10 FREE educational apps for little kids

When you need to entertain your kids but don't want to have them sit in front of a screen with their brains seemingly turning to mush, educational apps are a major lifesaver.

But there's nothing worse than paying for an app, only to find that your kid is totally not into it and your money has gone down the drain.

Hence, we've come up with a list of free educational apps for you to download just in time for holiday travel season. Test them out with your kids, and if they don't love them — no sweat! Delete them and try some others on our list:

1. First Words Sampler: An awesome app that engages kids in flashcards to learn to spell words and associate them with cute coordinating images.
2. Tiny Tiger and Friends: The cute graphics on this game haven stolen our hearts. Kids learn about getting dressed with this fun little app.
3. PBS Kids Video: If kids are going to watch TV shows, PBS is your best bet. All of the shows teach lessons and minimally annoying.
4. LEGO DUPLO Trains: For your train-obsessed tots, this app teaches about logistics and will keep them entertained for about as long as you'll allow!
5. LEGO DUPLO Food: Another fun one from LEGO that is great for either gender. We love how it teaches kids about business basics and emphasizes cleaning up at the end of the fun.
6. Rosetta Stone Kids Lingo Letter Sounds: Who needs immersion schools when you have this fun app? (Kidding, kind of!) This app teaches foreign language skills through fun games and images.
7. Little Stars Toddler Games: Parents and teachers love this app that covers 10 different educational topics like numbers, shapes, colors and more. Bonus points for being super easy to customize!
8. Animal Memory Match: With three levels of difficulty, this classic game is perfect for toddlers and older kids alike.
9. Toca Kitchen Monster: Toca has tons of great apps for kids, but this is the only free version and it provides lots of fun for kids as they learn about cooking and cause/effect.
10. Breathe, Think and Do with Sesame: We love that this one covers a unique topic for kids and teaches complex principles of self-control, planning and persistence in social settings.

Dollar store toys your toddler will love

If there's one thing Christmas and birthdays with kids has taught us, it is this: No matter how many toys you buy, 90% of the time, they are going to lose the magic fast.

We have spent all too much time mourning the forgotten, hand-carved, wooden blocks we spent a fortune on. And though we've seen some success in putting toys away for a season and then reintroducing them, we really love this budget-friendly, #lazymom idea.

Next time you go to The Dollar Tree (a.k.a the place we always wonder how the heck our receipt total racked up so high) spend $5 or less on a few new toys for your kids. They will be thrilled. Ecstatic. Entertained...for about three days.

And when the excitement wears off? No problem! Toss or donate the toys, then pick up some new ones a few weeks later. They're so inexpensive, they're pretty much disposable. The ingenuity still amazes us!! Here are some of our toddler-approved favorites:

  • Party balloons. Blow up the whole bag and throw them in the air, practice tossing them, stomp on them and let them pop, etc)
  • Playdough. Our Dollar Tree has a 3-pack for $1. Perfect for a one-time Playdough sesh...then throw it away before it gets in the carpet!
  • Bubbles. Bubbles are super fun for an afternoon when your lungs are feeling strong. They are not fun when your toddler requests that you blow them every single day until you want to pass out. Enjoy them for awhile and then be done with it!
  • Halloween costumes. Stock the dress up box with cheap costume accessories during Halloween season and pull them out for rainy day fun.
  • Stickers. Stickers are perfect around the 5 o'clock hour when your kids are pestering you and you need to get dinner on the table. Let them stick the whole pack on a dollar store coloring book and you're golden!
  • Coloring book and crayons. We all know how fast a toddler can destroy a pack of Crayons. Hence, we like to stock up on several boxes and toss them as soon as the majority are broken.
  • Sidewalk chalk. There's nothing more blissful than some peaceful time on the porch while your kids quietly play. Sidewalk chalk can save a long afternoon in a snap! (Use it to draw states, shapes and hopscotch for extra fun!)
  • Paper goods. Pinterest is an endless source of inspiration for the easy crafts that can be made with paper plates, cups and bags. Search for a few minutes and head to the dollar store to load up on supplies! 
  • Candy (for bribing). Even the best of moms must do it. Spend $1 on a bag of lollipops and pull them out in a moment of desperation. You'll never regret the forethought!
  • Whatever other random crap they want. If you really want to make your kids' day, take them to the dollar store and tell them they can pick out whatever they want! After the shock wears off, they'll be the happiest kid in all the land — for at least one afternoon.

Top 10 costumes for Halloween 2016

According to our highly unscientific survey, hot costumes this year are all about current events, i.e. Trump, Clinton, Pokemon Go, David Bowie and Prince. But there are more official releases about costumes, so we'll turn to them for the facts.

What are the takeaways from the National Retail Federation's (NRF) Halloween Consumer Top Costumes Survey? For one, princesses are taking a (tiny) step down. For the first time in 11 years, action and superheroes nudge princess costumes out of the top spot for kids! Hashtag girlpower! (But Frozen characters are still in the top 10!)

Actually, superheroes score many top spots for Halloween costumes of all age groups — not that it's a huge surprise! Movies like Star Wars are guaranteed to be some of the other most-seen costumes on the streets. And for adults over the age of 35, classics like witches and pirates reign, along with political costumes. Read on for the official list for all ages (and pets!)

1. Action/Superhero
2. Princess
3. Animal (Cat, Dog, Lion, Monkey, etc.)
4. Batman Character
5. Star Wars Character
6. Tie: Witch and DC Superhero (excluding Batman)
7. Frozen Character (Anna, Elsa, Olaf)
8. Marvel Superhero (excluding Spiderman)
9. Zombie
10. Spiderman

MOST POPULAR ADULT COSTUMES (18 to 34 years old):
1. Batman Character (Batman, Harley Quinn, The Joker, etc.)
2. Witch
3. Animal (Cat, Dog, Bunny, etc.)
4. Tie: Marvel Superhero (Deadpool, Spiderman, etc.) and DC Superhero (Wonder Woman, Superman, excluding Batman)
5. Vampire
6. Video Game Character
7. Slasher Movie Villain (Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, etc.)
8. Pirate
9. Star Wars Character
10. Zombie

1. Witch
2. Pirate
3. Political (Trump, Clinton, etc.)
4. Vampire
5. Batman Character (Batman, Catwoman, etc.)
6. Animal (Cat, Dog, Bunny, etc.)
7. Tie: DC Superhero (Superman, Wonder Woman, excluding Batman) and Star Wars Character
8. Tie: Ghost and Zombie
9. Scary Costume/Mask
10. Marvel Superhero (Iron Man, Hulk, Spiderman, etc.)

1. Pumpkin
2. Hot Dog
3. Bumble Bee
4. Tie: Lion and Star Wars Character
5. Devil
6. Batman Character
7. Witch
8. Superman
9. Action/Superhero
10. Cat