Games to Play in the Car

If Jed Clampett had included a couple of bored kids when he loaded up the truck, he would have never made it to Beverly Hills. Jed would have instructed Jethro to turn around before hitting the California state line.

Anyone who has spent unstructured time in a car with kids knows how cumbersome the experience can be. There are lots of questions, frequent bathroom breaks, and too many conversations that begin with, “Are we there yet?”

But long(ish) drives don’t have to be dull; they can be fun and educational. Here are some games you can play with the kids that will keep them active and engaged (and maybe even tire them, so they’ll conk out for a while).

I Spy

It’s likely that everyone has played some form of this game. The way it works is one person picks out an object he sees or has seen along the way, and says, "I spy with my little eye something that begins with the letter (pick one from the alphabet).” The other people take turns guessing to figure out the mystery object.

If you really want to drive your kids crazy, find something that begins with “Q.” Does Dairy Queen count? That debate will keep the family busy for a few miles.

Trivial Pursuit

If your kids have a particular interest (such as baseball), and are adept at knowing trivia, play a game of Trivial Pursuit where one person asks a question to see who can answer first. For example: “Babe Ruth played for three major league teams. Name them.”

Name That TV Show

Have one person name a TV show. The person next in line has to name a TV show that begins with the last letter of the previous show. For example, the first show named could be “Dog With A Blog.” The next show must start with the letter G, and could be “Girl Meets World.”

20 Questions

Have one person think of a person, place or thing. The person who is “it” tells the group, “I’m thinking of a person.” Everyone in the car will take a turn asking a question of the yes/no variety. For example, “Are you running for president?” or “Are you an actor?” As the game progresses the questions will get progressively more specific. The goal of the game is to figure out the answer within 20 questions.

License Plates

This is a well-known game that can be played in a variety of ways. One way to play is to count how many out-of-state license plates you see during your trip. It’s a pretty good bet that a plate from Hawaii will be tough to find so that one might earn double or triple points.

Another way to play the license plate game is to try and make sentences out of the letters on each plate. For example, 123 WLY might turn into Walk Like You. Or you can try to make words out of the letters. WLY could turn into “wallaby.”

Beetle Mania

This game has the potential to get a little - harsh - so be forewarned. Mom and dad need to set some rules upfront. The way the game is played is that anytime someone sees a VW Beetle the first person to spot it says, “Punch bug no punch backs” and gets to “punch” (tap? gently hit?) whomever is within striking distance. Everyone else in the car has to say, “No punch backs” to avoid being “punched” (or tapped or hit). Interpretation of what constitutes a “punch” may vary.

If you have kids who are prone to aggression, you might want to be clear about the definition and intensity a “punch.”

Name That Tune

This game comes from the TV show from the same name. One person in the car hums, whistles or sings part of a song - it could be a few notes or part of the chorus. The others try to be the first to identify the song.

Name that tune can be particularly fun with more than two generations in the car as grandpa is as unlikely to guess Lorde’s “Royals” as the kids are unlikely to recognize “Loving You” by Minnie Riperton. This game can be a good conversation starter.

Bob the Memory Builder

Do you think you can remember 26 items that mom took to work? If you think you can, give it a shot. Have one person start a sentence like this: “Mom went to work and brought a…” then fill in the sentence with something that begins with the letter A. For example, “Mom went to a work and brought an apricot.” The next person in the rotation will repeat the sentence, and add something that begins with B. “Mom went to work and brought an apricot, and a bratwurst.”

Kudos to mom for finding something that begins with Q and X to take to work.

The Count Who Loves to Count

Little kids like to count stuff. Turn their early math skills into a game. Have them count anything - telephone poles, rest stop signs, semi-trucks or cows. Put some sort of limit on the game (could be miles or minutes) so the kids can figure out who won, and everyone can start over again.

Do Hold Your Breath

When you enter a tunnel start holding your breath to see if you can hold it all the way to the end. It’s a good idea for the driver to pass on this game!

Final Tips

If you’re lucky enough to have DVD screens in your car, grabbing some age-appropriate shows will help reduce boredom. If your kids are younger, shows like Blue’s Clues and Jack’s Big Music Show both have games within episodes, so when mom and dad need a rest, pop in a DVD.

Finally, if your kids are a little older they probably would also like to play games on their tablets or smart device. Be sure to "visit" the app store before you leave home.

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