I'll admit that while we've taken almost 30 flights with our 2-and-a-half-year-old, we've yet to use the iPad. That's partly due to the fact that we cracked the screen years ago and haven't bothered to have it replaced, but it's also because the kid bucks all typical toddler and kid trends and doesn't care about screens in the least. But you can bet the minute she shows an interest, I'll be pulling up these 15 free apps to load into your kids' tablet before a road trip or flight, because those are opportune moments to give your kid the treat of an app to chill out.
Both flights and road trips definitely necessitate extra entertainment than the usual day-to-day books or toys. When you need your kid to sit (relatively) quietly so you can drive in peace for hours to see family, or so you can avoid driving a flight full of stern-looking adults crazy, a tablet might well be exactly what can help you all survive the journey in one piece.
It's important to remember, though, that the tablet is best used as the last resort when things really start getting out of hand (i.e. your kid has eaten through your whole stash of special treats and blown through all of your Target dollar-bin entertainment options). Don't start the journey by offering the tablet —that'll only set you up for disaster an hour down the road. If you do pull it out before take off, make sure it is loaded with hours of entertainment, even way more than the length of your journey.
If you're headed out on a road trip or flight soon, here are some free apps to download to keep your kid quietly distracted until you arrive.
1. Sago Mini World
With 25 different games included in the app, this download packs a lot of bang for its buck, except it's free, which is even better. It's designed for the toddler set and young kids. Kids can explore space, fly through a forest, build a robot, design a monster, drive a firetruck, deep-sea dive, become a superhero and more, all within the same app.
2. Caspar Babypants Music Time!
Here's an app for little ones, even as young as 1-2 years old. Caspar Babypants Music Time! offers kids an interactive music app where they can "play" different instruments while singing along to songs from children's albums by Chris Ballew (of the rock band The Presidents of the United States). Kids who already know a little about music can practice chord changes with the songs as well.
3. Preschool Animal Match
The name really describes the guts of the app, but that's the beauty of apps for toddlers and preschoolers: They don't have to be elaborate in order to capture a little one's attention for relatively long periods of time. In this app, kids match the animal cards to each other and practice the names of each animal.
4. Tiny Tower
For the older kids, try Tiny Tower, a strategy game that involves building floors of a tower for 'bitizens' to live in. You can do different things to attract them to your towers, including upgrading the elevator. It's the little things!
5. Sky Burger
File this one under "how did they think of that?" as well as "totally harmless." Ingredients fall from the sky, and you catch them to build a burger. The best burgers earn you tips. It's sort of like a prequel to your kid's summer job working at the local fast food joint, but with a little more creative license.
6. Memory Master
I can't think of anything I'd rather do less on a flight than try to memorize color sequences as they flash by my face, but I know this is something that will mesmerize some kids for hours. You'll test your short term memory by repeating color light sequences until you get them correctly and move on to the next level.
7. Unblock Me
Unblock Me is sort of a mix between a Rubix cube and reverse tetris. You need to slide the wooden blocks out of the way in order to free the red block from the pack. You can swipe peacefully at your leisure or turn on challenge mode to make the game harder.
8. Zen Studio
If you want to calm your kid down, not hype him up trying to save Farmer Lewis's land with pawned artifacts, try Zen Studio. It's a finger painting app designed to be a sort of meditation tool for kids. That's exactly what you need on your next flight — for your whole family, actually. The app also has a tutorial that will help your child think about color, space, and symmetry as they create.
9. Hoopa Life
This app might help you find out if your kid is going to be the next city planner. Your little one can plan out her own city, complete with buildings, schools, shops, and even bodies of water.
10. Temple Run
If your child is going through an Indiana Jones streak, Temple Run is your download. Best for kids over 9, it's an endless running app that is one continuous obstacle course on the way to the temple. You can turn, jump, and slide your way through different scenes as you try to make it to safety.
11. Fiete Math
If your little one is at the age where math is just the most exciting thing, capitalize on it with Fiete Math, which aims to make learning math fun — or at least visually pleasing, with the cutest illustrations around. Using harbor scenes from all around the world, your kid has to load up ships themselves. How cute!
12. I Dig It
Your future archaeologist will love this app, which allows kids to dig for precious artifacts underground, all in a quest to help Farmer Lewis, who's trying to find as much stuff to sell as he can in order to pay his mortgage. In a sort of weird but pleasantly real-life plot twist, it also involves a race against the clock so he doesn't get evicted. It's another one for the older kids.
13. codeSpark Academy
For kids 4-9, this app helps kids learn to code without them even having to know how to read! They use games and puzzles to learn coding concepts and then code their own games.
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