With folks hitting the road for the July 4th weekend and other summer trips, families will be spending lots of quality time together all across the state, country, and globe. But there’s one piece of travel we may not think about very much – down time. Every trip, but especially the long haul plane and car rides, involves some significant amount of time when there really isn’t much for kids, or parents, to do. Waiting at the airport, sitting in the back seat of the car, or transferring from one train to the next – these are probably the hardest parts of vacation to plan. What are the kids going to do during all this “in-between” time?
Since tablets and smartphones became synonymous with child-rearing, the options for down-time have increased exponentially. But watching YouTube videos or playing mindless jumping games for hours on end is not most parents’ goal. Luckily, NPR Ed recently published an article highlighting some of this summer’s best apps for kids. Some of the best apps are educational, but kids can’t tell they’re learning while they play. NPR recommends that parents turn to Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that reviews apps, games, movies, and other media directed at families. They aim to provide parents with information about age appropriateness and learning potential so that families can make proactive choices about how kids spend their screen time. The reviews are very comprehensive and cover things like what skills are being worked on; what the experience is like for the player; whether the media includes positive messages, violence, or other noteworthy features; and the overall quality of the media.
The NPR piece gives a shout out to Motion Math (5+), which is one of our favorites here at The Yellin Center. What’s notable about the Motion Math series of apps is that they engage the player in immersive experiences, like learning basic economics while running a pizzeria. Another series of apps rated highly by the folks at Common Sense Media is Toca Boca. One of the Toca Boca apps is Toca Lab: Plants, which offers young kids (6+) an opportunity to freely explore and experiment with the basics of botany. There’s no “winning” in this game; the game is focused on kids growing plants and evolving them into new species by discovering what plants need to survive. This cute game packs a big science punch for young minds. Other Toca Boca games are focused on habitats, chemistry, train sets, and building robots. Parents can choose apps for their little gamers based on their trip’s destination.
For the even younger crowd (2+), there are a plethora of colorful, slow-paced puzzle apps. Some well-rated examples are Slide & Spin; which works on fine motor skills and is reminiscent of those classic wooden toy boxes that allow toddlers to tap, slide, and twist knobs to make objects pop out of boxes; and Busy Shapes, which gives kids a digital playground to explore and manipulate as they learn how objects influence other objects.
An absolutely adorable app that popped up in our search is Peek-a-Zoo, rated five stars on Common Sense Media. Peek-a-Zoo is extremely simple and geared towards the youngest of gamers. The game has children choose an animal based on a facial expression or emotion. For example, one screen asks “Who is surprised?” and it’s the child’s job to use the facial cues to pick the correct animal.
Common Sense Media also has curated lists of apps based on age, including the Best Kids’ Apps to Download Before a Flight. Before you set off for the airport or pile into the car for your upcoming family road trip, consider curating a set of apps for your children to use. And for the purists among us, there’s even a highly rated app version of the classic license plate game, where family members compete to spot license plates from different states or with different designs.