Summer is here, and more and more families will be hitting the road for family get-togethers, special events and vacations. A road trip can be a great way to connect with your children — or it can be a nerve-wrecking experience that leaves everyone in the car frazzled and frustrated. There is no way to predict exactly how kids will behave in the car. Even a child who was placid and content on the last long trip you took can be fussy and irritable on a short trip to the neighborhood grocery store. Children and adults view the passage of time differently; to you, 10 minutes may seem to pass in the blink of an eye, but it might feel like an eternity to your child.
Whether you are planning a cross-country drive or a cross-town shopping trip, you can make the experience much more pleasant for you and your kids. The key is to plan ahead to give the kids something to do besides ask, “Are we there yet?” every few seconds. Here is a list of some of the most popular car games and activities to keep your children happily occupied — and your attention focused on driving safely and without distractions.
The Alphabet Game
This can be a fun game for people of all ages, but it is especially suitable for younger children who are still trying to master their letter recognition skills or learn the order of letters in the alphabet. The goal is to find each letter in order. There are several variations that allow you to customize the game to suit your needs.
- Require players to find letters on road signs, license plates, buildings, billboards or any combination of sources.
- Allow players to use letters found anywhere on the sign or other source, or require the letter to be the first letter in a word appearing on the source.
- Help younger players compete by requiring each player to find their letters on only one side — and then assign the side with the most signs to the weaker player.
- Allow each player to find a letter on the same sign (but not the same letter on the same sign) or do not allow any other player to use the same sign once the first player has called out a letter.
- Play the game as a head-to-head competition between individuals or teams, or have everyone on the same team with the goal of completing the alphabet before arriving at your destination. (In competitive play, the first team or person to find all 26 letters wins.)
If you ever get stuck, you can always hope that you come across a road sign like this one.
Name That Tune
This can be another opportunity to put your karaoke CD’s and tapes to good use. Play a song, then pause it after a few notes. The first player to name the tune correctly gets a point. You can play to a predetermined number of points, with the first player to accumulate that many points declared the winner.
Alternatively, the first player begins humming a tune while the other players try to name it. The hummer keeps going until someone correctly identifies the tune, becoming the next hummer with the opportunity to choose the song that he or she will hum.
Another variation is to make a mix tape or CD of your children’s favorite songs. Allow a few notes to play before pausing the playback. Ask for the name of the song, the name of the artist or the next line of the lyrics.
This is one of the classic guessing games that can be educational as well as fun. The “spy” secretly chooses an object that all other players can see and then announces, “I spy with my little eye something that …” The ending of the sentence can be:
- Is (insert color of the object).
- Starts with the letter.
- Is used for (insert purpose).
- Has a name that rhymes with.
The other players then try to guess the object that the spy has chosen.
Before playing, decide whether all objects must be inside the car or whether external objects are acceptable. Keep in mind, though, that external objects can be out of sight before the guessers get the correct answer. You might want to place several vibrantly colored objects around the car’s interior before you leave, especially if you have younger children. The first player to correctly guess the object wins and becomes the next spy.
The Name Game
Another classic, this game can help children brush up on their geography or animal kingdom knowledge, show off their knowledge of current celebrities or demonstrate their literary leanings. Before playing, decide whether the category will be places, animals, books or some other topic. The first player names an object from that category. The next player must name an object from the same category that starts with the last letter of the previous object. The third player then names an object that starts with the last letter of the second player’s object.
For example, suppose the category is “cities.” The first player names “Cincinnati,” the second player chooses “Indianapolis” and the third player names “Seattle.” The fourth player must name a city name that begins with the letter “E.”
Names cannot be used more than once during the game. You can play to a specific number of points, with the first player to reach that goal declared the winner. Alternatively, you can decide to allow game play to continue until no players can think of a name to keep the play going.
Road Trip Bingo
This is part bingo/part scavenger hunt, and you will need to prepare for the game ahead of time. Download one of the many templates for the game cards that are available online. Review your route to select landmarks, locations or other items for your kids to find. As they locate each item, they cross it off on their card. The first player to make a straight line on his or her card by crossing off the objects found “bingos” and wins the game.
At some point during your travels, you might prefer that your kids have some fun on their own. Here are some ideas to help you achieve a little peace for yourself:
Drawing, Coloring and (Audio) Books
Bring along a supply of washable markers, crayons or colored pencils as well as some blank paper or coloring books. There is a large number of coloring page templates available online, so you can print them out before the trip. You can even find portable drawing kits, like the Do Art Travel Easel from Faber-Castell, that have everything your child needs to unleash their inner artist.
Drawing tablets and boards are a good alternative, as you eliminate the issue of having markers, pencils or crayons in the car. There’s actually quite a lot of them available, like the Doodle Pro from Fisher Price, the Boogie Board ,or the Kids Designer from Genius.
Sticker books or interactive books, such as the kind that require a child to press the correct letter to hear a sound, can keep younger kids entertained. Audio books are an excellent choice for kids who get carsick if they try to read during the ride.
Kids can become anxious about traveling, especially if the destination is somewhere they have never been. In addition, children are often reluctant to leave their favorite toys at home. Pack a few of their favorite portable toys that are non-messy.
As kids love to use their parent’s gadgets, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some child friendly versions, like interactive laptops or smart phones for kids. Such devices usually feature a multitude of tunes and phrases, as well as age appropriate interactive learning games that teach numbers, counting and greetings.
There is an old saying that “getting there is half the fun,” and with proper advance planning, you can make the journey a joyful time for both you and your kids. You can reduce stress for both you and your children, alleviate their boredom and spend more time enjoying the trip. Your kids will have the opportunity to improve various skills, learn new things and enhance their family connections. Furthermore, since the driver will be less distracted, everyone — whether inside the vehicle or outside of it — can have a safer trip.
What kind of games/activities do you prepare for your kids before the trip?