Unplugged: 35 Road Trip Activities for Pre-School and School Aged Kids

Winding Westcoast Road

The road trips of my childhood were on the verge of serene. My mom would read to us and man the CD player, while my dad drove from point A to point B without breaking a sweat. Our time was peppered with conversations but there was also a lot of quiet. Either I remember nothing of the reality of these drives, or my brother and I were unusual children. I remember peacefully drawing, drifting in and out of sleep, reading, and listening to music while watching the landscape roll by.
This is not the reality of my own family’s vehicle time in the slightest. True, there are four sprouts in our vehicle, and my brother and I were just two. And it could just be their ages… But the out of control excitement levels my children can achieve is remarkable. I feel completely at a loss at times, as to how to calm things down, other than just letting the kids just naturally unwind.
However, I also know that with a bit of guidance, they can be incredibly imaginative, thoughtful, expressive little people. Following is a list of road trip activities to get kids thinking, talking, observing, and playing. Not to mention, offer a bit of peace, even serenity, to all of you parents embarking on a road trip this summer. And it doesn’t hurt to pack pillows and stuffies either, in case their eyes (hopefully!) get a little heavy at some point along the way.
Look and Listen

1. Licence Plate Alphabet/ Numbers – Kids love to find things, and what easier thing to search for on the drive than the alphabet, or a lost of numbers, on the licence plates of the vehicles around you.

2. “I Spy” bottle or bag – I read about a couple of friends making these for their kids. Fill up a bottle with anything from a coffee bean to a paper clip to a marshmallow, and have them tell you the things they have found. Give them a list to check off, if they are reading already.

3. Count all the animals – Our kids love to look at the animals. Now that our kids are a bit older, we have added a point system to make it more interesting, not to mention that keeping track of the points is good for their math skills.

4. Rhyming words, opposite words – Whether you sing it, clap it, or simply say the word, kids enjoy finding rhyming and opposite words. Your older ones can help your younger ones find the right words and cheer them on.

5. Take turns counting by 2,5,10, even backwards from one hundred – Your kids will love showing you their math skills, while your little ones will learn to count by listening to everyone else.

6. Ask kids math questions, according to their skills – Our daughter never tires of answering 1+1, 2+2 and 1+2, even if it drives us a little crazy! Again, kids love to show you what they know, and adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing are a great tool for that.

7. Learn the alphabet in sign language together; practice signing each other’s names. – While this requires a bit of knowledge or preparation on your part, the kids will love learning a new way to communicate. You can even tell them that they can use it as a secret code to talk to each other!

8. Scavenger hunt – Creating a list of obvious landmarks along your route will be fun for older kids who have a longer attention span. If your kids are too young to read, do the hunt with them, coaching them as you come close to each one, so that they are able to spot each one.

9. Map – Simply giving the kids a map, and having them follow along, is great for their sense of adventure and independence. See if they can find where you currently are, which city is coming up next, etc.

10. And if you’re ok with a bit of media, an audio book or radio drama is a nice way to settle things down. Our kids love listening to Adventures in Oddessey.


Read and Write

11. Books from the library  – These could include picture or chapter books, joke books, travel books, and books on your child’s hobbies and interests. Older kids can read to themselves or each other, or you can read to them, as long as motion sickness doesn’t get in the way!

12. Worksheets, like connect the dots, word searches, tic tac toe, tracing sheets – Printables or workbooks from the dollar store are a great way to keep your kids engaged.

13. Journaling – Have your kids draw and write about what you see, where you are going, or what they are looking forward to doing. If your kids cannot write, write a sentence or two for them to explain their picture.

14. Writing letters or postcards – Have postcards, or paper and envelopes, and stamps ready so that your kids can let grandma and grandpa, a cousin, or a friend know what they are up to.


Snacks and Treats

15. This could be anything your family likes. We enjoy granola bars, cut up veggies or fruit, fruit leather, muffins or cookies, chocolate, trail mix, and crackers and cheese. If you are doing longer distances, a cooler filled with sandwiches, yogurt, pepperoni sticks and hard-boiled eggs is also worth while.

