Traveling with Kids: Games to Play

Slightly revised, but older post. I wrote this about 8 years ago.  The 19 year old is married with two kids, and we now have three kids 30 and up.  Wow.

A few days ago our 19 year old came home from work shaking her head.  She’d been listening to the radio, a Christian station, and there was a program on where the radio commentators were asking people to share their tips for enjoying their children while traveling.  One lady called in and said that the best thing her family ever did for a family car trip was buy each child individual handheld computer games and head phones.  “WE didn’t hear a peep out of them for 12 hours,” she said.

Pip, our 19 year old, was flabbergasted.  The radio hosts were a bit surprised as well.  One of them said, “Well, we do have those and my kids play with them some.  But we have found that we get some really good family time in on family vacations if we don’t allow those in the car.”  The lady was oblivious, however, and explained how when she was young, her parents had bought individual walk-mans for every child and they said it was the best thing they had ever done.

That reminded me of an article my mother read in some family magazine extolling the delights, nay, the necessity, of having an in car DVD player for long car trips.  She was so indignant (in a grandmotherly fashion) that she wrote the magazine to tell them that her daughter and son-in-law traveled with seven children all the time and they did not use electronic devices.

It’s nice that Mom is proud of me, but that wasn’t strictly true.  There are the cattle prods…….

I kid, I kid!!  We do listen to CDs (and now an iPod plugged into the radio so we can all hear it), but we do more visiting and playing games- FREE games.

One silly but oddly compelling game Pip told us about from that radio program is called ‘Banana.’  You simply watch for yellow vehicles and try to be the first to see it and say, “Banana!”  Keep track of how many you see first and the one with the most points at the end of the designated time wins.  She, our 14 y.o. and 6 y.o. Blynken have been playing it every Sunday on the way to and from church.  Several times somebody has suggested a different color and fruit to match, but as Pip says, bananas is just funnier, and for some reason it really needs to be a three syllable word.  Kumquat ought to be funny, but it just isn’t in this game, and tangerine or persimmon both have the requisite three syllables, but they aren’t as funny as banana.  We don’t know why, it just is, so we accept it in a totally zen sort of way.  Or as zen as you can be while shouting, “BANANA!”
You can also, should you just have one or two small children, have one of them clap everytime he sees a red car, and the other clap when he sees a white car.

Here are a couple other free car games:

Buzz: Count off, in order, and keep counting (driver says one, passenger says two, backseat dweller says three, etc). Only every time somebody gets to the number seven, a number with seven in it, or a multiple of seven, instead of saying the number, that person claps and says ‘buzz.’ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, buzz, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, buzz, 15, 16, buzz, 18, 19, 20, buzz….
You can change the ‘buzz’ words as needed for your children- do multiples of five, ten, or don’t do multiples at all, or use whatever number they are trying to memorize.

Categories: I name a category (later the children get to choose) and ask each child to name an item in that category- I might say flowers, and then they all have to tell me the name of a flower, or I might choose bugs and they have name different bugs. With older children we go around the car and name them in alphabetical order, trying to get through the alphabet. You can adapt this for a wide age range by allowing the smaller children to skip the alphabetical sequence.

Who Am I?- Choose Bible characters, nursery rhymes, characters from books you read or even, gulp, television shows and movies. You can give three to five clues, as easy or difficult as your audience can handle, and they guess who you are. Example: “I’m a woman in the Old Testament. I was a queen. I wore make-up. I encouraged my husband to take what wasn’t his. Who am I?” (Jezebel)

You can also play this like 20 questions. YOu skip the ‘animal, vegetable, or mineral’ question, of course, and just say, “Okay, I’m ready. Who Am I?” Then they ask questions to help them guess. We usually allow two questions for this one- good or bad? Married or single? Old or New Testament? Male or Female? Human or Animal?

HEY, COW: Only for rural areas.   Each person or team gets a side of the car and when you see cows you roll down the window and scream HEY! COW! as loud as you can. The number of cows that turn to look at you are the number of points you get.

The alphabet game. One person would start with A and have to either name a word or item they see that starts with A and so on. Or you can just look for the actual letter on billboards, licence plates, and road signs as you drive.
License Plate Game:  keep track of licence plates (states) and see how many different states are represented.
car bingo: Buy one or make your own.  Put animals, cars (and colors- red car, yellow motorcycle,etc), trucks, silos, moving truck, railroad, flag,  etc and try to get bingo.

Traffic Light Speed Words: When you are stopped at a red light, say of all the words you can think of that start with the letter A. At the second light, it is all B words.  You could use parts of speech, or require 3 syllable or longer words, or words in a language you are studying, or authors, etc.

Another license plate game: Decide ahead of time that whenever you see a VW, or perhaps a yellow car or a livestock truck- whatever, that you will each try to make up a sentence with the letters and numbers on the plate.

Tell Stories- one person starts, the next person, adds, then ask one of the kids what happens next, and then ask the next kid what happens next, and so on.

The Ministers Cat, an alphabet game. One would start, The ministers cat . . . is an ANGRY cat. The other would reply, The ministers cat . . . is a BEAUTIFUL cat. And so on through the alphabet.

Choose a colour- Find 10 things you can see out the window in that colour. When you get to ten, choose another colour.

Stock up on small, cheap treats- juice boxes, gum, dried fruit, little toys, etc.  Hand them out ever 100 or 200 miles.

Pack jump ropes, squirt guns, sidewalk chalk, a frisby, perhaps a ball, bubbles- and stop at city parks for a picnic meal and make the kids (and you) do some running and large muscle playing.

One family I know of recommends looking for a metal cake pan for each child and they can keep their crayons, coloured pencils, small toys, and some magnets inside it on their laps. Keeps things organized.

What about you?  What are some of the ways your family whiles away the time while traveling- or sitting in a waiting room?

For other ideas, see this post and this one on my family’s regular blog

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One Comment

  1. Amy
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    We do a lot of these already, but I’m saving this because there are several I know my children will enjoy. We pass out small gifts, too, but we do them at state lines rather than based on miles. You can tailor how “good” the gift is based on how long you’ll be in that state.

    Right now my children are doing an alphabet game where they say, “My name is Adam and my wife’s name is Alice. We live in Alabama where we sell animals.” And so on with all the letters. They play it for long periods of time without getting bored.

    I think we’d really like the “Hey, cow!” game, but the rolling the window down part is tricky in a 12 passenger van…

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