SHARING AMERICA'S TECH NEWS FROM THE VALLEY TO THE ALLEY
If you are planning a trip with your children, here’s a secret weapon for your sanity: apps. With the right apps preloaded on your smartphone or tablet, you will have a response for when the going gets tough. Here’s a list that can help to keep the whining and tantrums to a minimum.
My Dad Drives a Roller Coaster Car
Crab Hill Press LLC, best for ages 3-7, $1.99, iPad
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 4)
Perfect for the family whose vacation includes a trip to an amusement park, this app tells the story of little Hank trying to keep up with his family members who all drive amusement park vehicles. His dad drives the roller coaster, his mom sports a carousel horse and his uncle flies a ship from the rocket ride. Grandpa skippers a boat from the flume ride. After asking family members whether he can drive their special vehicles and being turned down, Hank finally finds a bumper car that needs driving. With fun animation, zany sounds and high energy that comes from tapping words that produce sounds like “clack clackity clack clack,” this book app keeps kids giggling and reading, and builds anticipation for the fun to be had at the amusement park.
Rating: 3.5 stars
When your wiggle worm kids have turned into a constant state of antsy, bring out “Finger Hoola.” Because most travel involves being confined in a small space of a car, plane, train or bus, giving kids a hoola hoop to burn off steam isn’t possible. But with this app, kids play with virtual hoops that they spin around their fingers. Presented as a series of puzzles, the app challenges kids to change the speed of their spinning to match a marker found on a musical meter. Spinning faster pushes the marker up to the top of the meter, and slow movements bring the meter down. In the process of spinning, players create music that is both calming and magical. This is unlike any app you will have ever played.
Ting-Wei Liu, best for ages 3-12, free, iPad.
Rating: 4 stars
One of the ways to keep kids going at the end of a long travel day is to present them with something that creates wonder. “Color Band” accomplishes that by letting kids color with paint that simultaneously creates music. That’s cool, but apps have done that before. What makes this one special is that when painters are done with their artwork, they can “play” the music by waving their hands in front of the screen in a Kinect-like manner. This is the first motion-controlled game I have seen for the iPad, and it’s a stunner. Kids can also play their painting by touching it to create music. This free art and music creation app comes with a limited number of instruments and drawing spaces, but more are available as an in-app purchase.
PlayDate Digital, best for age 3-10, $1.99, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
Rating: 4 stars
One way to keep kids from whining on a trip is to provide them with something that tickles their imaginations. “Magic Stickers!” from Lazoo puts animated stickers into kids’ hands along with silly and fascinating backdrops. Snow cones become mountains; broccoli, a tree; and a loaf of bread, a bus full of animals playing music. This app encourages kids to experiment by placing its more than 50 stickers into scenes to see what happens when they hit the “Go” button to make them animate. In addition, kids can design stickers, which the app then animates. This open-ended playground encourages self-expression, with a healthy dollop of silliness. Your kids will laugh as they turn sandwiches into mountains on which a musical mushroom grows.
Motion Math, best for ages 9-up, free, iPad
Rating: 3.5 stars
When the whole family needs a diversion, fire up “Questimate.” This iPad exclusive game lets you design fascinating estimation questions to stump the whole family. In the free Intro round, the game helps you to construct a question you are interested in by giving you choices of things to compare. You then “guess” the right answer and can pass on the iPad to others for their guesses, too. The app then answers the question; and if you were close to the correct answer, you earn points. A sample question is “How tall is an average man compared to an average woman,” which you answer by pinching the image of a woman until she is the right height for your guess. Try this game out for free; and if you like it, you will enjoy it more if you unlock a few of the extra categories that include Need for Speed, Amazing Animals and History of Awesome. These extra categories cost between $1-$2. This is a clever way to bring math into your family’s life.
Pettson’s Inventions Deluxe
Rating: 4 stars
Sometimes a good set of puzzles can get your kids’ minds off the endless miles of travel. “Pettson’s Inventions Deluxe” is just that kind of puzzle. Each of the 66 puzzles has a Rube Goldberg quality as you drag crazy parts to the play space to create inventions that will shower a bird, rock an old woman’s chair or clean a dirty pig. There is even a very challenging “versus” mode where two people are presented with the same puzzle on opposite ends of the tablet, and they compete to see who can construct the wacky contraption first.
This deluxe version combines most of the inventions found in “Pettson’s Inventions” and “Pettson’s Inventions 2” and adds a few new ones. If you don’t have a tablet, those original two apps are available on smartphones and are equally as good.