Is there anything worse than a bored kid in the car? Not only will they tend to whine more and require more attention, but you usually just end up feeling lousy for giving them so little stimulation as you trek cross-country. And since you don’t think they’re quite ready for an iPhone (what do babies have to ‘gram anyway?) or a Nintendo Switch, you do the next best thing you can think of: a car game.
The thing is, car games don’t have to be a last resort for a bored kid. They can help bond the two of you (or the whole family) and keep you both sane on a long car trip. After all, that’s how they did it in the old days. Here are the absolute best car games to play with kids—no screens required.
Now, you knew this was going to be first on the list — and it’s still among the best games you can play. “I spy, with my little eye, something ___.” Could be red, green, blue, whatever catches your eye in the car. The kid’ll spend minutes trying to guess. A classic game that really couldn’t be improved on.
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Another classic that couldn’t be simpler: You, your kid, and maybe their sibling try to find license plates from all 50 states. Whoever finds the most is the winner. There are varying rules for this game you can improvise — adjacent states are two points instead of one, for example — but kids will love the chance to get competitive while they learn a little geography.
You’re probably sick of the Frozen soundtrack by now. Well, your kid is not — and they’ll love the chance to prove it. Play some music they love and suddenly stop the song. Your kid has to complete the lyrics in order to win. Bonus points if they sing it out.
Going on a Picnic
Another alphabet-based game, this one starts with you saying “I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing an apple.” You kid then has to name a food that starts with B. Then you do C. It goes back and forth till you get to Z—then you’ll probably have to stop for a snack.
Let their limitless imagination run wild. Your kid will think of something, anything—an object, an animal—and you have twenty yes-or-no questions to figure out what they’re thinking of. “Can it fly?” “Does it swim?” So on and so forth. Your kid will be dying of laughter as you struggle with their genius.
The Alphabet Game
For little ones: have your kid kid will try to find something outside that starts with A, and then B, then C, and so on until you get to Z. For older kids: Have them pick the left or right side of the road, and you’ll take the other. You each find the letters in order in the world (a sign with an “A” on it), and the first one to complete the alphabet wins. Good, healthy competition.
The Green Glass Door
A great, advanced game. Start by saying “I’m the owner of the green glass door, and I’m going to bring in an apple.” Or “boots.” Or whatever has double letters. Your kid will have to guess the rule by suggesting things they’d like to bring in (a “banana” or whatever) and you say it’s not allowed. Your kid will be guessing the rule for hours and hours.
Obviously, it doesn’t have to be cows, but it helps to be driving in the country. Your kid has to count the cows they see on their side of the car, and you on yours. If either of you see a cemetery on the opposite side, shout “Your cows are buried!” and your opponent loses all their cows. But you have to keep your eyes peeled—and focused, as you kid will try to distract you from counting or noticing the cemetery. The one with the most cows at the end wins.
They’re going to ace that spelling test if it kills you. Ask them to spell certain (easy) words, and then it’s your turn. Whoever stumbles first loses. Who knew spelling could be fun?
Simon says raise your right hand. Simon says raise left foot. Raise your left hand. Ah, but Simon didn’t say, did he? This classic out-of-car game can be adapted for the road, albeit carefully. Don’t ask anyone to remove their seatbelt or stand up, please.
You start a story with a sentence or two—then you stop. Your kid then says the next couple of sentences, and stops. Their sibling, if they have one, chimes in. And on and on until at the end of a long car ride, you have a masterpiece. Bonus points (and sweet memories) if you record the whole thing.