Family road trips are lots of fun for everyone, but all that time in the car can also be super stressful. Kids asking how much longer, complaining that they are bored and hungry can be a big distraction for drivers, which is unsafe, and could lead to an accident. From toddlers to big kids, here are some fun ways to keep kids entertained during those long car rides.
For those who don’t get motion sickness, car rides are a perfect time to catch up on reading. Bring along books your kids are interested in, or check out some family-friendly audio books from the library. Reading is an important skill, and the more kids do it, the better they get at it. You can also practice with beginning readers by having them read road signs, or words on a map.
- Magnetic Tape
Magnetic tape can be found at most retailers in their craft section, and is so useful for a variety of things. Buy an inexpensive cookie sheet or two, (most dollar stores carry them) and some magnetic tape. You can put the tape on the back of puzzle pieces, so your kids can do puzzles without losing the pieces, you can put some on the back of a chip clip and thin baby wipes container to hold paper and crayons, and you can make a fun magnetic tic-tac-toe game with an Altoids tin, colorful tape and buttons with magnets on the back. You can also bring alphabet letters for younger kids, and work on letters and sounds, or spelling sight words.
- Dry Erase Markers
Print out some activity pages (crossword puzzles, word searches, alphabet pages, etc.), put them in plastic sheet protectors, and put them in a binder. Attach some dry-erase markers to the inside of the binder with Velcro tape, and you’ve got an activity book that can be shared and done repeatedly.
- Road Trip Scavenger Hunt
Put some pictures of things you will see on your trip (road signs, animals, barns, etc.) onto a piece of paper, and print one for each kid. Let them mark them off with Dry- erase markers as we talked about above, or stickers. The first person to find them all gets a small prize or treat.
All kids love stickers. Buy them a sticker book, or just bring along stickers of their favorite characters and a notebook. If you want to be really creative, buy plain-colored water bottles, cups, or sand pails for them to use while on vacation, and let each person decorate them with their own stickers. Make sure you bring plenty for everyone, so you can avoid squabbling.
- Guessing Game
Our family always likes to play the good old-fashioned guessing game when riding in the car. Each person takes a turn (we go youngest to oldest), and chooses a noun (person, place or thing). Everyone else tries to guess what they are thinking of by asking yes or no questions (do we have one? Can you see it?). You can help younger kids by having them whisper what their “thing” is, and you can help them decide what the answers to people’s questions are.
- License Plate Bingo
Have everyone be on the lookout for license plates from different states. Each time someone sees one, they call it out. One person is the scribe and writes it down. When you get to your destination, count and see how many of the 50 states you spotted.
Buy inexpensive maps of where you’re going (or print them off the internet). Give each kid a map and a marker. Have them circle things they are interested in seeing or learning more about. They can also follow where you are going, so they can see when you get closer, and (hopefully) stop all the “are we there yet?” questions.
- Bring a Buddy
The number one thing you should do when traveling with kids, is to have another adult go with you. Even if you’re a single parent, find a friend or even a teenager that can go with you as your co-pilot. That way, you can focus on driving while the passenger hands out snacks and drinks, and facilitates activities. This is much safer for everyone, and, the kids will be happier, since their requests are being met sooner.
- Screen Time
If your kids don’t get carsick, and you don’t mind them having a little screen time to keep them busy, there are plenty of things you can do. Bring a tablet with brand-new, never seen games on it. If you have more kids than tablets, set a timer on your cell phone, and have them take turns. Make sure you only download games that don’t require an internet connection, even if you have a mobile plan, since many places are hard to get a signal, and don’t forget the chargers! You might consider investing in a portable DVD player beforehand (you can get them for as cheap as $20 at Wal-Mart). Kids are usually more interested in movies they’ve never seen before, so either buy some, or rent some from the Redbox before you leave. The great thing about Redbox is that you can return them anywhere, so you can rent a couple before you leave, return them at your next stop, and grab some new ones while you’re there. Just make sure an adult handles them, and don’t forget to return them.
- Pack Plenty of Snacks
Pack lots of kid and car-friendly snacks for the road. Everyone will be much happier if they’re not starving, and you’ll be much happier if you don’t have to pull over every time someone gets the urge to snack on something. Bring water for everyone, so it doesn’t make a mess if it gets spilled. Remember, kids with food in their bellies are happy kids.
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