Water bottles – freeze a few bottles the night before to keep the food cool. Milk would also work, but stay away from anything that acts like a diuretic, especially for the kids.

If you are okay with a bit of sugar, treat incentives like gummy candies are a fun way to help kids stay focused on the game or task you are working on. For example,  for every 20 animals spotted, one worksheet finished, or when you have found each letter of the alphabet on licence plates, everyone gets a gummy.

16. A friend of mine, who is well acquainted with long-distance road trips, always stocks up on dollar store goodies. She wraps them up, and gives them kids to unwrap every hour or two. Thrift stores would also work well for this.


Games and Thoughts

17. “Go Fish”, flash cards, or any card game – Whether they are playing with you or each other, they are occupied, which is what this is really all about!

18. Licence Plate Bingo – Either draw or print off bingo sheets filled with letters and numbers. Remember those gummy candies? Be sure to have them handy when someone yells bingo!

19. Classic “I Spy” Game – As easy or difficult as your kids like it to be.

20. Verbal Memory Game (I’m going on a road trip, and I’m going to bring a…”) – Each person repeats the list of what they, and each one before them, will bring (youngest to oldest works best).

21. Guessing Game (“I’m thinking of something that is green.”) Everyone takes turns guessing, and clues are given as necessary.

22. Story Time – Everyone takes turns telling one line of a story. You learn a lot about your kids from activities like this.

23. Two Truths and a Lie – Tell three things about yourself; have everyone guess which one is a lie. Again, this is a great way to learn about your kids.

24. Cat’s Cradle Game – A piece of string, and a few instructions (online if necessary) and your kids will be completely occupied.


Silly Songs

25. Camp songs, school songs, nursery rhymes, and finger plays (the more actions the better) are a great way to engage kids of all ages. Or sing along to a fun kids’ CD, and try to make up the actions while you are singing. We personally love singing along to Raffi, but there are a lot of other fun ones out there.


At the Rest Stop

26. Skip rope or jumping jacks – The kids have been cooped up for a while, and they need to burn a little energy. This is a great way to get them to do it!

27. Frisbee – It doesn’t roll away like a ball, and it’s easy to pack. Let the kids know they each get five throws if you’re on a time constraint, and then let them get a bit of energy out.

28. Blow bubbles – This is something fun for kids, and while they aren’t running or jumping, they are most certainly giggling, which is just as worth while.

29. Strike a pose – Let the kids take a couple of pictures each (with a camera or smart phone) of each other acting silly, or of the landscape.

30. Everyone picks up five (10, 20) pieces of garbage to bring out of the vehicle (who said every idea had to be fun?)

31. Throw paper airplanes (that each person made before the stop!) and see whose flies the farthest.


Arts and Crafts

32. Pipe cleaner creations – Either have instructions for them to follow, or let them create their own designs. If you can risk the mess, bring along some cereal ‘O’s and have them create snackable necklaces and bracelets.

33. Paper and pencil crayons – This may be basic, but kids rarely tire of drawing. Bring clip boards if the kids d them. Not to mention that the twistable pencils and crayons work great because there is no sharpening necessary.

34. Origami – Take out a book from the library, and either trim paper down to the right size, or make a small splurge on some origami paper. The kids will love watching their papers take on three dimensional shapes.

35. Erasable markers for their windows (Gasp!) – I read this one on a blog, and I did actually gasp. But then I thought about how much fun this would have been when I was a kid, and I thought, why not? So I picked up a few dry erase markers for our trip! (I’ll let you know how I survive the small heart attack this may induce!)


Bonus Toddler Activities

“Where is your nose?” – Ask your toddler where all his body parts are and have him point to them.

“Peek-a-boo” – A simple distraction like this is great for a toddler who is feeling tired or cranky.

Silly songs – I know it’s already been said, but a few songs like ‘Wheels on the Bus’, ‘Farmer in the Dell’, or ‘Down by the Bay’ are great fun for your little ones. And your bigger kids might have an easier time singing along to these knowing they are helping their little sibling!

“What does a dog say?” – Ask your toddler what all the animal noises are.

A small bag of revolving toys and board books.




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