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Once upon a time when the kid was little, we left the house without any extra electronics. This wasn’t a quick trip to the store, so I wasn’t surprised when the kid got a bit squirrely. I refused to start a movie because if I had to listen to the same one for the 457th time on the DVD player I was going to lose it. I was already starting to develop an eye switch and no amount of “Let it Go” was going to help me.
I know that for decades people have taken road trips, often with kids, and not had phones or video games or DVD players in the car. Shoot, when I was a kid, we would take road trips back and forth from South Carolina to New York or Connecticut every summer to visit my dad and grandparents. That is a LONG trip! And my grandmother was not one to allow whining in the car. Shenanigans? Possibly. Pitching a fit because I was bored? Wasn’t gonna happen.
So what in the world did we do for 18+ hours in the car? We weren’t allowed to read in the car because my grandmother was convinced it would ruin our vision. (Little did we know then, I was already blind in one eye. But that’s a story for a different day.)
We had snacks. To this day, I crave dry Froot Loops on a road trip. But one can only eat so many handfuls of dry cereal. We did break the trip up into two legs with a night at the Days Inn in between where we were allowed to jump on the beds (shocking, I know), and we always went swimming. But in the car, we played all kinds of games.
So fast forward, here I am, in the minivan with a preschooler who is trying to remain calm but is bored out of her mind. If it were a short trip, we always have books in the car. But reading when she’s been in the car for a bit makes her car sick. So that window of opportunity was closed. I was saving the next round of snacks for … well, later. So I pulled my next trick out of the mom bag while trying desperately to remember the road trips of my childhood, “Let’s play a game!”
1. The License Plate Game
This was our most frequently played game as kids. Everyone tries to find the letters A-Z, but you can only point out or “call” letters that are on license plates. Some play the game as a group effort, taking turns or just calling them out as you see the next one like a group project. Some play the game more competitively and the first person to Z wins. As soon as I was deemed old enough, my mildly (very) competitive family made it and “every person for him or herself” battle. I never won.
2. The Alphabet Game
It’s the same idea as the license plate game BUT you can’t use license plates. You have to use billboards, buildings, road signs, the logos on trucks. Sometimes we were allowed to use license plates for only Q and Z. If you weren’t driving through Elizabeth, New Jersey, you were almost always outta luck for that z unless the license plate exception had been allowed.
3. Twenty Question
Most people are familiar with “Twenty Questions”. And it’s quite easy to make it age appropriate for whoever is in the car. One person thinks of “something”. Everyone else in the car takes turns asking yes or no questions until someone correctly guesses what it is. Theoretically you get twenty questions and then you have to make your final guess. But we often lose count of the questions.
4. “I’m Thinking of An Animal”
I have no idea why or how this game became the favorite amongst my children. Same premise as Twenty Questions but with animals only. Pro tip: Make the person “thinking” tell one other person in the car what the answer is before you start asking questions, especially if you are playing with younger children. Some kids have a tendency to either forget what animal they were thinking of, may not know exactly how to answer a question and need some help or mysteriously change their animal mid-game. The bonus of this game is you can work in a ton of science. Is it a carnivore? Is it nocturnal? Is it a mammal?
5. “The Motorcycle Game”
Instead of counting “punchbugs” like we did as kids, count motorcycles. And no punching. You can make the goal a certain number or so many of a certain color. Get creative. This also teaching kids and teens (and adults) to watch for motorcycles on the road. It’s a lesson that will serve them well in life.
6. “The Food Alphabet Game” or Animals or Historical People, etc
You takes turns naming a food that begins with the next letter in the alphabet. For example, I say “Apples”. Then the kid says “Bananas”. Then the teen says “Chocolate”. And so on. This can also be played with animals, geographical locations, historical people, things that are related to <fill in the blank with any number of things>. Just keep in mind the ages of those playing.
7. Good Old Fashion “I Spy”
I spy gets a little tricky in a moving vehicle. It’s best played with older kids who understand you need to pick something that people can see for a while.
So there you have it. On your next road trip or just running errands, put the screens away and have fun with games to play in the car. Each one gets the kids thinking and/or observing the world around them!
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For more fun Road Trip Tips, check out the articles linked below.