There is a version of heaven that many parents have: Traveling alone.
Wishing you could be one of those business people in first class, nodding off in headphones with the white wine and reading material on your tray table? Or how about that glamorous couple racing by in a fancy car on their cross-country roadtrip? But that’s not our journey, is it, parents?
The secret to traveling with children: A captive audience. You can try games on trips that could only happen when your kid is belted to the seat.
Memorizing is a great way to pass the time and have your kids exercise their ability to absorb information. Give your child one minute to study a magazine page, and then pull it away and ask five questions about what she saw. Go back and forth with your recall.
Real life trivia: A version of this is used to test memory aptitude in many police forces.
If you are ambitious, get your child to memorize important speeches or parts of plays, such as The Gettysburg Address or Shakespearean soliloquies. Award the person who gives the most dramatic and accurate delivery. Take breaks by talking about the texts’ importance and historical context.
Pick categories such as math, science, princesses, superheroes, movies, America, money, land animals, sea life, family trivia, and real life. Take turns coming up with questions and answering them, then assign points based on difficulty. Have children keep score and practice adding up the points.
Look for all the letters of the alphabet as you drive along, and see who can get to Z the fastest. Because parents spot things faster, give directional hints, such as right or left, or hourly (“dead ahead at twelve o’clock"). We’ve played this game with a magazine as we waited for new car tires.
This is a good time to work on basic words that you often correct in your kid’s spelling (your or you’re, which, friend, probably, etc.). Bring up a problematic word and have your child spell it out for you. You can also try new words she is unfamiliar with and have her take a shot at spelling them. This will help her practice phonics and learn new vocabulary.
After spelling a few of the words out loud, challenge your child to use all of them in a story.
Give kids a map and have them chart out your path and figure out the mileage. Ask what towns are in a certain mile radius, what the scale of the map is, or whether they see any state parks, hospitals, schools, and the like. Maps are a great way for kids to practice math and visual-spatial skills.
Reading aloud is something that busy parents struggle to find the time to do. So do it on your trip. Have your child read two pages and ask comprehension questions. Encourage the siblings to ask questions as well.
Bird books, and other guides that reference geology, trees, plants, or the like, are great fun. Ask questions such as “What is the smallest woodpecker in North America?" “What snakes around here are dangerous?" “Give me three examples of deciduous trees." Your kids will pick up new facts about nature, practice their research skills, and learn new vocabulary in the process.
Kids are so teachable. When you make travel games fun, they engage. But you have to commit to the games, too. When parents seem bored, kids will pick up on that and ask to watch movies. And make sure you don’t let them win. The road is long.
Looking for more games to play in the car? Check out our article 7 Educational Activities to Do On your Car Ride to School.