Ah, the holidays. That magical time of year when offices and schools empty. Working parents earn a much-needed break. And mom and dad get long stretches of uninterrupted playtime with their little ones.
Long, long stretches of time.
OMG, the time.
Parents: Let’s cut through the latte foam. I love my two cute little clones. But there are moments when—how should I put it?—I pine for day when personal force fields will be as common as Legos. I don’t think I need to explain why.
But guess what? A similar technology exists. When I require a few quiet moments to read the Times, watch the tail end of the game, or collect what’s left of my thoughts, I pull out my big glowing HTC Titan and surrender it to the kids. They look so happy! Guilt barely registers.
Quieting the K-5 crowd can still be tricky; the right apps are key. Math drills and state capital quizzes don’t cut it in my house. So I polled some co-workers and came up with these 7 parent-tested pacifiers. No surprise: games dominate. But if you’re serious keeping the kids entertained and carving out moments of private bliss during the holidays, download these first.
The global gaming phenomenon and reigning king of kid-calming apps. Whether it’s my 7-year-old son—or 74-year-old dad—Angry Birds ($2.99) is guaranteed to preoccupy them until my phone battery runs dry. A must for any parental app arsenal and worth every penny. Download it
Who can resist toying with their very own tiger cub? Not my kids. Less a full-fledged game than a personal pet simulator, the goal of this addictive app is to stroke, tickle, play with, and train your cub. If you’re turned off by some of the mayhem in modern games, Kinectimals ($2.99) is a great alternative. Download it
You don’t have to leave the TV behind with the free Netflix app and a monthly streaming subscription (not a subscriber? Netflix has 1-month free trial). It’s my go-to app for long (“boring!”) holiday car rides and runs to the mall. Pink Panther, Phineas & Ferb, Curious George, Hello Kitty, Sponge Bob—these are just some of the shows in my kids’ Instant Watch list. Download it
It’s every kid’s (and parent’s) dream: license to endlessly whack, splash, and splatter fruit—minus the clean up. In Fruit Ninja ($2.99) the object is finger slice as much produce as you can while avoiding fizzing bombs. A concept so simple that even a toddler can do it—and why I love it so. Download it
Feeling guilty about all the games? Here’s one of the best free finger painting apps in Marketplace. Load pictures from your phone or the Internet and doodle on top of them—or start with a fresh canvas. Draw Free! comes with tons of brushes and effects. Another nice touch: The menus can be simplified and customized for babies, children, and grownups. Download it
In Bubble Birds (free) you lob birds at a packed flock trying to pop them, which happens any time you match three or more birds of the same colored feather. I love the slick jungle sound effects and eye-catching graphics. So do the kids. Download it
Plants vs Zombies
This humorous strategy game is another hit in my house—and guaranteed to settle things down. In Plants vs Zombies ($4.99), you defend your home from a mob of fun-loving zombies using an arsenal of a strategically-deployed death-dealing plants. Sometimes I even convince myself it’s teaching the kids critical-thinking skills. Download it
Updated November 7, 2014 9:07 pm