The Great American Road Trip. So many of us grew up with them, and we even have fond memories of being stuffed in the back of the Family Truckster, arguing with our siblings and wondering exactly how purple dad’s face would be when he finally turned around and yelled, “KNOCK IT OFF!” for the umpteenth time.
But now you are dad or mom, and are realizing that kids and road trips don’t really mix very well. Most kids don't appreciate scenic drives, and historical landmarks aren’t high on the list of kid fun, unless the landmark says “Disney” in it somewhere. It's up to parents to help make time on the road pass quickly.
Now, truth be told, most of these games are for pre-teen kids, maybe even pre-tween. If your journey involves a carload of sullen teenagers, maybe you’d better just rent a DVD player, or kick yourself for not checking the “rear entertainment system” option box on your new family hauler.
But for smaller kids that aren’t at those dreaded teen years yet, we’re old fashioned enough to think that the journey can be half the fun. Besides, even though DVD players are becoming commonplace in minivans and sport utes, don’t you get enough Dora the Explorer and Spongebob at home? Anyhow, to help ensure an enjoyable vacation – or at least keep the “stay on your own side!” arguments as infrequent as possible – here are a few ways to keep the little ones occupied when the excitement and anticipation of a fun vacation fades into boredom.
A couple of overall tips. First, make sure the game you pick is age-appropriate. An 8-year-old is probably not going to be very interested in a game of “What does a cow say,” and a few rounds of “license plate addition” is probably too much for most 3-year-olds. Second, have a prize in mind for the winner of each game. It can be stickers for smaller kids, or maybe a special dessert at the next meal for the older ones.
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This is a classic fun game, and is especially great for smaller kids learning about the world around them. The rules are simple: The driver starts off with, “I spy with my little eye something that....” begins with a certain letter, is a certain color, is tall, short, near, far, etc. The object should be in view long enough for kids to guess it before it passes out of view. The great benefit is that if you’re on a scenic trip, this will get the kids to look out the windows, rather than stare at the back of the front seat head restraints. Once they get the hang of it, the rug rats can take over and play amongst themselves, with the older kids taking the lead.
Another classic, this one is great for building up those deductive reasoning skills. Again, the driver (or older passenger) thinks up something – an animal, vegetable, famous person, etc. – and everyone else has 20 chances to get the answer. Whoever gets it in the least amount of questions wins. If you have a larger gap between age groups, make sure the little ones can guess them too sometimes; maybe tell your older kids to sit it out a round or two.
License Plate Alphabet
If there’s a universal constant to road trips, it’s the license plates of other cars. There are many different variations of license-plate based games, from figuring out what personalized ones mean to counting out of state plates. One of our favorites, and one that’s great for preschool-age kids, is the alphabet game. It’s simple: scan license plates of your fellow motorists, and shout out the letters in order until you have the entire alphabet. It’s a great way to keep the kids entertained, and to help them brush up on those valuable skills.
License Plate Addition
A variation of the license plate alphabet game is the addition game. This is good for those first and second graders who are starting off on their math skills. It’s simple: look at a car’s license plate, add up the numbers, and tell mom or dad so they can double check the math. Not only is it a good way to pass up the time, but it’ll probably help you with your own arithmetic. Don’t think it needs help? Quick: What’s 5 + 1 + 4 + 9?
Another favorite, this game is good for a few laughs and to pass time. One person says a word and another person yells out the first thing that comes to mind. Go around until the car goes quiet, or someone says "I didn't think of anything." This can get pretty hilarious; start off with “telephone” and after a few rounds around the car you’re suddenly shouting out things like “toilet paper.”