If you’re traveling with your family soon, then it’s important to be prepared. Aside from clothes, snacks, and other necessities (like patience!), you need something to help everyone enjoy the ride. Enter: car games for kids!
Fun car games pass the time, but they also create an opportunity to reinforce Critical Thinking and Core Skills (like reading, math, sequencing, and shape recognition). Building these skills is an essential part of developing the 5 C’s that help kids thrive in school and life. Kids with strong Core Skills and Critical Thinking make better decisions and do better at school (and eventually at work).
So let’s get started! Our learning experts at Begin have compiled a list of fun, educational, and entertaining road trip games that the whole family can enjoy.
The Short Cut
- Car games for kids can reinforce important early learning in areas like Critical Thinking and Core Skills
- Classic road trip games like I-Spy, the License Plate Game, and 20 Questions can all be adapted to support early learning
- Asking questions that make kids think, tying games to the alphabet or math, and picking games that are enjoyable for both kids and parents makes learning on the road easier
Key Elements of Car Games
Fun road trip games come in all shapes and sizes. But as you’ll see from our list below, a few key elements appear across the best games.
A Mixture of Learning and Entertainment
If you’ll be on the road for extended periods of time, it’s great to know that a game your child or children are playing is both fun and educational.
Few Supplies Needed
Since you’ll be in a moving vehicle, it’s essential that the games you play don’t take much space or need a big box of supplies.
This also means that you won’t have to worry about cleaning up afterward (and we love that!).
Quiet time can be very beneficial for kids and adults both, especially if you’re on a long road trip. So while we’ve included some active family car games, we’ve also added a few that will facilitate moments of much-needed peace and quiet.
9 Fun Car Games Kids Love
One last note before we get to the games at the heart of this blog post.
Trips come in all shapes and sizes. You could be traveling to another state by car, plane, or train. You could also just be heading to the supermarket for groceries. It’s OK to modify the games below to suit your setting and needs.
Let’s get to it! Here are nine fun, educational games to try on your next road trip.
1. Alphabet I-Spy
I-Spy is an old classic that most of us played as kids.
If it’s been a while and you need a quick reminder of the rules, here’s the rundown:
- The player who is “it” has to spot something that other players can also see but won’t be able to easily guess
- This player will then start the game by saying “I spy with my little eye something that’s…” (This is when they give a clue about what they are spying)
- The clue can be a color, direction, letter, etc.
- Using this clue, the other players take turns trying to guess the item
Alphabet I-Spy modifies this rule set to help kids learn basic reading skills. Give children a card with the letters of the alphabet and have them check the letters off as they spy items that start with them.
You can help younger kids out by providing detailed hints and clues (“You need something that starts with a ‘C’? Look in the sky for something white. Its name starts with a ‘ck’ sound.”)
To add another fun element for older players, see how many letters they can get checked off in a set amount of time.
2. Story Starter
We mentioned above how important it is for car games to require minimal supplies. We love Story Starter because no supplies are needed here at all!
To begin, the first person will say the first sentence of a story but not finish the sentence. The following person then completes the sentence and starts another one but leaves it incomplete for the next person.
This pattern repeats until the story reaches a conclusion. You may want to set a time limit (10 to 15 minutes) to help everyone know how long the story should take.
This is a fun road trip game that the whole family—even the driver—can play. Don’t be afraid to add some silly elements to the story to help everyone enjoy themselves. Along the way you’ll help the kids develop their auditory memory and sense of story grammar, two language skills that improve literacy.
3. License Plate Game
In this game, players must spot as many license plates from different states as possible.
You can start it as soon as you pull out of your driveway. Every time the kids see a new state on a license plate, they will need to mark it down on paper.
This game can continue for however long you want it to (e.g., until your first stop for gas). When you’re ready to end the game, simply count how many states each player has spotted, and whoever has the highest wins.
This game is best for early readers who can start to learn the names of the states as they read them off plates. But if you print off images of state license plates before the trip, younger kids can match by colors and patterns as well. The game works well on long road trips, but you’ll also see a surprising number of license plates in airport parking lots, especially if you rent a car!
