, apps can be one of the best tools in your traveling- with-kids arsenal,” she explains. “Not only do they provide hours of entertainment and engagement for road-weary kids, they also give exhausted parents a bit of a break—and no matter how many you add to your collection, they won’t take up any more space in your suitcase!”
Once the sunscreen is packed and the car is loaded, take some time to add a few apps to your travel kit. Read on for six iPad apps for kids that Gudmundsen says are sure to please even the crankiest of car-weary kids:
- Road-Trip-Bingo HD.
For families traveling by car, bus, or train, this nifty app provides a way to play the classic travel bingo game with either one or two players, which is a big bonus for families traveling with more than one kid. For one player, the app presents a bingo card full of road signs, vehicles, traffic signs, animals, weather, and things typically found along the road, like street lights and telephone poles. When kids see the items on the card, they tap the picture and a purple marker appears. When they get five in a row in any direction, they win. When playing with two players, you can place the bingo cards either side by side or facing away from each other. Both versions can have classical music play as an accompaniment, so if headphones aren’t readily available, other passengers in the car won’t be subjected to annoying game sounds and music.
“The iTunes store has a ton of travel bingo apps,” Gudmundsen explains. “This one rises above the others because it has the option of playing with another person—which not only makes the game more fun, it gives parents with one iPad and two kids a break from the sibling squabble over whose turn it is. This is a great way to make those miles go by quickly, and it teaches kids to be observant.”
- Mask Jumble Animals.
Mask Jumble Animals is a dress-up app that appeals equally to boys and girls. It turns the iPad into a virtual mirror that overlays your child’s face with cute animal masks. Your child will see herself looking like a dog, rabbit, lion, gorilla, elephant, horse, panda, tiger, goat, and cow. Using real-time face recognition software, the app lines up your child’s nose, ears, chin, and forehead inside of a template and then lets kids superimpose animal parts onto their faces. But the app isn’t automatic; it asks your child to create a specific animal. When she touches a specific facial feature such as her nose, the app cycles through a variety of animal noses. Your child must choose the correct one. When she builds the entire mask, she’s rewarded with sparkles and the opportunity to take a photo. You can share the photo with others via the iPad’s photo collection.
“When traveling with my kids, I have found that if I save some special activity for late in the afternoon, instead of having whiny kids, I can buy some peace until dinner,” asserts Gudmundsen. “This app is perfect for that kind of late-afternoon pick-me-up.”
What family doesn’t enjoy a good game of miniature golf while on vacation? Have kids play your favorite vacation sport before you ever arrive at your destination. With breathtaking visuals, this app is like no other miniature golf course you have ever seen. It’s a multilayered and constantly changing course of greens where you play on top of lily pads in a pool, through a submarine, down a ski slope, and across crosswalks that lead to elevators—all while seeking to attain that elusive hole in one. At the end of one of the holes, a hot air balloon express delivers your ball to the next green. It’s both over-the-top and cool.
“Whenever our family goes on vacation, we are always on the lookout for a miniature golf course,” Gudmundsen admits. “Because it’s one of the few sports in which I have a shot at trouncing my athletic guys (yes, two sons and a hubby), my eye is particularly eagle-like. That’s why I was delighted to discover this amazing course—right on my iPad. The play mechanics involve simply touching the ball, dragging back to set the strength of a putt, and then releasing, so this is a golf game that’s easy to play. However, mastering these wildly original holes can be challenging. Although the app has only 18 holes, they are exciting to explore. Keep in mind, this app plays only on iPad 2 or newer.”
- Mad Libs: On the Road.
Mad Libs booklets have been standard fare for travel toy bags since the dawn of are-we-there-yets. Now they’re digital, and still just as fun to explore as a family when you’re stuck in transit for long hours at a time. For newbies, Mad Libs are stories with blank words you ask others to fill in with parts of speech, colors, parts of the body, numbers, etc. Players try to contribute the zaniest words they can think of to produce a hilarious hodge-podge of a story. Mad Libs can be filled out alone, but the best way to play them is in a group with one person designated as the reader. He or she gets to decide which of the suggested words to add to the story. This app has 20 stories to explore, ranging from “A Family Car Trip” to “Your Junk Is Someone Else’s Treasure.”
“Our family loved playing Mad Libs on road trips,” explains Gudmundsen. “My sons quickly learned the parts of speech so that they could contribute an adjective or an adverb. In this version, the ‘About’ section reminds kids what each of the parts of speech means. Because most families probably want to explore more than four stories, I suggest bypassing the free, ad-filled version and going straight for the good stuff—this app. After you finish a Mad Lib story, the app offers you the option to e-mail the completed story.”
- BRAIN QUEST.
This app modernizes the traditional educational travel card sets and brings them into the digital travel toy kit. Now, the brainy questions, broken into sets for grades 1-5, are all on the iPad in one handy app. Your kids select their grade level, and then play an adventure game that moves them forward by answering a set of educational questions. The free version of the app provides only the first four stages in each grade level, so if you’re going on a road trip, Gudmundsen recommends that you buy your child’s grade from within the app for $2.99. And if you think you’ll use this app across several grade levels, she recommends unlocking the whole app (all grade levels) for $9.99.
“When my kids were in grade school, I used BRAIN QUEST cards as part of my standard traveling toy box, so I was thrilled to find this new and updated digital version for the iPad,” Gudmundsen says. “The questions cover all subjects, and the content is vetted by a panel of educators. With siblings, this app can be used for a pass-the-iPad game with each child playing his own grade level and then comparing scores after each round. When traveling in the car, my family also enjoys having one person read the questions out loud, and then everyone throwing out answers. Since it has educational value, this app can be particularly helpful during spring break or summer vacation to help kids counter the dreaded ‘summer slide.’ A real win-win for parents!”
- Learn the States—USA Capital and Geography Fact Learning.
Want your kids to learn U.S. geography? There’s an app for that! This app includes three different games that make learning fun. (Be aware that this app doesn’t talk to children, so they must be able to read to play.) The most unusual of the games asks kids to plan the ultimate driving trip across three targeted states by drawing a path for a car to follow. In another game, kids touch the interactive map according to directions, such as “Tap on the state of California.” The last game is a multiple-choice quiz in which the answers are shown either as the state or in words.
“I selected this app for two reasons,” Gudmundsen explains. “First, the plan-your-trip-on-a-map game is unique and fun, especially when you get to watch a little toy car motor its way across the country to see if you managed to plan a path that travels over the correct states (the states light up if you’re right). Second, it has a reward system in which kids earn one of the 50 state quarters when they are correct. This isn’t the slickest app, nor does it showcase great graphics; but it makes learning geography fun.”
“The iPad can be a great asset for families embarking on spring break or any other travel,” Gudmundsen concludes. “I recommend limiting screen time so kids don’t become bored too quickly. You can always use the allure of new apps as motivation and rewards for good behavior. All in all, there are some truly fun, educational, and quality apps that kids can enjoy while you travel to your destination. And if it buys you a little more peace and fewer are-we-there-yets, then all the better!”
Jinny Gudmundsen is the author of iPad Apps For Kids For Dummies®. She is the Kid-Tech columnist for USA TODAY and the Gannett newspaper chain. An authority on technology for kids, she also works for Common Sense Media, the nation’s leading nonprofit source of reviews on children’s media, and is the editor of ComputingWithKids.com.