Let’s face it: unless they’re fast asleep, traveling with young children can be challenging, even in the best of times. By now, though, your child is in the early stages of being able to play some classic (and new) car games.
HERE ARE SOME IDEAS FOR THE CAR THAT REQUIRE NO MATERIALS OR TECH:
Note: all of these games can be played while you are a driver or a passenger.
In the game of Sausage, people take turns asking someone a question—and they’re only allowed to say “sausage” in reply. Tell them to try not to laugh or even smile (though they probably won’t be able to avoid it 🙂). For example you ask your child, “what did you brush your teeth with this morning?” and they have to say “sausage!” You can substitute any funny-sounding word or phrase: peanut butter, underwear, pancakes.
Check below for a demonstrating with a 5-year-old:
What am I?
This works well with extremely accessible things to guess, like sounds. Have your child guess which animal, vehicle, or other sound you’re imitating: “what animal am I? Moo!” or “what do I sound like? Chugga chugga chugga chugga.”
This activity can occupy a good amount of time if you have a lot of broad categories in mind. Ask your child (and anyone else around) their favorite color, ice cream, toy, animal, etc. Be sure to offer your own and try asking “why?” after they’ve named it. Model your own answers: “my favorite animal is a dog because they’re cuddly and cute.”
It’s probably a little early for your child to be able to produce their own rhymes, but you can definitely get started. Research suggests that rhyming ability is a great predictor of future reading success—and at the very least, there’s no harm in trying. Give your child a list of simple words like “cat, mat, rat” and ask “what’s another word that sounds like those words?” Be sure to give credit for made up words 😉
Simon Says is another game that’s classic for a reason: it has simple rules and endless possibilities. This is probably a good one to teach and practice a little bit before you get into a car. When you do teach it, try to be almost unbearably direct. Do the motions along with your instructions, and exaggerate when you say “Simon says” and when you don’t.
I Spy is a classic game of observation. The traditional way to play is to find something visible to everyone and describe it with a clue. For example, you might say “I spy (with my little eye)… something big and blue” (the sky). For children at this age, you may need to be more direct at first: “I spy a car seat,” or “I spy someone (in the car) wearing red.” This way, it becomes more of a finding game than a guessing game. If your child starts to catch on, invite them to spy something.
Visual scavenger hunt
This game is similar to I Spy, in that you’re keeping an eye out for specific objects that you see frequently on a car ride. You decide what you’re looking for—stop signs, trees, mailboxes, animals, buses, things that are plentiful around you—and anyone can call out every time they see one. You can even count how many you have “collected.”
Tell a story
Children at this age love a story, especially if they’re featured as main characters. Even if you don’t consider yourself a storyteller, changing a couple of details of something that happened in everyday life can turn into an engaging tale. Tell the story of what happened at the park yesterday, but make everybody a mouse. A story here doesn’t have to have a plot—it can just be a series of things that happened: “Carlos the mouse went down the slide so fast, he flew off the end and landed on the wood chips.”
Copy that sound
This game starts with you telling your child you’re going to make a specific sound or musical tone, and that they need to listen closely and try to repeat it. Start with simple noises like animal sounds, and if they’re getting it, make the sounds longer and more complex.
As Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.” Singing favorite songs can make the time pass more quickly for everyone. As your children get older, they have more capacity to remember lyrics: starting at around age two, you may start to see your child memorizing and repeating words to songs they know well, even if they’re a little off-tune.
You don’t have to limit yourself to kids’ music: sing along to your favorite music on the radio, make a driving playlist, and expose your children to the music that you love—just make sure you’re comfortable with the lyrics being repeated anywhere and everywhere 🙃
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