10 Things To Do With Kids In The Car On A Road Trip

Ideas for games and activities to keep kids happy in the car on a road trip.

A road trip with the kids can be a good bonding experience for the whole family, but if the kids get bored your vacation can quickly become a trip you'll want to forget. Keeping the kids occupied while traveling long distances is important if you want to have a peaceful trip, especially for younger children who don't have iPods and earphones yet. Planning ahead is essential if you want to keep everyone happy; here are ten suggestions that can keep your kids busy while traveling in the car on a road trip.

1. Road Bingo

This is a game that children of all ages can play. For each child, you'll need a metal lunch kit or metal box with a lid and a package of small round or square magnets. Make bingo cards a little smaller than the box from card stock paper, drawing lines to divide the cards into squares. For small children, nine squares would probably be sufficient; for older kids you can make 20-30 squares. Decide what you want to put on the cards; the kids will be looking for the objects you have on the cards as you drive along on your trip. For instance, for smaller kids you could use stickers or draw a tree, a cow, a stop sign, a police car, etc. For older kids, you can make the things they have to look for a little more difficult, especially if you know what you'll be seeing along the way. For instance, you could put a mountain on a toddler's card and a fir tree on the card for older kids. The kids can put their card on the top of the box and put a magnet on each object on the card as it is spotted. The magnets keep the cards attached to the box; they work much better than bingo chips in the car since they don't fall off. Take a bag of small prizes that your kids would like and reward the winners. Make several cards for each child, and the game can be played over and over as you travel.

2. Personal Backpacks

Most kids like to keep their possessions separated from those of others. Let each of your children take a backpack with things to keep him occupied. For smaller children, coloring books and crayons, small toys, and snacks would be good choices. If you think your child will want to eat all the snacks immediately, label them with the names of towns you'll be passing through at certain time periods, and make a game of when the snacks will be eaten. Individual packets of moist towelettes, a packet of tissues, a small photo album in which to collect postcards, and a "treasure box" for souvenirs, unusual rocks or other objects the child finds on the trip would be good choices for the backpack. Older kids and teenagers could pack their own backpacks with items they think will be needed on the trip; you can make suggestions and provide them with some of the snacks and supplies.

3. Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts are fun for all ages, and even some parents can become very competitive playing this game. If you have two children and two parents, you could match up a child with each parent; other combinations could be kids against parents or everyone individually. Make a list of items that have to be collected on the trip and set a deadline; you may want to make the deadline the end of the trip when you return home so you can play during the whole trip. Some suggestions for scavenger hunt items are a match book from a certain hotel, a photo of a particular object or person, a leaf from a certain tree, a certain kind of seashell, a bag of sand from a beach, or other items that fit in with your destination. Include some humorous items like a snowball for a winter trip or a bag of wind from the beach. If your kids like to take photos, you could select a number of things that have to be photographed, and then the kids could make the photos into an album to be judged at the end of the trip. Make sure all the items on your list can be safely obtained and are not against rules; removing objects of nature is illegal in some national and state parks.

4. Postcard Albums

If you're going on a long road trip and will be passing through many towns, a postcard album can be fun for kids. Get each of them a photo album that holds 4"x 6" photos, and standard postcards will fit in the slots. Having a theme for the album can be fun; for instance, a child could see how many postcards he can find that have the color red somewhere on them. You may want to set a limit of how many cards each child can purchase; older children could decide how many they want to get from each town to add up to the total number, and you can help younger children with their selections. Obviously, the number of selections will depend on how many cards the photo album will hold. Kids can write descriptions of what they did in each postcard's town while you're driving, and the end result will be a vacation scrapbook.

5. Photo Themes

If your kids are shutterbugs, taking photos will be a fun part of the trip. Digital cameras are excellent tools for remembering your trip, and inexpensive ones can be purchased for smaller kids before the trip. Disposable cameras are another option for kids who don't already have a camera to use. Help the kids choose a theme for their photos; they could all choose the same theme or each one can pick a different one. For instance, bicycles, boats, blue, roses, teddy bears, etc. could all be themes. After choosing a theme, the kid should try to take as many photos as possible with the theme in the picture, in many different locales. Back at home, an interesting scrapbook can be made with the photos.

