May 24, 2012 at 8:15 AM ET
Have you ever walked through an airport and seen a toddler gripping an iPhone in their stroller? Kids apps, and kids playing on tablets and smartphones are becoming an increasingly familiar sight. Why? For one, they are being entertained, and two, let's be honest, it gives the parents and grandparents a break. Here are a few top-notch apps for your kids to take with them on their next trip, whether they are playing by themselves or you want to join in the fun.
Best apps for long plane rides
PBS Kids Video | Free | Ages 2–9 | iPhone & IPad
Save money (and time) downloading videos to your iPad before a trip. The PBS Kids Video app has several clips from your child’s favorite shows like Dinosaur Train, Sid the Science Guy, Sesame Street, Curious George, The Electric Company, Martha Speaks and more. Use the browse function to see a list of what’s available, including a smattering of full episodes.
Draw and Tell by Duck Duck Moose (HD) | $1.99 | Ages 2–9 | iPhone & iPad
This is the ultimate coloring book. From the same award-winning children’s app developer that brought you Wheels on the Bus and Word Wagon, this coloring book is more extensive than others you’ll find in the App Store. There are 27 colors and you can use crayons, paints or pencils to color your drawings on a blank page, or ready-to-color scenes. The patterns and stickers are good fun, and you can even record your voice to tell a story or to send your creation as a greeting card.
Monkey Preschool Lunchbox | $1.99 | Ages 1–4 | iPhone, iPad & Android
A squealing, jumping, silly monkey teaches your child how to count fruit, build shapes, match objects and more. This is a fun way to learn the basics for your youngest of travelers. A great game for your child to start playing even before they start preschool.
Best apps to help kids explore a new city
Alfred | Free | iPhone, iPad & Android
Alfred the robot concierge will be your guide through U.S. travels. In the beginning Alfred will ask questions about what kinds of restaurants you like. Then he’ll start recommending places so you can approve or deny. The more you use Alfred, the better he is at choosing places you love. Then, when you get to a new town, you can trust his picks based on previous favorites. This is a clever travel app for the whole family to use together.
Viator Tours & Activities | Free | iPhone & iPad
Let your children participate in what the family will be doing when you get to your destination. This app has 9,000 tours, tickets and activities in more than 750 destinations around the world. From double-decker bus sightseeing tours to tickets that get you to the front of the line at popular attractions like the Vatican in Rome, or the Louvre in Paris. Includes user-submitted photos and reviews.
Roadside America | 3–adult | $2.99–$5.99 | iPhone & iPad
Quick, stop the car! Roadside America is a thorough guide to all that’s weird and story-worthy. You can find unusual attractions near to wherever you are, or look for something by city or state. Search by themes like “big,” "movies," "animals" and even “freaky hoo-ha.”
Best apps for car trips
Tales2Go | Ages 3–preteen | Free for 30 days, $9.99 monthly or $99.99 per year
Stop the kids from fighting over your device and turn on an audio story for the long road trip. There are more than 1,700 stories divided into age-appropriate categories for 3-plus, 5-plus, 7-plus, 9-plus and preteen kids in Tales2Go. There's Clifford and Curious George for the younger set, while the older crew can switch on Diary of a Wimpy Kid or How to Train Your Dragon. Something like Black Beauty could take nearly two hours to get through, which just might give you a break from hearing “Are we there yet?”
Road Trip Bingo HD | Ages 4+ | $1.99 | iPhone & iPad (similar apps on Android)
If your child is sitting up high enough to see out the car window, they’re old enough to play this fun game where you look for signs and vehicles to complete a bingo card. Share between two kids in the back seat with the two-player option. Keeps them busy.
Mad Libs | Ages 6–adults | Free | iPhone & iPad
This is another fun game for the whole family to play whether you’re stuck in the car or waiting for your food to come at a roadside restaurant. Just like in the hard-copy versions, you enter funny nouns, verbs, and plural nouns, and adverbs to create a laugh aloud story. Even in the free version I found topics on Vacations, Driving in the Car and Letter to a Friend Back Home.
Best apps to educate kids on geography
Stack the States | Ages 6+ | $0.99
Kids will learn about capitals, state shapes, and map locations in this four-in-one game populated with cartoon states that stack, drop, tumble and slide around like puzzle pieces. Once you complete a level, you earn a state to add to your country map. You can also tap on states to learn about them before you play. This company also makes Stack the Countries, and both are available in a free lite version.
Kids Maps | Ages 4-8 | $1.99–$2.99 | Android and iPhone
A colorful, interactive, map puzzle for kids. Not all games have to have a million bells and whistles.This one has a simple premise: See the state and drag it to its correct place on the map. But the interface is colorful and interactive, and it offers quirky comments like, “North Dakota. North Dakota is where lots of geese live.” All in all, this puzzle makes learning states more fun than a text book.
Fotopedia National Parks | Ages 5–adult | $0.99 | iPhone and iPad
All of the Fotopedia apps are brimming with photos of startling beauty from renowned photographer QT Luong. Inspire your kids with otherworldly blue-white glaciers from Glacier Bay, starry night skies from Yosemite’s Indian Rock and red-hot molten lava flow from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You can use the pictures to plan a future trip and even get directions via Google Map if you are using the app while already on the road.
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