Car Games For Kids

Kids get fussy on long car trips. These travel games do not distract the driver, and kids love them. Car trips become good memories, not ordeals.

You're going to visit Gramma and Grampa, who live four hours away by car. How do you keep the kids from getting bored, starting to bicker and squirm and fight? Play a car game! Driving long distances with kids can make happy memories instead of nightmares. Our kids, now grown, still talk about the fun of long drives up to Maine.

The common denominator of many car games is to direct attention outside the car. This not only prevents carsickness, but also eliminates the feeling of being cramped into a small space. It's also educational, as kids notice new things, recognize places they have seen before, and can ask questions when something piques their curiosity.

A great game for shorter trips, up to about a half hour, is Prediction. Have each kid guess how many red cars they will see before you arrive. This will keep them busy the whole way, watching and counting. All the red cars count for a single total; this is not a contest to see who can see the most red cars, with individual scores and arguments over who saw each car first. ("Red cars" is just an example. You can pick almost anything: forsythia bushes, Christmas wreaths, American flags, Volkswagen beetles, almost anything except traffic signals and road signs, which present no challenge, so do not demand the kids' attention.) Or have the kids pick something to count.

On a longer trip, there is the alphabet or number game. This one IS a contest, to see which kid can first see all the letters of the alphabet, or the numbers from one to twenty, in order, on passing signs. The letters have to be the first letter of a word. So each kid has to find a word beginning with A, then one beginning with B, etc., up to Z. Except the letter X can be anywhere in the word. The first kid to spot a word gets that word, and the other kids can't use it, so they have to keep a sharp eye out. Sometimes words are on passing trucks! As for the numbers, they can be on license plates, signs, truck identification numbers, or anywhere. They can be embedded within a long number, so a kid looking for 19 can find it in the number 4919058. You can set whatever target number you want, of course, or set no highest number; it doesn't have to stop at 20.

When the drive is more rural, whether long or short, a favorite game is Animals. Different animals are worth different points, and the first kid to reach fifty, or whatever target you set, wins. The first kid to spot the animal gets the points. Here is the point system we use:

birds, one point; flock of three or more birds, three points;

dogs and cats, two points;

goats, pigs, and sheep, five points (or ten for a group);

horses and cows, ten points (or twenty for a herd);

small wild animals (squirrels, chipmunks, bunnies, snakes, turtles, skunks, or anything under a couple pounds), five points;

medium wild animals (raccoons, oppossums, mink, foxes), ten points;

large wild animals (deer, moose, wolves, bears), twenty points.

For night trips, when it is too dark to play the games above, and before the kids go to sleep, you can still play counting games or Prediction with colored lights, e.g., How many orange lights will we see? Or, Find a group of one light, then two lights, then three lights, etc. These games really aren't as interesting as Grandmother's Attic, however, for a nighttime game.

One person starts, "In Grandmother's attic, there is an (word beginning with A)." So he might say "acorn." The next person in the car, in clockwise order, says, "In Grandmother's attic there is an acorn and a bumblebee." In other words, he adds another object, this one beginning with B. The next person adds an object beginning with C, after repeating the first two. Not only is it funny to hear what people find in Grandmother's attic, it can also get a bit tricky remembering the list as the alphabet progresses. Some people play that if you forget, you are out of the game, but we find it is more fun to give a person hints if he forgets a word. This game is usually good for a half hour or so.

Then you can play it backwards, using the list you just created! "From Grandmother's attic I removed the zebra." "From Grandmother's attic I removed the zebra and the yak."

The games above have proven their value through many car trips. Feel free to make up new ones. Depending on your kids, you might consider spelling contests or math problems, but these might not appeal if your kids are not particularly interested in math or spelling. There is always Twenty Questions (What am I thinking of? You can ask twenty yes or no questions to figure it out.), but this can be pretty frustrating if the kids are too young.

Sing. Make animal noises. Play games. Car rides can and should be treasured memories of family or group togetherness, not dreaded ordeals. The adults can also play in some of the games with the kids, you know. That will make them all the more special.

© High Speed Ventures 2011