Apps for Summer Travel With Kids

Ah, summer. Longer days, going to the beach, cookouts. And travel. Here are some of my favorite apps to help you arrive with your sanity (mostly) intact.

For Parents:

How do I love thee, let me count the Waze. This crowd-sourced traffic app is a miracle for helping avoid the worst traffic jams (when possible, of course, sometimes you have no other route and then it just prognosticates your future inevitable misery). In one case, it warned us of a giant broken tire that had sprawled across three lanes of traffic, right before we reached that spot.

For Toddlers:

My son is only allowed to have my iPad on flights or long (2 hour+) car trips, a fact that he has quickly picked up on. “Let’s go visit Mimi” is now code for “I want to play Endless Alphabet.” But the Endless apps are so great that I don’t feel too guilty about strapping him into his carseat and handing over the device. Yes, I know all about the Playdoh and sticker books and making puppets out of an airsick bag using triangle crayons that don’t roll. I even have all those things in my bag as backup. But those activities still require me to actively entertain the kid like a party clown for three hours, and you know what? After wrestling him and his stroller or carseat/wheelie combo past check in, through security, onto the plane and into his actual seat – I don’t wanna. I want to read my Kindle, and I want to not deal with hate stares from other passengers because my kid is screaming or kicking their seat.

This app accomplishes both. He drags a letter to its outline in the word, and when he completes a word, the app rewards him with a cute animation and verbal description that explains what the word means. He knows all his letters and can identify some words on sight now. Endless Reader helps with non-phonetic words, and Endless Numbers boosts early counting skills. In a word, A-W-E-S-O-M-E.

Ages 5 +

Now that they can read a little on their own, get them the Reading Rainbow app. The subscription fee may seem hefty over time, but the books supplied are endless, and they offer recommendations by  age range and interest, grouped into cool little “worlds” that kids can travel between. The video field trips you remember from the classic PBS show are here too, available at the tap of a play button.

Ages 8+  

If you’ve got a kid who is into dinosaurs, you may succeed at pulling him/her away from Minecraft with this app: Dino Walk: Continental Drift. The display is a 3D model of the earth. Slide the time line to the left, and the continents morph back in time from present day, through the Ice Age, the back into Pangea and the dinosaur Eras. As you move through time, the dinosaurs that existed during that Era pop up in the places where their fossils were found. Tap on the dinosaur and you get a beautiful 3D rendering of the species, with a flip side describing the attributes, where it was found, and when it lived. The app is also searchable by dinosaur name. Be prepared for a lot of “Dad, did you know that the T-Rex actually lived in the Cretaceous Era?” coming from the back seat.

Well, that’s my list – what’s yours? Safe and happy travels this summer!


Movie Review: Boyhood

As a mama, it’s rare that I actually see movies in the theater anymore (babysitter + NYC ticket prices + popcorn = $$) but I make an exception for indies that I really want to support. Last year, I left my husband and baby behind and went to see Richard Linklater’s  Before Midnight by myself. I was more excited about that sequel (to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) than any of the typical sequels, prequels and reboots that have taken over the box office.

This summer, my can’t-miss film was Boyhood. The premise was ambitious – take a 6 year-old kid and film a few scenes every year until he turns 18, showing the boy (and his sister and parents) aging in real time. In the hands of a lesser director, the end result could have turned out maudlin or full of coming-of-age clichés. Instead, the film feels like a quasi-documentary, a fictional story in which we watch a real boy grow up.

copyright IFC Films

The boy, played by newcomer Ellar Coltrane, is a sweet kid with a beautiful, mellow energy that belies his often turbulent, nomadic upbringing. As a child of divorce myself, I couldn’t help but identify with the frustration expressed by his sister (Lorelei Linklater), when their mother constantly uproots them. But at the end, when his mother grieves for her now-empty nest, it was a vision of my future.

I was lucky enough to attend a screening with a Q&A with the director and star afterwards. Linklater said that he had the idea for the overall structure of the story at the beginning, but allowed the scenes themselves to be improvised a bit to reflect changes in the real actors’  lives from year to year. He noted that as a director and writer, he considers structure more important than plot, which he thinks can start to feel artificial. This film felt true to me, and apparently critics agree, as it currently has a 100% Fresh Rating at RottenTomatoes.

You can see it now in NYC or LA, and it opens nationally on July 18.