The family road trip can be a time for bonding, a time for
learning about each other's interests and points of view - a
time to practically pull out every last hair on your head for every
instance the words, "Are we there yet?" are uttered.
A beloved tradition likely observed even back in the days of the
horse and buggy, road trips really can be an enlightening,
educational, sane experience for all, with just a little planning,
creativity, and preparation. Here are some ideas for games and
activities to get your whole gang revved up for a trip long on
smiles and short on frustration:
Don't underestimate the power of a deck of cards. There are
endless possibilities for all ages, and they lend themselves to
hours of entertainment and concentration. If your kids are sick of
the standard Go Fish, Crazy Eights, and Rummy games, buy - or check
out at your local library - a kids' card games book for new
ideas. Or, buy a deck of quiz or trivia cards to keep their brains
Hold an official family spelling bee or trivia contest, using
index cards to write down words or questions. Winners can earn
trinkets, stickers, activity or coloring books, trading cards, food
treats, money (the younger the child, the smaller the amount), or
extra minutes of hotel pool time or stay-up-late time that
Good Ol' Games
Use the fallback road-trip games - 20 Questions, the License
Plate Game, and I Spy. Or, try the Alphabet Game (you pick a topic
- say, animals - and a letter, then have everyone spout off animals
that begin with A: i.e. aardvark, antelope, ape...). The best part
about this game is that kids can pick the topic of interest - cars,
TV characters, countries, cities, foods, names, etc. - and there
are 26 possibilities (one for each letter) for every topic. Make
the games into marathons, awarding special treats or trinkets to
whoever wins each round. Then, have lightening rounds or finals for
Buy cheap, but sturdy, journals (or just plain old notebooks or
create your own using construction paper, hole puncher, and yarn)
and have kids write down and describe what they see along the way.
Have them collect something small (a stone, a seashell, a flower,
etc.) or buy a super-small trinket from rest stops (buttons,
stickers, postcards, etc.) to glue into their journal, describing
each stop and each location or landmark they pass. Bring along a
stack of old magazines, and have kids cut out and paste pictures
into their journals to illustrate some of what they've seen
(i.e., cows, fire trucks, palm trees, deer, cars, etc.). Buy a
disposable camera for each child, so that they can capture their
own memories and place their very own pictures in their personal
Make It Magnetic
Stock up on a few super-cheap magnetic games (i.e., tic-tac-toe,
checkers, etc.) at the local dollar store or at gift shops along
Bring a large map (or smaller map book that little hands can
better handle) just for the kids. Have them use stickers and
highlighters to mark each road you take on your journey.
Road Trip Box to the Rescue
Find a sturdy cardboard box or hat box (one for each child) and
paint the top with chalkboard paint (black or green). Stock the box
with tons of handy-dandy arts and crafts items and playthings:
chalk, chalkboard eraser, washable markers, crayons, pocket-sized
coloring books, colored pencils, scrap paper, mini dry erase board,
dry erase marker and cloth eraser, construction paper, stickers,
stencils, colored pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks, tape, colored
tape, mini pom-poms, child-safe scissors, hole puncher, yarn, and
small dolls or action figures. Long road trips are a great time to
put kids' imaginations to the test to create puppets, masks,
journals, and more.
Silence Is Golden
When all else fails, use the standby game, "See Who Can Be
the Quietest." After hours of singing and crafting, your
little ones just might appreciate the challenge of not saying a
peep. Make prizes worth their while, with incentives such as: money
(quarters, a dollar), gift-shop trinkets or games, and a few extra
minutes at the hotel pool or staying up a few minutes longer that
Sing, Sing a Song
Bone up on sing-along songs. Or, plunk down a few bucks on a
tape or CD of "round" songs (you know - "Row, Row,
Row Your Boat," "Three Blind Mice," etc.) or
sing-along/participation songs (like "Old MacDonald" and
"B-I-N-G-O") that will get everyone - even the most
tone-deaf - involved. Buy a kazoo or plastic harmonica for every
family member for a little added accompaniment.
Bring a few of your kids' favorite books - or those they've
been wanting to read - both in the printed versions and on tape/CD.
You can listen to the story as the kids read along. If you'd
rather not dole out the dough, stop by the library to check out
copies of the books and the books on tape/CD before you go. Or,
just bring the books, and take turns reading the stories out loud
(making sure to use your best character voices, of course).
Ask each family member to create a line for a story (i.e.
"There once was a boy name Hugh..."), then have everyone
add a line until you're all stumped ("who lived in the
town's biggest zoo" ... "he often had nothing to
do" ... "so he decided to make an igloo" ...
"with a big polar bear named Sue"...). To make things
really interesting, go as fast as you can, rhyme as much as
possible, and take turns out of order (pointing to someone new each
time). Write down the story as you go, then have kids create
drawings to coordinate with your silly tale. When you're done,
you'll have your own custom-made family story.
Use washable window markers to make colorful creations that even
passersby can enjoy, or to play endless, paper-free games like
tic-tac-toe and hangman. Keep a cotton cloth or dust rag on hand so
kids can keep the window fun flowing throughout the trip - just
make sure the driver's view isn't blocked!
Have kids write down various words they see as you drive along
(from billboards, bumper stickers, roadside attractions and stores,
license plates, signs, the sides of semi-trucks, etc.). Ask them to
write a story, poem, or song grouping all of the words they see
together. Have them read, perform, or sing their creation for
everyone when they're done.
Cut down on the fighting and fussing with a little ingenuity and
preplanning, and your next road trip will likely be made up of fond
family memories - on the road and off.
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2006
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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