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10 best apps for travelling with kids

A long summer journey will fly by with our selection of fun, educational (OK, not all of them) apps for kids aged 2 to 12.

“Why don’t you look out of the window?” That was what my mum would suggest when I complained of being bored on a long car journey. But, then, I didn’t have an iPad or iPod…

…nor even a budget-priced Android tablet with more computing power than it took to put a person on the moon. Now there are plenty of great games, on every platform, to keep little ones quiet all the way from Heathrow to Hanoi, writes Donald Strachan.

But be careful when choosing kids’ apps. Alongside mobile phone roaming “bill shock,” stratospheric in-app purchase charges are the classic holiday horror story. You should head that off before you leave, by disabling in-app purchases. On an Apple gadget, go to Settings > General > Restrictions and de-authorise them. Android users should open the Play Store app, click Settings in the sidebar and set the app to require a password for every purchase.

Ages up to 4

Little Fox Music Box

foxandsheep.com
£1.99–2.99
iOS, Android, Amazon/Kindle

Little ones can sing along with three favourite infant songs, including “London Bridge is Falling Down,” and move animations around as they listen. They can then record and play back with their own vocal. When they’ve finished the karaoke catalogue, a toddler sound studio lets them freestyle songs of their own, adding percussion with croaking frogs, rattling saucepans and the like. It is totally enchanting. No in-app purchases.

Sago Mini Monsters

sagosago.com
£1.99
iOS

This visual, tactile game is perfect for even the youngest kids—there’s no instructions, and not a single word appears on the screen. Game play is all intuitive. Players design and colour their monster, watch it come alive, then feed it toxic goo and—most importantly—brush its teeth afterwards. No in-app purchases.

Yo Gabba Gabba! Music is Awesome

cupcakedigital.com
£1.99
iOS, Android, Amazon/Kindle

On June 19th, the latest from DJ Lance Rock, Muno and friends hits app stores. Kids can interact with the team from the surreal Nick Jr. TV programme Yo Gabba Gabba!, dressing them in wigs and shades, adding a dash of drum or french horn to their sets, and changing stage lighting. There’s a touchscreen digital synth for little ones to teach themselves a few chords—plus parental volume controls, in case you’ve not packed the earplugs. No in-app purchases.

Petting Zoo

foxandsheep.com
£1.99
iOS, Android, Amazon/Kindle

Even tiny hands will instinctively know what to do with the hand-drawn, interactive animations in this app. Stretch a cartoon rabbit, or a swipe to turn a bear over in its sleep, then play an alligator’s gnashers like the xylophone. A sparse soundtrack complements Christoph Niemann’s drawings. Petting Zoo is a hypnotic mix of analogue and digital technology. No in-app purchases.

Ages 5–8

Toca Lab

tocaboca.com
£1.99
iOS, Android, Amazon/Kindle

Introduce youngsters to the chemistry lab. Kids meet (real) elements from the periodic table and can perform (pretend) experiments on each one. Every element has its own “character,” and children can spin them in a centrifuge, mix them with liquids from coloured test tubes or heat them with a bunsen burner… then see what happens. Expect the occasional “Bang!” No in-app purchases.

Tiny Thief

tinythief.com
Free
iOS, Android

This hybrid of platform and puzzler is from the makers of Angry Birds. Sneak around a medieval kingdom, trying to steal a prize before being spotted by the guards. Controls are easy—just tap and your little pilferer walks. It’s the planning required to solve every level, finding secret items and spotting Tiny Thief’s ferret friend along the way, that keeps you hooked. In-app purchases (£1.49–4.59) unlock extra levels.

Flow Free

Free
iOS, Android

Elegant, frustrating and horribly addictive in equal measure. The deceptively simple aim is to join all the coloured dots on square grids of increasing size. It’s the perfect app for giving the visual learning muscle a bit of a workout. In-app purchases include extra levels (from 69p a batch) and hints (69p–£1.99).

Ages 9–12

Plants vs. Zombies 2

popcap.com
Free
iOS, Android

Travel through time pitting your wits against a relentless zombie horde, armed only with a stash of plants. Fortunately, these are magical plants, that spit beans or explode on contact. The key is to place the right plant on the right square to halt the advancing undead, using a mix of strategy and dexterity. There is some cartoon gore, but nothing that will upset an older child. Optional in-app purchases (£1.99–6.99) are for bonuses and extra weapons, but you can earn what you need with game play, too.

Minecraft

mojang.com
£4.99
iOS, Android

No prizes for originality with this recommendation, but if there’s a bigger time-sink for a 10-year-old with a gadget, I’ve yet to see it. The aim is to create and survive worlds that are limited only by your child’s imagination. Fancy a treehouse made of blue wool? Or a rollercoaster made with mine carts? Or to battle a skeleton with a diamond sword? It’s all possible. With a major new update (0.9.0) imminent, or already out by the time you read this, Minecraft’s “pocket edition” is better than ever, with new mobs, new materials to mine and new terrain to explore. No in-app purchases.

FIFA ’14

easports.com
Free
iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Amazon/Kindle

‘Tis the season to go football mad, and the best footie game on a handheld really comes to life on a tablet-sized screen. Swipe controls make moving on and off the ball easy. Build your squad, buy better players, even practice your penalties in a mock shootout. In-app purchases include £2.99 to unlock extra modes (the app needs 3G or Wi-Fi to play in some modes).

More:

Top tips for travelling families: video

We spoke to consumer champion – and mum of four – Sarah Willingham to find out some of her top tips for travelling families. Find out why Sarah loves travelling with her kids and get her advice for savvy travelling families.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/Hg8ccUGjJt4

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