UPDATED FEBRUARY 2014
We have a DVD player in our van and as I wrote in How Do You DVD, we love it for road trips. We also have our share of smart phones and tablets to keep us entertained on the road. However, we don’t like to use them non-stop to pacify our children on long drives.
Road trips are great opportunities for families to connect with each other and experience the world around them. When children (or their parents) spend all their time looking at a screen, they may miss out on these opportunities. Here are some road trip ideas to entertain the kids when you don’t have personal electronics or don’t want to use them.
1. Mad Libs – So classic. Throw in a bunch of silly adjectives and the occasional bodily fluid and everyone will crack up. With frequent reminders of what nouns, adjectives and verbs are, my first grader could provide the fill-ins while the passenger parent wrote them down. My preschooler could give colors and numbers. Dad came up with the really creative stuff.
What could possibly make Mad Libs better? It’s an app now! Download it onto your smart phone or tablet and always have it with you. One “pad” comes free with the app. Download additional pads for a small charge.
2. License Plate Game – Print a list of U.S. states here – or from lots of other sites – and give everyone their own list or play as a team. When we did this in the Black Hills, we found ourselves wandering the parking garage at Mount Rushmore and successfully found some of the small and distant states we needed. It can be addictive. My husband and I found ourselves playing the game at home long after our kids lost interest.
3. Guess-the-Animal (AKA 20 Questions) – We use animals because that’s what my children like. You could use any category – cartoon characters, famous people, dinosaurs… One person chooses an animal and everyone takes turn asking questions. You can limit questions to yes/no or not – whatever works for your family.
4. When I Go to London – There are lots of variations of this memory game. The first person says, “When I go to London, I am packing (fill in the blank).” The second person says “When I go to London, I am packing (first person’s item) and (new item).” The items can be silly. You can also select items in alphabetical order – the first item starts with A, the second with B, and so on. That makes them a little easier to remember. Play goes around the car adding a new item to remember every time. See who can remember the most!
5. Pick-The-Song – We have a “family” iPod that has 6,000 songs and playlists for everyone that we play through the car stereo on every road trip. To keep everyone happy and interested, we take turns choosing songs and the passenger parent finds and plays them. Everyone gets a little of what they like and we get to introduce our kids to some of our favorites.
Variation: Play Name That Tune and see who can guess a well-known song first.
6. Teach a Song – This is a great time to teach your kids a funny camp song or family favorite from your youth. When I was young, my grandma taught us a song she sang when she worked at the Grand Canyon before World War II. My cousins and I sang it over and over as we drove to the Grand Canyon.
7. Books – Hours of uninterrupted reading was something I loved when I was growing up and a road trip was the perfect place to do it. For major road trips I often surprise my kids with a new book for each of them. For shorter trips, they can bring what they have. Books are becoming an even better option now that my oldest can read on her own. I do not allow library books on road trips because I have a hard enough time keeping track of those without losing them in another city or state.
8. Coloring Books – Every year, I buy a bunch of 24-packs of crayons at the back-to-school sale for 25 cents or less per box. One of those boxes makes an appearance on every major road trip, often with a new coloring book. I buy those at my local supermarket for $1.25 each. We have had problems with melted crayons in the van, so plan accordingly.
9. Toys – For a big road trip I might buy a small surprise or two. I let the kids pack their own toy bags and I give final approval or recommendations. I can usually count on collecting new fast food meal toys along the way too.
10. Audiobooks – Eventually, you and/or your children are going to get tired of all of these road trip ideas. You can’t do them indefinitely. If you don’t have electronics or if you want to delay using them a little longer, audiobooks are the ticket. Our library now loans digital copies of audiobooks, or we still borrow CDs. We have enjoyed the Dr. Seuss collection, Junie B. Jones, Harry Potter and the Magic Treehouse on audio.
What keeps your kids entertained in the car?