stop the yelling
August 8, 2013 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm embarking on a 20 hour drive with a 4 1/2 year old and an almost-2 year old. Hit me with your best travel games/activities/snacks. Specific requirements inside. Bonus challenge: Terrible books on tape.

I'd love to be able to actually teach my older kid some stuff along the way. 4 1/2 yr old is a reader, very verbal, we're working on basic math. Got any math games?

The younger one is usually happy to watch whatever we're doing, unless it involves game pieces in which case she desperately wants to hold ALL the game pieces. I saw somewhere a suggestion of filling an empty water bottle with rice and a few interesting objects (that become visible as you turn the bottle). Ideas in this vein would be useful.

We'll be picking up a bunch of dollar store toys to dispense throughout the trip, and I'll do a big travel-snacks prep as well. I'd like to get through this trip without having to rely TOO heavily on DVDs and raisins, if at all possible.

My question, clarified: What are some great preschool-friendly car-travel games? What are some no-mess activities for an almost-2 year old? Do you have any creative (interesting-looking) snack ideas for two kids who eat a grain-free diet?

Bonus: My partner and I have gotten into the Scott Harvath series of audiobooks by Brad Thor. They are AWFUL. (Quote: "Scott Harvath didn't get PTSD. Scott Harvath GAVE PTSD.") Very Amurrica rah-rah. Hilariously, offensively bad. Added plus: Brad Thor repeats himself often, so being interrupted by the kids doesn't mean missing out on the story. Do you have a favorite terrible audiobook author/series?
posted by lizifer to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I am no help on the travel games - my little guy is younger than yours and is still entertained by his rattly mouse toy and all I can remember from the car rides of my childhood is playing Uno which is, perhaps, not super helpful.

Snackwise my kiddo loves Larabars - we like the Peanut Butter ones - and they are easy for him to nom away at by himself. We also do those little babybel cheeses - because who doesn't like to unwrap the waxy part?
posted by machine at 10:07 AM on August 8, 2013

A Mister Potato Head toy, never opened before, gave us a solid hour of peace when we were on a ten-hour drive with with our two-year-old. It was wonderful. I quit complaining about how inauthentic the plastic ones are, compared to the real potatoes in the Mister Potato Head of my own youth. I loved that toy ever afterwards for that one blessed hour of quiet play.
posted by Ery at 10:10 AM on August 8, 2013

The good news is that your kids will sleep quite a bit. So make sure they're comfy with those U shaped neck pillows, etc.

I recommend having a daily 'look forward' to thing. A park to play in, swimming in the Motel 6 pool, Dairy Queen. My dad still tells the story of how he promised us that we could ride all the rides at "Little America." He got it confused with Great America. But you get the idea.

The more you can travel in the dark, the better it will be. Easier, cooler and sleepier. We'd typically leave Phoenix at about 4:00 AM so that we could be across the desert by sun up.

Teach them songs to sing, and then sing them together. Then teach them, "Five Minutes of Silence." My mom invented that one.

Stop often and run them around at the rest stops. People will be walking dogs. Pick friendly dogs to pet.

Don't teach them "Punch buggy" or "One Lamp Louie" which is Punch Buggy, only with cars with one headlight out.

Listen to pop music.

Chew Dentyne gum (or maybe this was just us.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:12 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

We've had some decent success with I'm Going To California and The Minister's Cat, thought the 2-year-old might be a bit too small. In both cases, the game is played by coming up with words for each of the letters in the alphabet:

"I'm going to California and I'm taking my Apple."
"I'm going to California and I'm taking my Apple and my Bear."

And so on. The Minister's Cat is the same, except you're using adjectives to describe the cat.

The Minister's Cat is an Active Cat, a Bushy cat, a Cute cat..and so on. Occasional bonus points and hoots of laughter for potty-related humor of course.

Or, do like we do and hit the road about 6 at night. Then you only need to entertain them until it starts to get dark. Stop on the road for dinner or a snack and change them into their jammies. Once they sack out, you're golden.
posted by jquinby at 10:14 AM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

My 3 year old was very entertained on a plane trip with colored pipe cleaners from the craft store. He spent a long time bending them into all sorts of things (eye glasses, animals, shapes, letters, numbers). Finger puppets could be fun for both of them. Colorforms or those magnetic paper doll type things (think we also had a dinosaur set).
posted by maxg94 at 10:15 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My almost two-year-old likes to color in the car.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:15 AM on August 8, 2013

One game we play is "spot the letter." Basically, you go through the alphabet and try to spot letters on signs, cars, license plates, etc. If your 4.5 year old is pretty good, you can look for words that start with the letter. This game is good for a few play-throughs at least.

