Should children play on apps while in the car?

July 6, 2017 Published by

Car journeys can be challenging with children; boredom soon sets in and the whinges and choruses of ‘are we nearly there yet’ begin.  There are lots of ways to keep children entertained while on the move – but can technology and apps play a role in this?

Family Road Trip Selfie

According to research from Disney UK , more than 80 per cent of parents admitted that handing over devices with games and apps loaded was an easy way to relieve car boredom.

Lets take a look at the pros and cons of using apps to keep your youngsters busy on a long drive.

Pro: It keeps them quiet.

Playing a game or watching a film means your children can lose themselves in the action for at least part of the journey, giving you some peace and quiet (as long as you remember the headphones!).

Con: It shuts them out.

I still have fond childhood memories of driving along to Norfolk singing various songs, out of tune, as a family. Being stuck in the car together gives you all that time out from busy lives to sing, chat, and play silly games.

Pro: It relieves the boredom.

Smart devices are good way of using technology to alleviate the monotony of a car journey. Children like to being running about, or covering the floor with toys, and being in the car obviously restricts this. A tablet or phone holds all the games and entertainment they could want, all in one handy device. Distracting your children is particularly helpful if you have siblings together, who will soon start winding each other up if they have nothing better to do.

Con: They miss out on being bored.

Boredom is good for children because it means they have to come up with their own entertainment, which is great for developing their creativity, imagination and social skills. Don’t be afraid to give your children the chance to be bored.

Pro: So much entertainment, so little mess.

One of the greatest things about devices is their portability. You have a TV, music, educational games, art games, etc. all in one which you would never be able to take with you otherwise. If you are taking a tablet with you, it’s worth getting a good variety of games so that you child can have both active (i.e. doing something) and passive (just watching) screen time. Even ‘fun’ games can have some learning value.

Con: You can’t keep an eye on what they’re doing.

Many free apps have third party adverts (which may be inappropriate for children), external links, and in-app purchases. If your child is using these apps in the back of the car, essentially unsupervised, you need to know that you can trust the content they are accessing. Our Good App Guide checks these features for you – simply find ‘Features’ on the left hand side filter and tick the options you want to search for. You can also search by age, cost, device, and type.

We recommend encouraging screen-free time during long car journeys; it may help to play some travel games before handing over the devices as sing-alongs and sign spotting may not seem as exciting compared with apps. But as long as your child is otherwise getting a balanced play diet, you needn’t feel guilty about distracting them with apps for a while when it’s most needed.

Travel app picks from the Good App Guide:

Here are a few ideas to get you started from our collection of tried and tested apps. These apps are free from third party adverts, external links, and in-app purchases; they also do not need internet access to use.

Apps for two to four year-olds

  • Dr Panda has some lovely imaginative play apps, such as Dr Panda Café. The open-ended play means your child is less likely to get stuck in the game.
  • Hopster is packed full of popular preschool shows (e.g. Peppa Pig, Pingu, and Postman Pat) as well as games and music. You will need to pay a subscription fee (this can be cancelled at any time) and download the content to use offline.
  • CBeebies Playtime is a free app with a variety of games and activities to keep your little one busy.


Apps for five to seven year-olds

  • New Happy Studio has a mix of creative and problem solving games to give children some variety.
  • Toca Nature is an open-ended game that lets children build and explore their own natural world.
  • Kids Tangram is a classic puzzle game for children to get their teeth into. The app has 65 different puzzles to solve, ranging from easy to difficult so that children continue to be challenged.


Apps for eight to 11 year-olds

  • The tiny Hama Beads sets would never make a good a travel toy, but thankfully there’s now a digital version called Hama Universe that means children can create detailed works of art, even in the car (plus it’s free!).
  • 2048 Number Saga is a classic number matching puzzle game – it’s simple to pick up but difficult to put down!
  • Minecraft: Pocket Edition is one of the more expensive apps (£4.99), but it means that children can take their favourite game of world creation and adventure anywhere.



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This post was written by Claire Gillies

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