Thanksgiving is Thursday, and that means more than 43 million Americans will be on the road, driving to family gatherings. For many parents, the crowded roads can bring another challenge: Keeping a 9-year-old entertained along the way. And sometimes, DVDs are not enough. These days, kids love to tinker with smartphones and tablets, as well.
With that in mind, NPR's Renee Montagne spoke with an actual 9-year-old, Jane Frauenfelder, and her father, Mark. Together, they host the podcast Apps for Kids.
Here's a list of apps the Frauenfelders recommend for traveling kids, in an interview airing on Morning Edition Wednesday:
Story Dice — Making up stories is a time-honored way to pass the time on the road. This app gives you the basic elements of a story, in the form of simple images on dice (a face, a king's crown, a rocket, etc.). Players then string the images together.
"What we like to do," Mark says, "is take turns, each of us telling a story that uses all of those elements. And then we, as a family, vote on the best one."
Jane describes a typical story: "One day, there was a kid on a school bus, and he was carrying a soccer ball. Then it flew out of the school bus, so he had to chase it. Then he met a magical unicorn that gave him a piece of toast."
"That's the short version," Mark says.
The game is similar to Rory's Story Cubes, which comes in both app and physical form.
Mobbles — Virtual pets are released weekly in this game, in which digital animals have their own quirks and needs.
"You gotta take care of your Mobble every day," Jane says. "Wash it, play with it, clean it. And it's actually a lot of work."
Jane explains what she sees as the game's most fun feature: "You can catch Mobbles if you're on the road somewhere. Like, maybe you're in Arizona. Then you can get like, a Mobble from that zone."
Postcard on the Run — Share images of your trip the old-fashioned way. "You make a postcard, and then you can actually send it to somebody, in the mail," Jane says. "Like, they make a real copy of it."
The cards can include a finger-written note, a map — or even a scent, in a feature called "Smell Mail."
If that's not enough to fill your little one's time on the road, here are some bonus apps the Frauenfelders recommend trying:
Cobypic -- A coloring book for the digital age: kids fill in drawings with their own colors, chosen from photos taken on a smartphone's camera. The drawings range from simple images to iconic works of art.
"It's kind of like an online coloring book," Jane says. "But it's more fun."
Waze -- Sometimes diversions just won't do, and all a child (and a parent) wants is to get to their destination. Blending GPS maps with real-time tips from other drivers, Waze provides advice that can help you avoid traffic snarls, or find the cheapest nearby gas station.
Another feature allows friends to share their current location — and lets Waze's estimated 30 million users chat with one another on the road. Typical topics include speed cameras and lane closures.
You can learn more about Jane and her father's podcast, Apps for Kids, on Boing Boing.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
As many Americans get ready for those long drives to a relative's house for Thanksgiving dinner, planning may include figuring out how to entertain the kids. Some families may sing in the car, but many kids now prefer smartphones and tablets.
Here to suggest some apps for kids to play in the backseat is Mark Frauenfelder and his nine-year-old daughter, Jane. They host a podcast called "Apps for Kids" on the website BoingBoing.net.
JANE FRAUENFELDER: Good morning.
MARK FRAUENFELDER: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: I'm wondering how you two got started doing your father daughter podcast?
FRAUENFELDER: Well, we were seeing all these great apps on the iPhone that nobody else was noticing.
FRAUENFELDER: My wife doesn't think it's like the greatest thing for us to always be doing iPhone games, so now it's like when my wife says, Jane, you're using the iPhone too much, Jane can say that she's conducting research.
MONTAGNE: And does that work still?
FRAUENFELDER: Yeah, it's a good thing because that way we kind of just get to do them for work.
MONTAGNE: Well, what would you like to start with as a recommendation?
FRAUENFELDER: Well, "Story Dice" is a fun game.
FRAUENFELDER: It's a simulation. It looks like you have a set of dice that you can roll on a virtual table. And instead of the dots representing numbers on the faces of each dice, there are little icons. And so you roll them until you get like a frying pan, a bicycle and a bowling pin. What you do is then you have to create a story that incorporates all of those elements into the story.
FRAUENFELDER: And so what we like to do is take turns, each of us telling a story that uses all of those elements. And then, we as a family, vote on this one.
MONTAGNE: Jane, can you give us an example of what kind of story you might have told?
FRAUENFELDER: Yeah. Like, one day, there was a kid on a school bus and he was carrying a soccer ball. Then it flew out of the school bus, so he had to chase it. Then he met a magical unicorn that gave him a piece of toast.
MONTAGNE: Well, that sounds pretty good.
FRAUENFELDER: That's the short version. We usually make them so they last about three minutes.
MONTAGNE: I gather also that virtual pets are making a comeback. Tell us about the virtual pet app on your list.
FRAUENFELDER: "Mobbles" is a game where you got to take care of your Mobble every day. Wash it, play with it, clean it. And it's actually a lot of work. But what I think the most fun part of the game is, is you can catch Mobbles. If you're on the road somewhere, like, maybe you're in Arizona, then you can get like a Mobbles from that zone.
FRAUENFELDER: It's using the GPS to show you where you are. So you see a map and it will show you Mobbles on that map. So if you are driving in that direction, you can snag that Mobble and add it to your menagerie.
FRAUENFELDER: Yeah. Actually, I've been forgetting to play for a while so now all my Mobbles are kind of like sick and tired and dying.
MONTAGNE: Oh. I hope this conversation changes that.
MONTAGNE: Tell us about another app that makes the time go by on a long road trip.
FRAUENFELDER: There's also a postcard. You make a postcard, and then you can actually send it to somebody in the mail. Like, they make a real copy of it, then they send it to the person you want to send it to in the mail.
FRAUENFELDER: So when were on vacation, you can actually send a physical postcard to someone that uses a photo that you took on your iPhone. It has extra features, like you can add a scent. So if you're taking a picture of a beach, it has kind of a saltwater smell, I think or tropical flowers.
FRAUENFELDER: Yeah. You could then add a small picture of the GPS to show where you are.
FRAUENFELDER: And it costs a couple of bucks, I think.
MONTAGNE: Yeah, this is called, the formal name is "Postcard on the Run." Well, this sounds like you will have plenty to do on the road. Thank you both very much for joining us.
FRAUENFELDER: You're welcome.
FRAUENFELDER: Thanks, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Mark Frauenfelder and Jane Frauenfelder, his daughter, host the a podcast "Apps for Kids" on the website BoingBoing.net. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.