Another game that I play with our older daughter is "finish the sentence." Usually the way it works is that I'll come up with a quote from lore that she is very familiar with (like Star Wars or something), and give her part of the sentence. She has to finish the rest. Or, I ask her trivia questions about videos that she's seen a million times. It would be a fun way to teach some catchy life-proverbs or something this way, too.

Something we've started doing, also, is trying to come up with kid-friendly jokes and riddles. If you have enough of them, say from a book, kids will try endlessly to figure them out.

In terms of our almost two-year-old, my wife will buy glow-stick bracelets at the dollar store every time we take a trip. Apparently, you can get a tube of 100 for about $11 on Amazon. She holds on to them for those emergency times when our daughter gets really squirrely, but they are fascinating for awhile (at least, for the attention span of a 1.5-year-old). It's fun for a child to snap them and make them glow, and also to make them into things that will entertain a little person. Your four-year-old would love it too, and could perahaps make things for the younger one.

It sounds like you are trying to move away from electronics, but the Kindle has been a lifesaver for us on trips. We try not to rely exclusively on videos, and fortunately, there are a lot of kid-friendly and educational games available.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:15 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Those "tiny toys in rice" games are called "Find It" or "I Spy" when sold commercially. Pinterest has some ideas for homemade.

Those "Find It" games are insanely popular and I hear very sturdy for small people.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:16 AM on August 8, 2013

We were a sing-in-the-car family. (Autocorrect tried to make that into "gin-in-the-car family," which probably would have made it a happier trip for Dad, but there you go.) The nice part is, Mom and Dad really only have to know the first line and the refrain. Singalong albums for kids are OK, but any compilation of standards is good.

Travel Bingo might be good for the older kid, but the younger one might need help with it. Maybe if it was picture-based?

And, of course, there are always Mad Libs, which can be homemade if you don't have enough storebought.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:43 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

We made an epic road trip last year -- Wisconsin to Oregon and back again -- with a 1 year old and a 4 year old. My biggest piece of advice is to spend as much time as possible outside. We were camping at night, but we also made a rule of stopping every 90 minutes at a rest area and spending 10 or 15 minutes running around like crazy on the playground before getting back in the car.

At one point on the way back my youngest got sick, and because he had a fever and it was a zillion degrees outside we had to stay in hotels and skip the rest area playgrounds for a couple days. They were absolutely miserable during that time, impossible to keep happy, and we spent approximately one million dollars on new toys from Target to try to placate them. The outside time is very important I think.
posted by gerstle at 10:43 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

This Magnadoodle has been our favorite travel toy for several years. The kids have loved it from 1.5-6+ years. Bonus: the pen is attached, so they can't drop it & then whine for you to pick it up for the next 30 miles.
posted by belladonna at 10:51 AM on August 8, 2013

Best answer: Get a bunch of small, cheap toys. Bonus if they're all something part of a larger group, like all little rubber dinosaur figurines or something. (For the almost-2-year-old, these can even be things you have already.)

Wrap each toy individually in a few layers of newspaper.

Each kid gets a new toy every hour (or whatever) of the trip. (This can either be a surprise, "because you've been SOOOO GOOD," or a bribe, "if you play nicely, you'll get a toy!"

This is great, because not only does the kid get a thing to play with, but the whole unwrapping process takes up time and is exciting.

posted by phunniemee at 10:56 AM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]

For long car rides we usually make sure our son has one or more of the following:
- a sticker book. This batman one is his absolute favourite. i don't really get the appeal, but it is like a colouring book without the mess or tonnes of crayons scattered about.
- a fully charged iPad loaded with kid appropriate games and the volume turned OFF.


Mostly that is it. He gets bored of his toys in fits and starts, and starts asking us questions about whatever he sees out the window, which usually turns in to some interesting discussions. But then WE becoming boring to him and he goes back to his toys. The sticker book in particular is a killer find. Quiet and mess free. I can't believe how much he loves it and how DEDICATED he is to finding the perfect sticker to go on each page.