4. Animal Alphabet Game
The animal alphabet game is another great activity for the whole family.
To get started, one person names an animal of their choosing. The next player then has to name an animal that begins with the last letter of the animal named before, and so on.
For example: dog, goat, tiger, rabbit, etc.
This is an excellent activity when you need to quiet the kids down, as each player will need to pay attention to what the previous player said. It also allows kids to work on their phonological awareness and letter-sound recognition.
This road trip game may be a bit challenging for younger kids, like toddlers. That’s OK! You can help them out by offering clues.
5. The Name Game
To start this game, choose one person’s name and then pick a category (e.g., food, animals, sports). Then take turns coming up with words for each category, letter-by-letter, in the name.
For example, if the name you pick is “Pam” and you decide that your category is “food,” you might come up with pie, pasta, pizza, pickles, pears, peaches, potatoes, etc. See how many you can get for each letter.
This is a fun opportunity for children to practice the alphabet and expand their vocabulary.
6. Grandmother’s Trunk
Grandmother’s trunk is a popular game for road trips. You may have played it as a child yourself!
Here are the rules for the game:
- The first player will say, “I went to grandmother’s trunk, and I found… (some item that would fit in a trunk, e.g., a hat)”
- The next player will then need to say, “I went to grandmother’s trunk, and I found … (the first item, then a new one, e.g., a hat and gloves)
- Players continue, taking turns. On each turn, they repeat what was said before and then add a new word
To dig a little deeper into reinforcing the alphabet for this game, you can have grandmother only pack items in alphabetical order (e.g., applesauce, book, coat, etc.). But even if you don’t do the alphabet version, this game will help strengthen kids’ ability to remember important information.
7. 20 Questions
We love this one because no supplies are necessary so you can break it out whenever you need it, even if you can’t find the road trip bag! Here’s how to play 20 questions:
To play, one player secretly chooses a person, place, or thing. The other players then take turns asking yes-or-no questions to try to figure out what that person is thinking about. As soon as a player thinks they know the answer, they can use their turn to guess.
This game helps kids develop Critical Thinking, as over time kids learn which kinds of information are important to narrow down the possibilities for what the secret person, place, or thing might be.
Whoever guesses the secret first becomes the secret chooser for the next round. If no one guesses, have whoever came closest choose instead.
8. I’m Thinking of a Song
If you’re going on a road trip, there’s a good chance you’ve also prepared a few songs to play along the way. So why not have some fun with the tunes while you’re at it?
When you’re ready to play a song, give the kids a clue like, “I’m thinking of a song that starts with ‘B’.” If the kids struggle, you can add more hints like, “It’s about an underwater animal.” Let whoever guesses it first (“Baby Shark!”) pick the next song and start the clues.
This is another way to reinforce phonological awareness and let kids practice sorting things into categories (e.g., songs about animals, songs about people, songs about places). For younger kids, you can have them pick any song that starts with a particular letter or fits a given category, which makes the game easier.
9. Crazy Costumes
All you need for Crazy Costumes is an iOS or Android device with the HOMER app—one of Begin’s easy-to-use, award-winning early learning products. Before leaving your home, you can follow this link to learn about playing Crazy Costumes on different devices.
In the car, children then play by dressing up some of their favorite HOMER characters. Once the kids have finished their costumes, ask them to describe the costumes to you and see if you can guess what they are! This helps develop Critical Thinking, as kids will need to figure out which information you need to guess correctly—it’s like 20 Questions in reverse!
This is a great activity to keep kids entertained and give you some much-needed peace and quiet for a moment. And once the kids are on HOMER, you can transition them to any of its 1,000+ learning activities. It’s screen time done right!
Make Family Road Trips Quality Time
Planning games to play in the car isn’t always the most exciting part of preparing for a vacation—especially for parents! But with some forethought, you can make your hours in the car fun and reinforce the early learning essentials your kids are exploring through other enrichment activities.
No matter what the game is, there’s almost always a way to tie it back to the 5 C’s. Ask questions that make your kids think, focus on Core Skills like literacy and math, and pick games that will be fun for the adults on the trip too. You’ve got this!