“Are we there yet?” is a common question your restless and impatient kids will often ask during road trips. Whether you’re traveling during heavy city traffic or taking a long drive to the suburbs, kids simply don’t have the attention span to last the trip. Fortunately — or sometimes, unfortunately — these days, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets can act as our virtual babysitters that keep our toddlers and pre-school kids occupied.
Here are several tablet and smartphone games and apps that can help keep kids occupied, so we can keep our concentration on the road, and our sanity intact. Take note that these are some of my kids’ personal favorites, so I might be biased.
World of Cheese (toddlers and preschool)
This new game by Alda Games promises to be fun as well as educational, although in an implicit kind of way. This is a puzzle game that lets you explore the environment, looking for clues and possible ways to solve the problem. The premise here is that the mouse character has lost his cheese, and this is hidden behind some place in the current environment.
The player will have to use logical thinking in solving the puzzle, and you will need to make use of whatever tools or items are on screen. For example, in one level, you will need to plant seeds, water them and tap on the sun in order to give the seeds some sunlight. When the plants grow, the cheese is uncovered along with the flowers.
Take care not to put in too many taps or swipes, however, because all moves are counted against your score. What’s great about the game is that kids will learn the basics of logical thinking, math and geography, science as well as other concepts with the game.
Here’s one nice discovery I made when browsing for music apps for my kids’ tablets and smartphones. Magic Piano from Smule promises to simulate piano playing in a user-friendly way. The Magic Piano app focuses less on pressing the actual keys that correspond to the piano keyboard than the taps and combinations one can make to produce notes and chords.
As an added feature, Magic Piano lets you compare points against Facebook friends, and even compare your performance with other players around the world. The app comes with three main modes: free play, playing songs downloaded from the songbook, as well as listening to other Smule users play songs from the songbook.
An added benefit is that many of the items on the songbook are classical music pieces. This helps introduce kids to pieces by Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, and many other great composers. Of course, modern songs have also made it to the playlist, arranged for piano by the developers.
Minecraft took the world by storm when it first launched in 2011, initially as an Indie title, before the developers incorporated into Mojang. The mobile version, Minecraft Pocket Edition, had risen to popularity on the iTunes App Store and Google Play, too. Minecraft is basically a sandbox game, which means there are no final goals and achievements, although it comes with a “survival” mode, which pits players against zombies, the elements, and ghastly characters like the Enderman.
Minecraft encourages creativity and collaboration, too. Players will need to make adequate use of whatever resources are on hand in building defenses. Gamers can also play locally via WiFi network, or globally through Minecraft Realms.
Frankly, my kids are obsessed with Minecraft, to the extent that they would often spend hours and hours on their devices building worlds. What’s great is that Minecraft PE is cross-platform, so players can use their Android phone or tablet, iPhone, iPad or iPod touch and network with each other. Word of advice: bring along a mobile router when you travel, or share your connection with tethering, so your little ones can do some collaborative gameplay.
Apart from the main Minecraft game, the app has spawned a handful of third-party add-on apps that create skins and edit worlds, among others. Minecraft PE used to have both a premium and demo version, although Google Play now only has the premium one.
The World of Magic (young graders to middle schoolers)
I’m not much of a fan of MMORPGs, but my 10-year old daughter is such a fan that she would really spend time strategizing on titles in this genre. The World of Magic, or TWOM as she affectionately calls it, is yet another title from Com2US, which is popular for kid-oriented online RPGs. It’s been around on app stores since 2010 or so, and is actually a port of a 2006-era Korean title! Still, the magic is not lost on my kids, at least it’s interesting and easy enough for them to play on handheld devices.
TWOM takes place in a magical kingdom, and players can choose among a warrior, mage or archer as main characters. As with most MMORPGs, players can take advantage of dungeons and battlegrounds. The game is touted to have “endless gameplay” by the developers.