Road trips during summer vacation are a rite of passage for our two kids. Three years ago, Hannah (then age 8) and Elsa (then age 4), along with my wife, drove from Portland, Oregon to Disney Land. Two years ago, we drove to Portland, Maine and back. This summer, we’re moving across the country to Massachusetts and doing the trip by car as well. We take our time and try not to spend more than five hours a day driving. This helps minimize the ‘Are we almost there yet?’ and ‘How many more minutes do we have?’ questions that all parents of kids have heard. Of course, five hours in the car is still a long time but we plan ahead with some games that keep the kids busy.
Before leaving for our last cross-country trip I did a quick search and came across an article at MiniTime titled 10 Best Car Games for Kids that had some nice ideas worth sharing. Here are their picks – some with our own variations.
- I Spy. This is a favorite of our littlest and is great for younger travelers. A person starts off with ‘I spy with my little eye, something blue’ and each person takes a turn guessing the answer. If you have older kids this can get old fast but can amuse little ones for some time.
- Road Trip Bingo. You can easily buy the bingo boards for this and there are not expensive. Each spot on the board are things you might see while driving – a police car, bus, dog, station wagon, etc. – and you play just like you would bingo. You can make the boards if you want to save money, and MiniTime uses pennies as the bingo pieces.
- License Plate Game. On our first trip across the country we listed all the states before leaving and then hunted down all 50 during our trip. We lucked out and got Alaska before leaving Portland and got Hawaii in Wyoming. MiniTime has a free printout available on their site as well.
- Tic Tac Toe. No explanation needed here. We don’t usually play this in the car, but it’s a hit at restaurants while waiting for our food order.
- I’m Going on a Picnic. We played this for the first time on our current trip and the kids loved it. Starting with the letter A and going up the alphabet each person has to state an item they want to bring on the picnic. We played a version where we were going on a trip and had to list an item that we wanted to pack. This is a great game for alphabet recall for younger travelers.
- 20 Questions. One person thinks of a person, place or thing and each person asks questions to help guess what the answer is. We play a version of this where when someone thinks they know the answer they say ‘I know what it is’ and when there is more than one person that thinks they know the answer they count to three and say the answer together. Sometimes they match (and sometimes they don’t).
- Connect the Dots. Place uniform dots equidistant from each other that fill a piece of paper. Two people use different color pens and then connect two of the dots (horizontally or vertically). The goal is to create as many boxes as you can.
- Hangman. This game needs no explanation but we encourage our kids to use grade level words so that our youngest can practice sight words and others she’s working on.
- The Preacher’s Cat. This is a game that we haven’t played yet but plan to try soon. As they explain: Here’s another alphabet-based memory game for school-age kids. The game centers around a sentence in which only two words change. To play, each player constructs the same sentence around a letter of the alphabet. Starting with A, the first player might say “The preacher’s cat is an awesome cat named Amy.” The second player replaces the two underlined words with others starting with A, such as, “The preacher’s cat is an adorable cat named Albert.” If a player can’t think of a new word, or if she repeats a word, she is out. The play continues with B, C, D, and so on, until there is one remaining player.
- Spot the Car. Like the license plate game only with car models.
Here are some other games that we like to play:
- Blow the Budget. There are other variations of this out there but what we like to do is provide our kids with an imaginary daily budget and see how they plan their day around it. Some days the budget might be larger than other days. This helps our kids (that both like to spend, spend, spend) some monetary responsibility.
- Meandering Story Time. In this game we all decide on a story topic and then we each tell a paragraph or two of the story. What might start out as “There once was a man who was traveling down the road in his old station wagon. He had his dog with him.” Might then lead to “He pulled over to fix a flat and the dog ran away.” We like to think this is somewhat like a homemade Mad Libs, and often becomes a wandering story that is often full of laughs.
- True or False. Thanks to the power of smartphones, in this game we use Wikipedia and source some strange or rare heard of person, place or thing. We then either state the real truth of what it is or come up with our own definition, which the girls have to flag as true or false.
All of these games are free or very inexpensive, and all call on kids’ skills with the alphabet, numbers, reading and overall smarts. And they all help make the trip more fun and enjoyable!
Photo by Will Folsom.