In a car full of kids, electronics provide a welcome distraction for those not behind the wheel. They also can reduce clutter in the car.
A technology-induced silence doesn't have to be a stupor, said Sue Thotz, a Chicago program manager with Common Sense Media, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping families manage technology wisely. Thotz cites a few of Common Sense Media's top-rated apps, which can challenge young minds and fill the miles with smiles.
Leave the crayons at home...
Drawing Pad equips users with virtual paint brushes, pencils, crayons, stamps, markers, paper backgrounds and an eraser. Artists of all ages can create works of art in minutes. Ages 4 and up, $2.
Safe games for siblings
Rory's Story Cubes
The app version of an award-winning dice game encourages storytelling. Shake the device to roll nine dice. Each die has a simple picture on it, such as a lock or flower. There are a variety of ways to play, but basically players use the images to create stories, individually or cooperatively. There are no winners or losers. Ages 7 and up, $2.
Designed for multiple players, this Gossip-like game starts with the first player submitting a well-known saying and then passing the device to the next player. The second player draws a picture to go with the saying, then passes the device to a third player, who writes a caption for the drawing. This can continue for three to nine rounds. At the end, it's fun to see how the saying was reinterpreted with each round. Ages 8 and up, free.
Vehicle games, beyond license-plate spotting
Trucks by Duck Duck Moose
Fix a flat tire, get a car wash or sort recycling. Like other highly rated apps from Duck Duck Moose, Trucks may seem like simple fun, but kids exercise problem-solving skills as they are challenged to find the interactive elements and use them to move the sequence forward. Ages 3 and up, $2.
Based on a game of the same name, this puzzle app challenges players to slide small cars around on a grid, moving only forward and backward, to create a path so that the red car can emerge. To get the best score, they'll need to do it with the fewest possible moves. Hints are supplied when players are stumped. Ages 8 and up, $2-$3.
For a really long haul
Reading Rainbow offers a library of books themed according to a child's interests. Kids can have a book read aloud to them or read it themselves. To access more than five books, you'll have to subscribe to the app: a $10 recurring monthly fee or $30 for six months. Finishing a book earns a sticker. Ages 4 and up, free trial.
The Room 2
A sequel to the 2012 puzzle game, The Room 2 requires users to work through a series of brainteasers. The game has a dark sense of mystery and may be too intense (and hard) for young children. The music sets an ominous tone, but there's no violence. Ages 11 and up, $5.
Geography games, beyond the atlas
Barefoot World Atlas
This educational app gives children an interactive look at animals, indigenous people and other social studies topics through narrated descriptions and photos. Among the topics is winemaking, although the app does not promote drinking. Ages 5 and up, $5.
Stack the States
Kids can start with a crash course in U.S. geography using state flashcards, or they can dive in and learn by trial and error. Stack the States begins with just one activity unlocked, but four mini-games become available as kids progress. Puzzler and Capital Drop are both tricky, even on lower levels. More than one family member can play, using six different profiles and various avatars. Ages 7 and up, $1.
Just for fun
This endless runner game is based on Sega's Sonic franchise. Rather than being chased by an enemy, though, Sonic runs for the joy of it, dodging hurdles and losing rings when he's tapped once. A second collision or hitting a barrier ends the game. In-app purchases are available, but not forced upon players (and not necessary, because earning coins is easy). Ages 5 and up, free.
Another endless-runner game, this is more lighthearted than the popular Temple Run. Set in a train yard, players can run into oncoming trains, but there's no gore. Collisions result in the player being caught by the guard. In-app purchases are available, but not pushed, and aren't necessary to earn coins. Ages 7 and up, free.