6. Alphabet Game

Playing a memory game involving the alphabet can be quite fun and is educational also. Parents can play with kids to make the game challenging and to ensure it moves along. The first person to start the game says a word beginning with "a," such as "aunt." The next person adds a word beginning with "b" to the first word, such as "Aunt Betty." The third person adds a word beginning with "c," repeating the first two words. The added words should make sentences that can be remembered, rather than just a long string of unrelated words. For instance, after going through several turns, a child might have to repeat, "Aunt Betty called dad every Friday. Ghost heads in jars keep longer. Many nice older people quit rowing strong tugboats under valleys while x-raying yellow zebras." The sentences don't have to make sense, and younger kids will think it hilarious when the sentences become bizarre. If the last person on a turn repeats the whole sentence from a to z, you can start another string of sentences that add to the first ones, or start doubling the letters. For instance, "Aunt Annie bet Bob cats could dig ditches every evening"¦.." With older children with good memorizing skills, you can make many variations on the game.

7. Natural Features Memory Game

This is another memory game that makes driving time pass by quickly, and is a good game to play while traveling off the interstate; it also makes the children aware of the natural features of the terrain through which you're driving. The game involves memorizing and repeating the natural features that you pass; there are usually signs telling you the names of the rivers, creeks, mountains, beaches, etc. that are coming up, and you can include the names of small towns in the game too. As you start the game, the kids have to say the name of the first feature out loud, such as "Otter Creek," and then add to the list as you drive along. Before long, they'll be repeating a long list of "Otter Creek, Rushing River, Cemetery Hill, Mayfield, Morgan Farm" and on and on. You can point out what the kids have to memorize and make a list of the places so you can give a pop quiz for prizes later on. It's fun to see how many places can be remembered the next day.

8. License Plate Game

Just about everyone has played the license plate game, where you look for plates from all the different states. This can be a fun game if you're in large cities, but if you're out in rural areas the out-of-state plates can be few and far between and kids can quickly lose interest. You can vary the license plate game to include counting car types or colors. For toddlers, you could help them with counting by having them look for red cars and count all the way up to the number each time you add a car. For older kids, make the game a little more difficult. For instance, if you're traveling in Texas, have them start at 0, and then add 1 for each Honda Element they see, but subtract 1 for each Ford F150 pickup they see, or vary the cars as you see fit. This makes the game last longer, and helps them with math skills. For teenagers, you could come up with some more elaborate rules; have them suggest some variations.

9. Traffic Spies Game

If you're stuck in traffic in a metropolitan area, kids can get pretty restless and irritated, and so can parents. Tell the kids they're spies, and have to look around at the nearby buildings and cars and decide what's going on in them. For instance, if you're traveling over the holidays, you might lead small children to use their imagination and pretend they can see through the walls of a skyscraper that Santa Claus uses as his headquarters in that city. They could talk about the many floors of elves making toys, the reindeer barn on the roof, the satellite dishes on the top receiving emails from children around the world, etc. For older children, have them read the name of the company on a building and imagine what that company makes and what's going on in the building. Teenagers can imagine where the people in cars nearby are going and what they're up to.

10. Songs

Sing-alongs in the car are an old tradition, of course, and one that most smaller children like. Teenagers and older children, however, may think singing is corny, but you can adapt the sing-along by making a CD before you leave. Select songs that fit the towns you'll be traveling through; there are songs that mention many different places, and you can include them on your CD. If you have teenagers, enlist them for help in selecting songs and making the CD. For instance, if you're traveling through the southern states in the US, you could include songs like "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Georgia on My Mind." Singing along with the songs will help the kids to remember the states or cities on your destination and teach them some new tunes. Include some unfamiliar songs on the CD, such as very old or very new songs so the kids can learn something new and get a taste of different kinds of music.

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