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For Holiday Road Trips, Apps That Promise Diversions For Kids

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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.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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