Also, we always make sure there is a blanket in the back seat for him. Car rides often make him sleepy, and if we quietly leave a blanket there, within reach, he usually just grabs it, covers himself (and the entirety of his car seat) with it and takes a nap. I find kids don't like being told they have to take a nap, but if you make it easy for them to do so, without requiring any sort of grown up intervention, they'll do it on their own when they need to.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:15 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My mom always kept my attention out the window vs on toys that I had in the car.

My favorite game was when I'd get one side of the street and she'd get the other, and I had to count either hay bales or cows. I'd keep track on a note pad.

The goal was for one side to amass the most cows or hay bales by the time we got to destination X or Y.... however if we passed a burger place, my cow count would go down to 0, or if we passed a firehouse, my count would go down to zero hay bales.

So not only was I spending the whole time looking out the window for cows or hay, I was also learning to count higher and higher.
posted by haplesschild at 11:37 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just did 4.5 hours alone in the car with a 3yr old and a 4yr old (and yet I'm here to tell the tale). I bought myself a solid hour of no bickering by playing the (made up on the spur of the moment) American Flag game. The person who sees the flag calls out, "American flag out (name)'s window!" and then everybody in the car calls out, "Woot!Woot!". Totally ridiculous, but it gets them searching out the window plus acknowledgement from the whole crew. I was amazed, and thankful, that it kept the peace for an hour.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 11:51 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Along the lines of haplesschild's suggestion, get your kiddos some binoculars! I took my three little boys on a two week driving trip (1000's of miles) and I swear the best distraction of all was playing games with the binoculars.
posted by WalkingHorse at 12:10 PM on August 8, 2013

I have a friend whose dad back in the 60's & 70's would travel with a whole bunch of loose change, & whenever a roadside attraction was coming up that he didn't want the kids to clamor for stopping at (world's largest ball of twine, pony rides, etc.) he'd toss a handfull of pennies, nickels & dimes over his shoulder into the back seat so that the kids would all be scrambling around looking for money & they'd totally miss the attraction.

These might be noisy events, but could save you time & cash.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:11 PM on August 8, 2013

A bag of craft stuff including safety scissors, glue sticks and washable markers. Each kid gets their own hard cover sketch book for the trip.

Comic books, including some that are picture based and search and finds.

I play math with my kids in the car just by asking them level appropriate questions one at a time and making "winning" or "losing" sound effects. Same with language, spelling for my bigger one and "which word starts with t: tree or car" for the smaller one.

Books on tape for kids. Robert Munch has a bunch on line for free or hit up your local library.

I also have an iPod and iPad loaded with stuff for kids, I confess. And a charger in the car. If you aren't opposed to this there are lots of educational games for children.
posted by Cuke at 3:08 PM on August 8, 2013

A roll of blue painters tape has given us hours of entertainment when our kid was 2, on both car rides and airplane trips. Just let them do whatever they want with it, and when they start to get bored, make up some games (such as to put a piece of tape on the window for every semi truck you drive by. Soon the window will be covered, and then the game becomes taking a piece off every time you see a blue car, or whatever sounds good at the time).
posted by markblasco at 3:47 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Trout Fishing in America is hilarious, sing-out-loud music for both children and adults ("My hair had a party last night...!") Our whole family loves them, I highly recommend them for family car trips.

Also, a good car game is "Purple Car". You get 3 points if you see a purple car, 2 points for an orange car, and 1 point for a yellow car. The first one to holler out "Purple Car!" when one appears, gets the points. Keep track of the points on your fingers. When somebody hits 5 points, they've won, and you start again. This can go on... forever. At least in my family's car it can.
posted by molasses at 5:33 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My mother-in-law apparently invented a game for long car rides, where her kids would compete to see how long they could make a Fruit Tingle (a hard, slightly sherbety sweet) last in their mouths. Turns out they last a lot longer if you're quiet!
posted by escapepod at 12:42 AM on August 9, 2013

Also, for the 2-year-old, there is magic in putting things into other things. So if you're bringing a set of dinosaurs or finger puppets, it's good to have a small bag or pot (we used the sugar bowl from a play tea set) for them to go into and out of. Can extend the fun for quite a bit, given various permutations (putting them ON TOP next, etc.). You might need some kind of tray to get full value from this.

Can you teach the older one the alphabet game, where you look for letters on signs and/or license plates?
posted by acm at 9:50 AM on August 9, 2013

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