Great Activities to do in the Car—Toys and Books
We let each of our children pack a small backpack with toys and games of their choosing. We have veto power of course, but these are the things they can have in their possession to pull out and play with as they wish:
- Small hand-held electronic games—we’ve picked up several of these for next to nothing at thrift stores and garage sales. Titles we have include Yahtzee, Hangman, Simon, and 20 Questions. Some are interactive in that multiple people can play at the same time (just like a board game) and some are solo. They’re great because there are no pieces to lose or messes to make!
- Travel versions of classic board games—these have more pieces, but are still decent options, especially for older children. There are many of these available at places like Walmart, etc.
- A small notebook/sketchpad and pencil for doodling or journaling, etc.
- For the smaller kids, toys like Magnadoodle, Etch-a-sketch, and Color Wonder markers are good.
- Books—I encourage each of my readers to take along a few books, and my littles take a few picture books. Activity books like Mad Libs or kid-friendly puzzles are great, too.
- While I try to limit these because I can’t stand car clutter, our boys usually take along a few little toys as well, such as Matchbox cars, happy meal toys, small stuffed animals, etc. As long as it fits in their backpack, doesn’t have a ton of small pieces, and can’t be used to vandalize our vehicle we’re pretty much okay with these random additions.
- Gameboy –each of our older 3 boys has one of these, and while we don’t like them to play video games for hours on end, these are great for keeping them occupied when we’re not doing something else.
Great Activities to do in the Car—Printable Road Games
With a little advance planning, you can bring along hours' worth of fun for just the cost of printer paper...and it doesn't take up much room in the car! There are so many printable games and activities online. I’ll share my faves, along with links where applicable.
- I love the games that require everyone to look out the windows and observe the world around us. We rarely take a long trip that we don’t keep a running list of states we find on license plates. Travel Bingo is a favorite, too. These games (and many others) can be printed out at Momsminivan.com. Our older boys also enjoy the dot game and tic tac toe printouts there.
- I try to sneak in educational activities whenever I can, so I like to find printables that pertain to our trip but also educate. On one particularly long trip that took us through 10 states or so, I printed a coloring sheet about each state from Crayola.com. I passed them out as we crossed each state line. They have other travel games there as well, including another version of travel bingo that your kids can color while they play.
- I love love LOVE Discovery Education's Puzzlemaker site for puzzles and games related to our travels. You can create your own puzzles in many different formats, such as word searches, crossword puzzles, and hidden messages. I’ve made puzzles with words related to our destinations, such as Washington D.C. or Disney World, or using generic travel terms or names of states, etc. You can also print mazes from this site, which my boys love to do!
I don’t do this often, but at the right times it can work wonders! What I’m referring to is buying/making a small number of new toys that can be given out as little gifts along the way, to give the kids something new to do. When my oldest son and my oldest nephew were toddlers, we traveled from Austin to Oklahoma City for a wedding. Every hour or so we gave the boys a new little Tonka truck. They held their attention well because they were new to them. Years ago, when my sister and her family moved cross-country over the course of 3 days, I put together little packages for my nephew who was almost 4 at the time. This was a little bit more expensive so it’s not something I would do often, but I bought him things like a little Magnadoodle-type toy, Color Wonder markers and book, and other age-appropriate travel activities and wrapped them up individually. My sister could then give him a new item to unwrap every couple hundred miles. I think it helped make the trip more pleasant for him!
Great Activities to do in the Car--Audio/Video
- While we don't currently have one of these (ours broke!), a portable DVD player and a few good kid flicks can keep children occupied (and quiet!) for hours. This is especially nice if you are traveling in the dark, making it more difficult for the kids to play with their toys. (Of course, I may be the oddball here, but I do NOT like to drive at night with the interior lights on in the car.)
- Kid-friendly audio books--our Chronicles of Narnia set holds our boys' attention for quite a while.
- We have an entire collection of CDs from Chik-Fil-A kid's meals--stories and songs from PBS's Between the Lions, Foreign Language lessons, episodes of Adventures in Odyssey, and the like.
- CDs of children's songs--our boys love to sing along!
Even if you're prepared with the best activities in the world, sometimes kids just need to run off some energy! We try to plan our travel schedule in such a way that we can stop a few times just to let the boys run wild for a few minutes. Some of these stops include meals, and some are just for the purpose of stretching our legs. Since most of our traveling is along interstate highways, we usually stop at rest areas and run around. One great memory maker that we started a few years ago is stopping at the first rest area after crossing a state line. These usually have welcome centers (there will be signs on the interstate for them) and big signs that say "Welcome to (state name)" on them. We all pile out and take a family picture in front of the sign. Someday we hope to have pictures from all 50 states! (Yeah, I know, Alaska and Hawaii are going to be hard!)
Armed with these activities, we can keep our boys pretty busy for many miles. While we do still get the occasional “Are we there yet?” for the most part our trips are much more pleasant for everyone involved when we prepare well to keep those children busy along the way!
What are your best ideas for activities in the car? I’d love to hear them—we can always use new entries for our arsenal of ideas!