250 miles down, 250 miles to go, and all of a sudden your 3 year old starts fussing and simply won’t stop. You’ve already listened to all of his CDs. You’ve recited every story you know by heart at least five times. All of the snacks are gone. Every book you brought has been discarded onto the floor. Now what do you do?
With very little prep (or none at all in some cases) you can have a great arsenal at your disposal. Most of these games require no props at all, and the ones that do won’t take up much space in the car. If you keep a bag by the door with all the items you need your prep time is virtually eliminated.
The following games should keep your 2-5 year-old quite happy and entertained no matter the length of the trip. They range from chatty to quiet, so you can change them up when you need a change of pace.
I Spy: This is one of the most classic car games to play. It works for a wide range of ages, and is fantastic even on short trips to the store. It’s simple. Pick an item, say “I spy something…” and put in the color of the item you see. Let your child name off items of that color until they find what you were looking at.
Variation: For young children, rather than having them guess until they name the item you originally chose, let the first item of that color that they name be the “right” answer.
Counting Cars: Or cows, or trucks, or mailboxes. You call out an item you tend to see a lot of wherever you are driving, then see how many you and your child can see in a set time period. For younger children, a shorter time period like one minute works well, but older children can extend it up to 10 minutes or more. This one also works quite well on short trips.
Variation: Choose a color and see how many things you and your child can find of that color within a time period.
Variation: If you have more than one child in the car, have each child look for different colors of the same item (for example, one looks for red cars and one looks for blue cars) and see who finds the most in the time period.
Variation: Instead of how many things you can find in a set time period, see how long it takes you to find a set number of things.
Road Trip Tickets: Before your trip, make a pre-determined number of tickets (how many will depend on distance you will travel) and give them to your child. Every 25 or 50 miles have your child give you one ticket. When their tickets are all gone, then their trip is done. This game is especially great to help your child understand how much time is left in their trip, and will (hopefully) prevent a chorus of “Are we there yet?”
Variation: Write a specific game or activity (singing a specific song, telling a specific story, listeningto a book on tape, etc.) on each ticket. When your child hands you a ticket, read it aloud and do the activity on it.
Surprise Packages: Gather the correct number of small toys or books and place each one in a brown lunch sack or wrap each one in wrapping paper. Label each one with the mileage you will give it to your child at. When you hit that mileage, give it to your child. The newness of each item will keep them entertained for quite some time.
Variation: Put a specific snack in each of the bags so that each snack is a surprise.
Treasure Bottles: Find 25-30 very small things that your child will know by sight (beads, buttons, Legos, tiny toys, colored stones, etc.) and place them in a clear bottle. Fill the rest of the bottle with uncooked rice and glue the lid on. Make yourself a list of the items in each bottle, and ask your child to find them. Your child will love to move and shake the bottle around to find each of the items hidden inside. This one does require some preparation, but if you make a few different bottles they should last you quite a while if you rotate them in and out of the car.
Variation: Have your child name the things they find until they have found everything on your list.
Storytellers: Start by telling a story to your child. When you get towards the end, ask your child to finish it. For younger children, it might be a good idea to tell a story you have told them many times before. This way they have some framework for their ending, whether it’s the “correct” one or not. For older children, you can just tell the beginning of the story and let them take it from there.
Variation: Have your child start the story, and you finish it for them.
Variation: Have your child come up with characters, items, or actions to fit into a story you tell them, kind of like MadLibs.
The Animal Game: This is similar to 20 questions, but easier for toddlers and preschoolers to play. Take turns choosing an animal and giving clues to help the others guess what animal it is. This one can be customized to fit a wide range of ages, so is great for families.
Variation: Instead of choosing animals, choose people that your child knows. Give clues based on what they look like, or what they do for fun or work.