Call me old-fashioned (and, of course, I am) but there are so many wonderful ways to entertain your family in the car. I hate when I see kids plugged into a movie (even for a quick jaunt across town!), or when the teens in the car plug in their ear buds and tune out everyone else. Here are some great ways to wile away the miles that help to engage all the passengers, expand attention spans and strengthen the mind.
Go here for ideas on how to UNPLUG AT HOME . And here for over 100 ideas Older Kids can do to UNPLUG at home.
- Alphabet Game This is a classic. Watch the signs to find a word that begins with each letter of the alphabet, in order. You can play together as a team, or as my family prefers, every man for himself, in which case players compete to see who can complete their alphabet first. For younger children, you can allow them to just find the alphabet letters (in order) anywhere in the word.
- Animal Alphabet Go around the car with each person naming an animal (or any other category you choose) that begins with each letter of the alphabet. So first each person has to name a different animal that begins with A. Then everybody names an animal that begins with B, etc.
- Animal Name Game This game can easily pass an hour or two of time. It requires a bit more brain power than the other 2 alphabet games and ANIMALS seems to be the best category to use since you will need a vast number of names. It should be noted that “animal” can include anything in the animal kingdom — mammals, fish, birds, insects, reptiles, etc. You cannot precede an animal by an adjective unless that is part of its actual name. For instance, brown trout might be acceptable for B, but not a brown ant. If necessary vote amongst the other players as to weather a named animal is acceptable or not. For this game we use the letters of the players’ first name. All players should have the same number of letters to work with, so pick a number. If you have a Jim in the car, you might pick the first three letters of everyone else’s name or add the first couple of letters of Jim’s middle name to equal whatever number of letters you settle on. Now you go around the car, each person naming an animal that has not yet been named that begins with whatever letter they are on. Each player begins with the first letter of their name and progresses to the next letter when they can think of no other animals that begin with their first letter. Once you progress you cannot go back to a previous letter. Other people in the car may share a letter with you and you might want to progress before they use all the animals for that letter. When you come to the end of your letters and can think of no more animals for your final letter, you are done. Whoever can hold out the longest wins. Names with double letters only count that letter the first time it shows up. So, for a 5 letter game, Nathan John would use the letters N-A-T-H-J because the A and the N have already been used, and he might be in hot competition with Natalie since their first three letters are the same. In a 5 letter game, Natalie will use N-A-T-L-I. We had a friend in the car that went a full hour still on her first letter – C !
- Sing songs, sing rounds, sing harmony
- Audiobooks – choose a book that the whole family can enjoy and listen to a professional actor read it chapter by chapter breaking as needed. OK, I know. Technically, this is plugged in, but since the whole family is plugged in and engaging in the story together, AND because books stimulate the mind SO much more than movies, it stands.
- Tell a progressive story Someone begins a story by telling a few sentences or maybe even just a phrase. Then the next player adds another phrase/sentence and it continues around the car.
- Make a progressive picture Very similar to the story telling except someone starts by making a squiggle on a piece of paper then passes the paper around with each person adding to the masterpiece. Unfortunately, the driver gets left out of this game.
- Trivia Cards Bring a pack of cards from that old dusty Trivia game and just quiz each other.
- Deep Questions Kind of the opposite of trivia. Either come up with questions ahead of time or have each person come up with a question on their turn and then everybody has a chance to answer each question. These questions are of a more personal or thought provoking matter. Here are a few examples: What is one of your well hidden strengths? If you had $5000 to spend on others, what would you do with it? What kind of invention would you create if you had the know how/ resources? What character traits are good to look for in a spouse/friend/roommate? What is something you really want to work on this year?
- 20 Questions One person comes up with a person, place or thing. Everyone else gets to ask up to 20 yes/no questions to try to guess what it is. Whoever guesses correctly gets to come up with the next thing to guess.
- Create a poem Either create a poem together or assign a topic, have everybody create their own poem (write them down) and take turns reciting what you’ve written. To make this a ton more fun, get a book or do a google search about different types of poetry for kids. There’s so much more than just rhyming phrases.
- 100 Mile Prizes – Pack a box of small trinkets or treats. Every 100 miles, let everybody choose a prize out of the box. (Great way to use accumulated Happy Meal toys or Dollar Store gems.)
