Family travel has come a long way since the covered wagon. Still, kids will always be kids, which means that you’re bound to hear “Are we there yet?” — sometimes even before you leave your own neighborhood. Rather than conjuring up feelings of dread, you should see a family road as an opportunity for bonding and memory-making. Games can help you accomplish just that, distracting your little ones until you are finally, finally there.
It’s a classic for a reason: “I Spy” entertains little ones and when played with a twist, it even keeps older kids from rolling their eyes. You can choose anything that’s specific for kids to “spy.” For example, if your young kids are just learning their ABCs, ask them to try to find certain letters on billboards and signs. Ask older kids to watch other cars looking for license plates from certain states or a brown dog riding shotgun. If kids claim boredom, hand out special snacks each time someone spots something.
Challenge kids to use their critical thinking skills while you cruise down the road. Play a game of “20 Questions” by choosing a well-known person and allowing the kids to ask 20 “yes” or “no” questions like “Is she alive?” and “Is she a movie star?” to figure out the identity of the person you have in mind. Put a twist on the game by choosing people you know on a personal level as the answer, or use your destination as the theme and open up the list of possibilities to people, places and things. For example, if you’re on your way to Disney World, you might choose Cinderella or a hat with Mickey ears as the answer. If all else fails, take turns doing impressions of characters and public figures, challenging everyone to guess who’s impersonating whom.
The Dictionary Game
Entertain the gang and help older kids build their vocabularies at the same time with a dictionary game. Bring along a dictionary and pass it around. Whoever is holding the dictionary has to choose one word and read it aloud. Then the family has to guess the word’s definition. Alternatively, the person with the dictionary can offer three definitions for a word — and you family has to guess which definition is the correct one. Kids have to be able to read to play, so this is a perfect game for school-age children. Sneak a little homework into the trip by using words from your kids’ school vocabulary lists.
If you want a game that you can play with two or 10 — and will also provide laughs that everyone will remember — play “Add On,” which requires creativity and teamwork. To begin, offer up the first line of a story. Then go around the car, letting each person add a single sentence at a time. You can make the game harder and sillier by challenging everyone to speak as quickly as possible, or switch up the order of who goes next, so no one has time to plan his next sentence. Another option is to ask everyone to sing rather than speak. If your ears need a break, you can play the quiet version of this game by drawing a squiggle or shape on a piece of paper, and passing it around the car for each person to add another single line or squiggle to see who can turn it into something recognizable first.
Portable Board Games
Some of your kids’ favorite board games might have travel versions available for sale, but if you don’t want to shell out the cash, find ways to make your favorites so that they work for a road trip. Start with a metal cookie sheet with a lip on all four sides. Print out a copy of your favorite game’s board and tape it to the sheet. You can find lots of game boards available for printing online. Then give each child a magnet to use as a playing piece. Set any necessary playing cards or game accessories in a small cup so they won’t get lost. If you can’t find a game board you like, use masking tape to make a grid on your cookie sheet to create a portable tic-tac-toe game.