Timely tips for traveling with tikes

December 19, 2013 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Over the river and through the woods can mean a six-hour car drive to Grandmother’s house to spend time together during the holiday season.

Electronic devices are helpful on a long car ride, but you can also bond as a family and create lasting memories with activities that break up the monotony of staring at a small screen.

Pack some basics to make the ride go more smoothly. For younger children, pack a backpack of “stuff to do.” Coloring books, crayons, books, and small toys can keep kids occupied during a road trip. Pack small snacks as well, and plan to make a few pit stops along the way to stretch legs and get a breath of fresh air. If the weather is reasonable, pack a ball or Frisbee and give kids a little time to play during your rest stop.

Below are some games that don’t require a lot of props – paper, pencils and a little brain power will fuel the fun.

Alphabet memory games.

Whether you choose groceries or animals, each player takes a turn repeating the grocery list and adding an item that starts with the next letter of the alphabet. For example, the first person says, “I am going to the grocery store to buy apples.” The second person says, “I am going to the grocery store to buy apples and beans.” The third person repeats the list, adding a grocery item that starts with the letter “c.” If you forget an item, you are out. The game continues until there is only one person left.

Who am I?

Think of someone you and your fellow passengers know: a relative, friend or neighbor, or even a fictional or historical character. Give clues about the person’s identity by revealing distinguishing characteristics – hair color, gender, career. Or, allow each person to ask only yes or no questions about the identity of the secret person. Keep offering clues until someone figures out the identity of the “secret person.” The idea is for people to guess the “who” in 20 questions or less. (You can also start with a statement of whether the “who” is a “person, place, thing” or “animal, vegetable, mineral.” Players then ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”)

Simplify the game by letting a player offer three clues, one at a time. For example, if the “who” is an animal, the first clue may be, “I have four legs.” Other players take one guess each at what the animal is. The second clue could be, “I have brown fur.” If no one guesses the “who” then, the player introduces the third clue: “I wag my tail a lot.” (You guessed it, a dog.) Players can take turns in order, or the person who makes a correct guess gets to take the next turn.


Compose a group story, with each person adding a sentence to the story. Start with a simple idea, such as “Once upon a time there lived a magical prince.” Or, try something silly: “Matt the Cat wore polka dotted pants.” Each person in the car adds a line, building the story. Add a twist by suggesting that the lines rhyme, or that each subsequent sentence must start with the letter of the last word of the previous sentence. For example: “Every day, Matt the Cat wore polka dotted pants. People wondered why Matt like polka dots so much. Many people thought he was a crazy cat.” Have kids write down parts of the story and illustrate it.

Yellow car (or the Banana Game).

The first person to see a passing yellow vehicle gets points. Points can be awarded based on the size of the vehicle, or the make. For example, a yellow school bus might get five points, while a Volkswagen bug might get 3. Other yellow cars get one point apiece.

Find the car.

Pick a car model, and the first person who spots a particular vehicle gets a point. You can pick a car maker easy to spot (Ford, for example), or one that’s not as common, such as Audi. You can also have your fellow passengers look for a specific color or state license plate in addition to a make or model. The first person to find a specific car can choose the game’s next make and model.


In this game, one player makes an “unfortunate” statement, and the next player follows it with a “fortunate” statement. For example: “Unfortunately, we’re going to be attacked by a bear.” The next player would counter with a more fortunate idea, such as, “Fortunately, I’m a bear trainer and can tame the animal.” The game can get quite silly and fun!

Bottled treasure.

This game takes a little more preparation, and requires a prop. Fill an empty, dry 2-liter soda bottle or other plastic container with birdseed, rice or sand, and several small household items, such as paperclips, buttons, marbles and small toys. Have your young passenger hunt for “treasures.” Be sure to keep track of how many items you put in. You can create a treasure hunt list for your child, and he/she can check off what they find. Be sure to seal the container tightly so the contents don’t get all over the car.

Scavenger hunt.

When you are preparing for the trip, make a list of items that you think your children will see on the way. It can be a list of random objects, road signs, farm animals – whatever you think they will see! Make copies of the list for passengers. As they see items, they can cross them off their list. The first one to cross off the entire list wins a small prize.

Travel ABCs.

Make a rule in which you can only get one letter from each sign you drive by. If the first person says, “I see an ‘A’ in ‘Lake George,’ the second person cannot use the “a” from “Adirondack Region” that appears on the same sign.

Have fun and make the travel time pass. Before you know it, you’ll be able to answer a resounding “yes!” to the inevitable, “Are we there yet?”

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