When we went to buy our trusty van, the salesman assured us that we could upgrade to TV/DVD player for “just a few hundred bucks.” I’m sure he didn’t like my answer, because I told him the last thing I needed was another screen in my life. Needless to say, we didn’t get the upgrade.
Not only that, we don’t have iPads, and the one cell phone we own is game free. So how do we go on some many adventures with our little ones without going stir-crazy in the car? Well, as school teachers, we have a bunch of fun games, many of them learning or thinking games that will keep you sane on long car rides without resorting to shoving a screen in front of your child’s face. Here’s a list of our favorites:
Tip #1: Progressive Storytelling
One of our boys’ favorite car games is to tell a progressive story. This means that someone starts and tells the beginning of a story. We find that 2-3 sentences is about the right length, and it’s usually best if Mom or Dad starts. Then we take turns adding two or three sentences each until the story is complete. This game is really fun, but it takes some practice. Even our 4-year-old gets involved, though. Note: Don’t let the stories get personal, or you’ll have brothers battling each other with swords before you know it!
Tip #2: Adventure Bingo
Our favorite game to play in the car is Adventure Bingo. This requires a little preparation, but it will keep your kids interested. When we’re planning our trip, we do a little research on what we might see. Then we create a 5×5 bingo sheet with different things the boys can look for. This is really easy for a place like Yellowstone, and we’ve put bingo sheets together for several places that you can access including: Yellowstone, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and New Mexico. Remember, we love to look for animals, but we also use petroglyphs, waterfalls, cabins, and even signs.
Tip #3: Teakettle Game
My Mom taught me this one when I was little, and it is best for kids over 8, but our 7 and 4 year-olds get plenty of involvement. This game is played by taking turns coming up with homophone (or homonym) pairs. The first player comes up with a pair and uses them in two sentences. However, instead of saying the homophone, replace it with “Teakettle.” So I might say: “I got my ‘teakettle’ cut,” and “A ‘teakettle’ hopped across the road.” Then you’d have to guess that my word is hair/hare.
Tip #4: Alphabet Game
This one is an oldie, but a goodie. Even preschoolers can look for the letters of the alphabet in order on signs. This seemed difficult when we adults were growing up, but there are so many signs these days, you can usually go through the alphabet on a 20 minute drive. After we finish that, we often extend the game by searching for all the numbers from 1-20. It is more challenging than you think to find a 17!
Tip #5: Alphabet Categories
In this game choose a category and then go through the alphabet trying to think of one thing for each letter of the alphabet for that category. So if the category is animals, A = Ape, B = Bat, etc. Some great categories are animals, birds, plants, cities, countries, boy names, girl names, and foods. We love this game because we get to work together. We also found a game called “Name 5” which follows this same basic premise. We put the cards in a baggie and this game lives in the car full-time now.
Tip #6: Name that Tune
This is a simple one, and it will take a while to get good at it. We play a song and see who can name it. We usually start letting the littlest guess, and then move up if to give everyone a fair shot. You can do this with songs or artists, or even play something from the Disney list and let your kids name which movie it’s from or which character sang it.
Tip #7: License Plates
We love the license plate game, and we used to get a map and have our kids color in the states of the license plates they found (it’s amazing how fast they learned the map). Then they’d write Canadian Provinces down, too. On a trip to Yellowstone we can always find over 40 of the states. This works great, but last year we found a really cool Melissa & Doug toy that the boys love. This is a map of the United States that has a license plate that you can flip when you see it. That way we don’t have to print a new map every time, or even deal with children coloring the wrong state. Now, even our 4 year-old knows where Georgia is.
Tip #8: Genealogy Game
The genealogy game came out of desperation on a long trip. We were coming back from southern Utah and had another hour to go. We needed something to pass the time, so we ask the kids to name Mom and Dad’s siblings and their spouses. Then we went to cousins. Next we did Grandparents. Since we come from large families, this took a lot of time. As the kids got better and better, we started quizzing them on their grandparents and great-grandparents. Soon, they wanted to study a fan chart before vacations so they could do well at this game. We were thrilled!
Tip #9: Song Words
The game Song Words is best for older children or adults. The game is simple. Choose a word like “Moon” or “Rainbow” or “Rock” and then take turns naming a song with that word in it. So if the word is Sun, you might name Sunshine of My Love, Here Comes the Sun, or even Lights by Journey (“… and the sun shines on the bay…”). It’s surprising how many songs you can come up with for many common words. Tip: Save “Love” for that cross country trip!
Tip #10: Books on CD
Sometimes our boys like to listen to books on CD. You can download some stories from the Internet or check them out from the library before a trip. We like to do this because we can discuss the stories as we go. A few years ago we tried this with a Greek Myth CD and our boys loved it. Now they always want to hear the old Greek stories. It’s been so fun to teach them about Hercules and Odysseus.
Bonus Tip: DJ Sing-Along
Our favorite standby game is when Mom plays DJ Sing-Along while Dad drives. She goes through each member of our family in order and asks them which song they’d like to sing. There are no vetoes, so Mom plays each person’s choice. You can sing along or not, it’s up to you.
Share your favorite tips and tricks for traveling in the car without using the TV in the comments. We are always looking for more ideas. And if you are looking for ideas of where to travel, we write about all of our favorite road trips. Check out our National Parks page as a great starting point.