Our mid-year school holidays are upon us here in Queensland, with other states due for holidays also. My family hasn’t planned any big trips away, but last holidays we took our 6 children interstate on a 2-day journey each way. One thing I love about long car trips is that it is a chance for my family to be together (albeit by force!) for chats, stories and songs, marvelling at the scenery we pass. I actually love the time, and my worst nightmare would be for my children to spend the entire journey with their noses in electronic devices. That being said, I’m no Luddite and when we went on our trip, we took the iPod and our 2 iPads with us for the journey. I thought I’d share some of the things that made life easier on the trip.
Cables and Connectors
Apart from your regular wall charger, it is great to have a car-charger. They are easy to find in most department or electronic stores and will work for multiple devices. It is important to make sure you have the right USB cables to connect to your device. We found that we could also charge my husband’s Blackberry with it by changing the cable. The car charger didn’t charge as fast as the wall charger, but when you start the day with full batteries on your devices, the car charger is very useful to extend the life of the charge, particularly if you are using video.
We also have an audio cable that plugs into our car’s audio system. This allows us to play audio from the devices through the system. I have a retractable one from Belkin that is great as it stretched to the middle row of our people-mover, but would retract to a smaller size when the device was in the front seat.
Podcasts can be played on iPads, iPhones and iPods, and are a great free way of entertaining the family. iTunes has many podcasts for the family, and these are a few of our favourites.
- Sesame Street Podcast – Video – Although aimed at younger children, our older children still appreciate the humour in these podcasts, which consist of snippets of Sesame St episodes. The more recent topics focus on “The Word of the Day” segments which star various celebrities, including David Beckham, Steve Carrell, Halle Berry and more, while earlier ones have focused on different numbers and letters. Most podcasts last about 7 minutes.
- Storynory – Stories for Kids - Audio – This podcast has stories for children of all ages. Stories include classic novels such as The Wizard of Oz (these are read 1 chapter per episode over time), fables, myths and legends, and some modern stories. The podcast length varies from about 10 minutes to a half hour.
- Listen and Play (BBC Learning) – Audio – Aimed at younger children, this podcast features stories, songs rhymes and listening games. You might recognise some traditional fairy tales among the stories. Episodes are about 15 minutes long.
- Penguin Storytime – Video – I reviewed this podcast last year and it is still one of our favourites. In each episode, Liz Shanks reads a mix of classic and new picture books to children in the “Listen, Learn and Grow sessions.” Most episodes feature a single picture book, although at least one has two related stories. We have listened to these again and again, and we are not tired of hearing them yet. Most episodes are 15-20 minutes long, but one goes for about 45 minutes and another nearly an hour.
- Something to Think About (BBC Learning) – Audio – This podcasts are presented by Ben Faulks and cover topics such as being honest, being brave, exploring different environments and more. Each episode features singing, focused listening and a time for reflection or prayer. Podcasts are about 15 minutes long and we find them great for those times when we want the children to settle down and have some quiet time.
Sometimes story apps can be the video you have when you don’t have a video. If you look at each of your story apps, you’ll notice many have several reading mode. Usually you’ll have a Read to Me or Let me Read mode, but sometimes you might also see Auto Play. In this mode, the app will read the story, play any necessary animations and automatically progress the story. Apps that we have that already have this feature include:
- Oceanhouse Media - Oceanhouse media makes picture ebooks with some great supportive features for early readers. Their range includes titles by Dr Seuss, Mercer Mayer (Little Critter), Elmer the Elephant and more. We played several of Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books on our journey and my older children loved them as much as the younger ones. The words tell one story while the pictures tell a different story.
- Auryn Inc. - These classic tales are beautifully illustrated and narrated. The range includes titles for the very young as well as older readers, and they include both fiction and non-fiction titles. Auryn apps also allow you to record your own narrations and re-write the text. If you are visiting Grandparents, why not get them to record a narration so they can read to your children after the visit is over?
- iStoryTime - This developer publishes stories of well-known characters including the Smurfs, Barney the Dinosaur, and Dreamworks movies (such as Madagascar, The Croods and Ice Age). If you have an older child who is reading at a lower level, these stories offer age-appropriate content with some supportive features for struggling readers. The stories feature good quality narration, several reading modes (including Autoplay), highlighted text and interactive elements. There are also games and activities in many of the stories. Some apps allow you to purchase additional stories via in-app purchases.
Story Writing and Journalling
Cameras on devices make it so much easier to create electronic holiday albums on the run. You can even publish them online, via email or print them to share with friends when you get home. If your child is going to have to do a morning talk on “My Holiday” in their first week of the term, it will be ready for them in a format that will impress. Some of the apps you can use to add photos and write about them include:
- Write to Read: WriteReader – Since my recent review of this app, they have added the ability to add graphics from the camera and to hide the adult’s writing. The simple interface makes it a great choice for young children and those with special needs, but it is also adequate for older children.
- Book Creator – This app is easy to use and lets you publish your work so that it can be read in iBooks. You can also share your work by email or Dropbox.
- Picturebook – if you use the Free version of this app, you’ll need to make an in-app purchase to use your own photos. I’d recommend buying the school version which comes with several libaries of graphics, book covers and more.
- Keynote – This could be described as the Apple version of Powerpoint. It is very handy when it comes to making simple but attractive layouts: choose a layout, add photos and then add captions. You can export it to print, Keynote or Powerpoint files.
Any app that allows you to add pictures and text will work, including most word processing apps and quite a lot of painting and drawing apps, so have a look through what you have already. Appy Mall recently published a list of 10 Best Story Creator Apps that list some other wonderful story creator apps.
Although we still prefer the “real” board games where you can shake the dice and move the markers yourself, the mobile versions of the games have been very handy, particularly at times where we have had to sit and wait for long periods of time while car hires are delivered, planes delayed etc. The advantage to the mobile versions is that you can pass-and-play around the car, and there is no danger or losing bits and pieces. A few of our favourites include:
Monopoly – $7.49 from Electronic Arts (EA). We were lucky to grab this app during a sale period when it went down to 99c. Up to four players can play this game, and you can also set up virtual players. At home we can have more than four, but I’m sure most families won’t have the same number issues we have. We love that you can set house rules (e.g. turn off auctions, collect taxes when you land on Free Parking, double pay when you land on Go). The only down point for us is that in Australia we usually use the UK version, and the iPad version only lets us use the US board.
Pictureka! for iPad – $5.49 from Electronic Arts. We are big hidden-objects and Where’s Wally fans here, so this game is always going to be a winner. When we travel, we usually pack our card game version too. You can play as a single player, or pass and play for up to 4 people. There are three different graphic themes, and Classic or Adventure modes of play. An iPhone version is also available for 99 cents.
Scrabble for iPad - $9.49 from Electronic Arts. I’m sure I don’t need to say much about this game. Unfortunately the latest version added some features we didn’t want, such as social networking. Still, it updated the dictionary. You might want to read the reviews and ratings in the iTunes store before buying this one. Again, we grabbed it when it went down to 99c on sale. An iPhone version is also available for $1.99.
There are so many other board game apps available and I’m not going to list them all. Just have a look at your favourites and then search the Appstore. Beware free apps that sometimes have a lot of in-app purchases and/or advertising. If you are travelling and have internet access turned off, this probably won’t be too much of a problem, but it pays to try the games out yourself before you give them to your children. Better yet, play the with your children. A good idea is to check out the reviews and ratings for the current and past versions of game apps to read what others are saying.
Finally, don’t be afraid to turn off the iPads, iPods and other devices, and play those old-fashioned car games. Enjoy your holidays!