- Map tracking This is becoming a lost art, but get a map of where you’re going and map out the route. Have your children follow along on the map as you travel checking the cities as you go and estimating the time / distance to the next city / exit.
- License Plate Phrases Another classic. Make up fun phrases to go with the license plate letters you see. Vote on who’s phrase is the best.
- Comic Books – Normally, I don’t promote fluff reading, but there is a time and place to enjoy Calvin and Hobs, Peanuts, Garfield or other comic style books. The car trip is one of those times and places. HINT: We found that the kids who get car sick when reading in the care CAN READ in the car at night, with a book light. It seems seeing the scenery/cars whizzing by out of the corner of their eyes is what makes them sick. At night you don’t see all the outside stuff .
- Name the states and/or their capitals This is how I learned my states and capitals. My brother and I would quiz each other whenever we went on a road trip with our parents. Here’s a little help I memorized as a kid – how many states for each letter of the alphabet: A=4, C=3, D=1, F=1, G=1, H=1, I=4, K=2, L=1, M=8, N=8, O=3, P=1, R=1, S=2, T=2, U=1, V=2, W=4
- Researched Topic – With older kids, choose an interesting topic of discussion a week or so before the trip. Everybody does their own research in preparation for the big drive. Have an informed discussion of the topic once you’ve hit the road.
- Light up toys at night — spinny, twirly lights inside a clear globe, glow bracelets, little lighted shapes that fade from one color to another — these are all fascinatingly cool during the long night hours. We found a toy like a magna doodle, except it glows –LOVE IT!!!
- Search Books (Usborne) Honestly, I hate the Where’s Waldo and I Spy books. But I LOVE the Usborne search books! They have a preschool level, a primary level and an upper level elementary level. I think these books served as a great help in preparing for the Animal Alphabet games.
- Origami – get a good book on the subject and a pack of origami paper and a firm board on which they can fold. Let the fun begin!
- Modeling Wax – this soft, pliable wax is like playdough without the crumbly mess. It’s not cheap, but Oh, SO worth it! http://www.magiccabin.com/Art-Supplies/Stockmarand174;-Modeling-Beeswax-12-Pieces-4-Inches-x-1-12-Inches.htm
- Goodie Bag for each passenger Let’s face it road trips and car snacks go hand in hand. Give each child a gift bag or ziplock bag with their name on it containing an assortment of goodies for the trip. This may include the individual juices and snack packs. Or make your own little ziplock packs of (likely healthier) options. This eliminates fighting over who’s hogging what and teaches your child to ration out their goods to last through the whole trip. Hint: ginger snaps are a good choice since ginger helps alleviate motion sickness.
- Plastic box of car toys for each child with lid so it also serves as a table Invest in some covered plastic boxes (one size bigger than shoebox size)with smooth (slightly indented) lids – One for each child. Fill the box with books/crayons/ paper/toys for the trip. The box serves as a lap table for the child and provides a place to keep all their little items contained. It the top is slightly recessed it provides a nice tray which helps keeps crayons and toys from rolling off. Fun tip for night driving: Use a clear bottomed box. Place some glow sticks inside and flip it upside down to become a light table at night. For readers, you might want to pack a little lantern in the box or a booklight to provide a reading light at night that won’t disturb the driver.
Take the unplugged challenge … at least for large segments of your road trip, if not the whole ride. The car ride is half the fun! Plan well and avoid the misery. Engage your children instead of plugging them in.
6 thoughts on “Road Trips Unplugged”
These are GREAT suggestions Beth. Our favorite road trip game is “The Family Game”. One person secretly selects a member of our family. The other passengers begin by asking yes or no questions to discover the family member. We have 4 categories: girl (under 18), boy (under 18), woman and man. Lots of questions then ensue about siblings, children, spouse, etc. My grandsons love this game. They also include one very close friend’s family in our extended family! I think that is a sweet testament to their deep family friendship! I believe Hope Bosak taught us this game … thanks Hope!
Another great car game, especially if you come from a large extended family! Thanks! This is a much easier (and probably more fun) version of 20 Questions than trying to guess a famous person or historical figure.
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Thank you for sharing all these great ideas! I look forward to putting this list to the test with 4 squirrelly boys on our trip to Florida!!
You’re welcome! You must let me know how it goes. Have a safe and wonderful time with your family.