A sampling of the things we do on the road to ensure we don’t go so crazy we drive off the road (also applies to trains, planes, and other forms of transit with children).
Games on the go:
Because maybe if you interact with them at first, they’ll let you take a nap later. Even the driver can get in on some of this fun (but not the nap)!
Spot It! On the Road, Blue Orange Games
Spot It! is a bestseller and not just because it comes in a cool tin container. The travel game includes items you’d see out the car window, and multiple variations ensure hours (okay, minutes) of entertainment.
I Never Forget a Face Matching Game Travel Size, eBoo
A step above your basic flip-a-card memory game, this version features beautiful illustrations of children from cultures around the world. Works best if you bring a small cookie sheet with a rim to display the glossy cards.
Travel Bingo, eBoo
Another winner from the folks at eBoo. Use your mini pencil to mark off pictures when you see a water tower, American flag, or a railroad sign. But don’t shout Bingo. There’s no yelling in the car.
Flip to Win Hangman, Melissa & Doug
Hangman has some kind of secret power over children. It was my go-to Friday afternoon game for first graders, when I just needed to get to the end of the week. Back then I called it Beam Up, because Hangman seemed too violent for the classroom. Totally appropriate for the car though.
Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, by Richard Scarry
This one is almost too obvious. Pages and pages of all the vehicles you can imagine and plenty that only Richard Scarry could imagine. Great for little ones.
Maps, by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski
For all those cartophiles out there. Children won’t be able to follow your route, but they will probably pick up a fact or two about several different countries from the amazing, immersive artwork. Note: If your kids are laughing at Belgium, it’s because of Manneken Pis. Try the associated Activity Book for more maps, along with puzzles and games.
City Atlas, by Georgia Cherry and Martin Haake
Similar to Maps in its approach and format, City Atlas takes you around the world in 30 cities. Travel to Tokyo, Lisbon, and Rio de Janeiro through bright and colorful stylized illustrations of the local architecture, culture, and people.
Life-Size Zoo & More Life-Size Zoo, by Teruyuki Komiya, Kristin Earhart, Toyofumi Fukada, Toshimitsu Matsuhashi & Junko Miyakoshi
Animal fact books are wildly popular among the five- to eight-year-old set, usually because they have cute pictures. The photos in the Life-Size Zoo books are not only cute, they’re…uh…life-size. The close-ups demonstrate the relative size of the creatures, and the profiles contain facts that make each unique.
Read with your ears:
My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannet, narrated by Robert Sevra
Preschoolers through middle grade readers love the adventures of Elmer Elevator on Wild Island. Who doesn’t enjoy outsmarting carnivorous beasts with lollipops while on a quest to save an enslaved dragon? Bonus: it’s the first of a trilogy.
Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne, narrated by Peter Dennis
The ultimate meant-to-be-read-aloud book. The authorized, unabridged version of the classic is a distinct and wonderful performance. But if you prefer multiple voices, try the one read by Judi Dench and Stephen Fry, among others.
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, by Kate DiCamillo, narrated by Tara Sands
Kate DiCamillio is one of the most beloved contemporary children’s authors, and she has the awards to prove her might. Flora and Ulysses takes her typical animal hero – this time in the form of a squirrel – and sucks him up into the vacuum. Chaos and friendship ensue.
Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
We’re coming late to this party, but we hear enough about quidditch and muggles and Crookshanks that we could probably narrate this damn thing ourselves. Length is key here, folks. This might be the only thing you need.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, narrated by Janet Song
Grace Lin’s magical tale with an enchanting story-within-a-story structure follows Minli in her journey to find the Old Man in the Moon. Woven through with Chinese folklore and lovely language, this one is a pleasure for children and adults alike.
Things for little hands to do:
Drawing with sticks! No mess! Kids are intrigued by the materials, the reverse process, and the surprise colors underneath. When scratch art is a novelty, it tends to be incredibly engaging.
This one comes with a slight potential for marker on the seat but even greater potential for creativity and quiet. And, even though it’s allowed, coloring on the windows also satisfies children’s inner urge to rebel. Try the Crystal Effects for an icy winter treat.
While I would not recommend toting around your kid’s favorite Star Wars set or the Lego Flatiron Building, small bags of generic (e.g. NOT people or other special parts) connectable blocks can be a godsend in the car. You’ll all be soothed by the snap, click, snap, click rhythm.
Download and print everyone’s favorite figures, and stock up on the square-shaped paper. Keep frustration levels low by providing lots of colors, a variety of options, and the occasional fold assist.
It’s actually remarkable what you can create on these if you try. And shake-to-erase technology never goes out of style. Some prefer the Magna Doodle, but we’re Etch-a-Sketch loyalists in our house. Either will do nicely in the car.
All right, Splimm families. Organize your bins and bags, make sure to alternate activities, and bring plenty of snacks. You got this.