Summer is here and that means many of you will be hitting the road for vacations with your family. Of course, you want the trip to go as smoothly as possible, but bickering in the car can be a real problem sometimes, not to mention the endless choruses of "How much farther is it?" and cries to be out of their carseat.
While I survived more than one long road trip with Wee Sing tapes playing constantly through the speakers, there are many more options available now. There are a ton of great podcasts for kids that offer stories and factual information to keep their mind busy (If you are an email subscriber, you can refer back to the Nov. 13 issue for some of my top favorites. ) I have also put together a Road Trip Playlist over on Spotify that includes a few of those tried and true Wee Sing songs, as well as a bunch of others.
With grandchildren traveling with us from time to time now, we are dipping back into our bag of tricks to keep them occupied, as well. Below are several ideas to help your survive the miles with a smile on your face. Best of all, very little preparation is needed and you can make all sorts of adaptations to individualize the activities for your particular family!
Here are a couple of things you might want to do before your trip to help things so more smoothly:
Activity Chain - After reading over the list of activities below, choose which ones would work best for your family Before leaving town, make a activity chain to attach to the front seat head rest. On each link of the paper chain, write one activity (or draw a picture of it). Hook the chain together, leaving the ones related to "screen time" for last. Attach the chain to the head rest with a pipe cleaner or piece of string, with the "screen time links" closest to the head rest. During your road trip, periodically take off a link and do the activity - you can do it as set intervals (every 30 minutes, every hour, etc.) or use your child's restlessness as a cue to choose another activity. (You might want to make 2 chains - one for the trip to your destination and another for the trip back home.)
Activity Bag - Just like the activity chain above, having an activity bag will not only serve as your own personal bag of tricks, but will be fun for your child. After writing the name of each activity on a slip of paper, drop it into a bag. Periodically during your road trip, let your child/children choose a new activity to keep them busy. As you
Here's a list of some of our very favorite, tried and true "car games":
Storytime - This is one of my favorite ideas, and is new to this list. My daughter actually came up with the idea last year when she was planning for her cross-country trip to visit us. A few weeks prior to leaving, she sent an email to relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, older cousins, etc.) asking them if they would please record themselves reading a children's book. Almost everyone has a smart phone these days, so it was very easy to do. I recorded myself reading the book on the Voice Memo app on my iPhone. Then I emailed it to her. She compiled all of the recordings in one Google Document and could play it as they drove, using the bluetooth on her car. Her young son was entertained for hours and continues to enjoy listening to the stories read by people he knows. You can even share the document with other members of your family so that they can entertain their children as well.
I Spy - Easy for all ages, this is always a good way to start. Person #1 looks around the vehicle and declares, “I spy something ___(color)____.” Each person takes turns guessing the object. We limit the selections to things that are inside the vehicle since those are the things that will be moving along with the kids. (You wouldn’t want to pick something on a sign that you quickly pass and no oje else would be able to find.)
Categories - Person #1 begins by naming a “Category” (for example: Farm animals, candy bars, etc.). Person #2 then names a specified number of 5 things that fit into that category. There is no winner or loser, but the kids don’t really care! Another version is that Person #1 names the category, then everyone takes turn naming something that fits the category until you reach 10 items. Then the next person takes a turn naming the category, etc.
It is very easy to individualize this game so that everyone can play. With very young children, you can pick your categories carefully and lower the number of items. (example: Name 3 farm animals; Name 3 vehicles; Name 5 dinosaurs, etc.) Likewise, with older children, you can choose more difficult categories and designate a higher number of items.
Scattergories - This is a car-version twist on the boxed game, similar to the one listed above. You do need a paper and pencil for this version. In this game, person #1 comes up with a category and writes down a list of 10 items that fit the category. This list is kept secret. (If everyone has paper and pencil, you could all make a list at the same time and then take turns using the lists.) Person #1 names the category and the other participants take turns guessing items until all items on Person #1’s list have been named.
Alphabet Signs - This is an oldie, but goodie. I played it as a child and my grandkids are playing it now. It is so easy—-Beginning with “A”, simply go through the alphabet, calling out the letters as you see them on billboards and signs. Each person works on their own usually, but if you are worried about squabbles, you can team up to make it a family project. You’ll find yourself wishing for bar-b-que joints, exits and zoos to complete your list!!
Famous People - This game is best played with children that are a little bit older, but can be adapted for younger children as well. Person #1 names a famous person—first and last name. Person #2 names a famous person that begins with the first letter of the last name that Person #1 named. Example: Person #1 names George Washington. Person #2 must name a person whose name begins with a “w”, such as Will Smith. Person #3 must then name a person whose first name begins with an “s”, such as Susan Sarandon, etc.
To adapt this game for younger children: simply let them think of anyone that they know that begins with the named letter. Or to simplify it even more, just name the first name—-the next person thinks of someone that begins with the last letter of the name: example: Person #1 says Susan, so Person #2 must think of a name that begins with “n” etc.
Twenty Questions - Based on the usual Twenty Questions game, Person #1 thinks of either a book or movie that they are sure everyone is familiar with. Other people take turns asking “yes” or “no” questions to give them clues until someone is able to guess the answer. Depending on how long the game has been going on, sometimes we just keep going until the answer is guessed, but if it seems too difficult, then limit the game to 20 questions and let someone else be the Leader.
I’m Thinking of . . . - This version 20 Questions works just the opposite. Person #1 thinks of an object and then gives one clue about the object. “I’m thinking of something that _____.” Each person then takes turns guessing the object. If it is not guessed after several tries, Person #1 adds to their clue. Example: Person #1 says “I’m thinking of something that is round.” Then, “I’m thinking of something that is round and bounces.” Then, I’m thinking of something that is round, bounces and we play games with.”, etc. This game can be adapted for all ages, as well by making the clues age-appropriate.
ABC Animal-style - Starting with A, each person names an animal that begins with A. After each person has named one, move to letter B and move on through the alphabet. Sometimes we have to get really creative like “quick fox” for letter Q or something like that, but that just makes it all the more fun!
BINGO - This is fun and really easy for all ages. Every time you see a yellow vehicle, you say “bingo” and get one point. You can make up your own rules, but for our version, the vehicle must have a motor. That means that a yellow bicycle doesn’t count, but a yellow motorcycle does! The first person to 20 points wins that round and you start over. If you happen to see a whole lot full of yellow vehicles, declare “bingo lot” and get an automatic 3 points rather than calling out each of the vehicles.
Treat Bags - A little bit of prep work is necessary for this, but it is minimal. Using several small lunch bags, drop a special treat in each one. The treats can be anything that works for your family, such as a non-messy snack, stickers, magnets and a small magnet board, dry-erase marker and board, etc. Depending on the length of your trip, plan to present a new bag at periodic intervals throughout the trip - perhaps as you cross a state line, or at each rest stop you take or something like that. You can pick up all sorts of things at your local Dollar Store, but even small toys from home become more special when they haven't seen them for a while.
Have you tried any of these games yet with your family? Do you have a favorite game that I didn’t mention?
Don't forget that each Connections Box comes with a unique hand-made game that is perfect for travel. Each game is packaged in a drawstring bag, making it easy to pack in your tote bag or suitcase. While most of the games cannot be played IN the car, they are great for those times in your hotel room or even at the beach, that you need a fun little activity.