Car trips with kids can be, to put it mildly, challenging.
Not only do you need to make sure that there are more snacks available to them than any 70-pound human being could possibly need, but you also need to make sure that they can entertain themselves.
When I was a kid that meant staring silently out the car window until my eyes gave up and I fell asleep. But that doesn't always work. So here are 10 options, both online and not, for your kids on your next car ride.
1. The Alphabet Game
At the beginning of a trip it's nice to start with nonelectronic solutions — electronic solutions are the best and therefore you should save them for more desperate times.
In The Alphabet Game, each kid looks out a car window and has to try to find all of the letters of the alphabet in order, using signs and license plates. This is an oldie but goodie that can get surprisingly competitive, and it teaches your children how to handle anger as they see Xs and Zs go by when they are still on D.
2. Car Trip Bingo
Also low-tech — but more work for you — is making your own bingo game. Make a bunch of bingo cards with different things they might see on their trip. This may include cows, an airplane, or a river. These could be a ton of fun, so long as you are sure to include some less challenging objects, like “tree.”
3. Color Wonders Coloring Books
Whoever the genius is who created Color Wonders deserves a big slice of pie. Color Wonders are markers that don't color anything except a special type of paper that Crayola sells in coloring books and the like.
The kids get to color without destroying your car. Perfection.
4. 20 Questions
It's the old Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral game! Kids love to know something their parents don't, so this game can be a lot of fun for them.
If you have younger kids or, like me, don't understand what a mineral is, you can change it to Person, Place, or Thing.
The site Mom's Minivan has a free printable version of on-the-road battleship. This is a genius idea and a great way for your competitive kids to pass the time.
6. Activity Books
These are a favorite of my kids. They are great because of the wide variety available. Some options include:
- hidden picture books
- maze books
- Mad Libs
- more academically-geared books that differ by grade level
- crossword puzzles for kids
These can provide hours of fun for your kids. And I do mean hours
Kids love to be read to, and what better time to do that than when you're all trapped in a car? Go to the library and check out their selection of stories.
These days you can even download some books from your library's website onto your smartphone, tablet, or PC, and let your kids listen on their own with a set of headphones. Ain't technology grand?
This site has tons of games that help kids learn about things like matching, measuring, and spacing. They even have games about natural selection and electricity!
9. LeapFrog Leap Pads
Leap Pads let your kids play games on their own personal electronic devices, and — here's the kicker — the games are all educational. Huzzah!
They feel like they're playing, you feel like they're learning. Everybody wins.
10. The Quiet Game
If all else fails, try this one. Whoever speaks first loses.
They'll catch on to your evil plan eventually, but in the meantime there is sweet, sweet silence.
Meredith Bland is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Brain, Mother, Time.com, The Rumpus, Scary Mommy, and many others. You can check out her site here. She lives in Seattle with her husband and twins.