Search and Find Games- These were the mainstays of our road-trip entertainment as children. Encourage kiddos to play “The Alphabet Game”- search billboards, road signs, and license plates for each letter of the alphabet. The license plate game is also a family favorite. Print out a list of all 50 states and cross off each state as you come upon its license plate. Even better, have the kids color in each state on a map- entertainment and geography in one! A similar game is “Roadtrip Scavenger Hunt.” Create or purchase a sheet with various images- a cow, a dump truck, etc.- and have children mark off each item as they find it.
Magnetic Fun- My mom always packed our road trip kits in a rectangular cake pan with a sliding metal lid. It’s the right size to accommodate coloring blogs and small toys inside. It also provides a handy hard surface for coloring and drawing. But the real beauty lies in its magnetic surface. Pack some magnetic paper dolls for your fashion-lovers. Or try those magnetic words- have your kids combine them to make wacky sentences and stories.
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Mileage Tracker- Here’s another two-for-one in entertainment and education. At the beginning of your trip, inform the children of the total miles to your destination (or better yet, have them calculate it using a website or map). Once on the road, teach them to read mile markers. At each 50 or 100 mile marker (you decide what their attention span can handle), hand them a new goody bag (pre filled-paper, ziploc, or cloth- bags with inexpensive activities). Try things like beads and string for jewelry making or bendable waxed sticks for sculpture. Their boredom will fly by even faster than the miles.
Paper Dolls- Remember old-school paper dolls that you had to punch out? They had those tricky little foldable tabs that were supposed to hold the doll’s clothes on. Today’s kids have often never seen this vintage toy and will enjoy the novelty of an old-fashioned paper doll set. You can even find history paper dolls (clad in historic costumes like Ancient Greecian Togas or Victorian gowns).
Tangrams- School your little backseat traveler in the introductory concepts of geometry under the guise of these simple shapes. Tangrams allow children to experiment with patterns and arrange individual shapes to create simple objects and scenes. I like the set by Melissa and Doug because it has a handy wooden case in which to keep all those little pieces nicely organized. The company also makes a simpler set of pattern blocks for younger children.
Silly Putty and Newspaper- If your kids are old enough to handle silly putty with creating a total disaster, this can be a relatively mess-free backseat entertainment option. Give them a few sheets of newspaper and one of those classic eggs of silly putty, and watch them have a blast with this super simple form of entertainment. Word on the street is that the silly putty/newspaper trick doesn’t work anymore due to newspapers changing their ink to one that isn’t compatible with silly putty. However, I just tried it, and it does work with the ink that my local paper uses.