“Are we there yet?” “Mom, he’s on my side.” “Mom, she keeps kicking the seat!”
Ah, yes. Typical family car trip chatter. The kind that makes aggravated parents crank up the radio or pop in a video just to find some peace. But car trips — whether hours long to a vacation destination or 25 minutes to a dentist appointment — can be the ideal chance for all family members to interact and connect.
“It’s OK to let kids watch movies in the car in moderation but nothing replaces the benefits of human interaction,” explains Cathy Gansmann, a nurse on the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Answer Line. “Playing games and having conversations on car rides is more stimulating than a movie, keeps everyone involved and makes memories.”
Sample these “mother-tested-and-approved” games and activities on your next family car trip across the country or just across town.
Celebrity Name Game
One mom actually looks forward to carpool with her teenage son and his friends. The best part is the kids initiated the game and it’s now a carpool ritual. Here’s how it works:
One person starts by saying the name of a celebrity. The next person has to say another name that begins with the first letter of the last name just mentioned. Example: Robin Williams. Walter Cronkite. Celine Dion. And so on. If you don’t respond fast enough and the clock hits the deadline you’ve set, you lose.
Another experienced mom broke up an 8-hour trip with her five children using timed surprises. Before the trip, she picked up inexpensive dollar store items. Then every hour, she pulled something out of her “travel bag” for each child such as individual containers of trail mix, mini-games or crossword puzzle books, or drawing boards. She says a few dollars bought her hours of peace! You could also break up the trip by passing out surprises every 100 miles.
20 Questions to Go-Go
Keep a 20 Question Ball and a flip-stack of Brain Quest cards handy in your car all the time. When the natives get restless in traffic, just pull one of these out to keep kids occupied.
A clever name twist on the “who-can-go-the-longest-without-talking” game, Angel Party encourages kids to be quiet and well, angelic. At least for a little while. This is a great game for competitive kids or when it’s time to settle down.
American Idol Tryouts
This “who-can-hold-one-note-the-longest-without-taking-a-breath” game is a great way to relieve pent-up energy — parents included — and build lung capacity. To get started, stretch out the “I” in Whitney Houston’s song “I Will Always Love You.” Once you get started, you’ll never listen to that song the same again! Or your kids can choose their own favorite song and pick a note to hold. Warning: Not for the feint of heart!
Make several note cards each with one word on it. You’ll need at least as many cards as people in the car. The first person chooses a card and shares a memory triggered by that word. Each person gets a turn sharing thoughts. For example, if the word is snow, a child may say “I remember building a huge snowman that had boots and a cowboy hat when I was 5 after we had just moved into our house…” It’s fun for kids to hear memories of their parents and vice versa.
This is a good ABC and memory game. The first person starts by saying “I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking…” and includes something that starts with A, such as an anteater. The next person builds on that and repeats the A word and adds something that starts with B. The next person continues the list repeating each word and adding a word with the next letter. This continues all the way to Z. It’s fun to say silly things you would take on a picnic rather than the expected.
Print a map of the United States, pack a baggie of crayons or markers and let kids color each state as they find the corresponding license plate on passing cars. This is perfect for long trips and a good way to learn geography.