Beyond I-Spy: Keeping it fun for kids in the car

Taking a road trip? En route to school? Hanging out in the parking lot? Why not make time in the car an opportunity to connect as a family? Let’s turn off the devices for a bit and kick it old school!

For the littlest ones

  • Songs. No, you probably shouldn’t sing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” but singing songs with repetition and basic counting sure does the trick! Think, “5 Little Monkeys” or “5 Little Speckled Frogs.” Classics are encouraged – try “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Old McDonald,” too!
  • Games. Do you know the game “Freeze”? Even tiny kiddos in car seats can dance and freeze to a favorite song that you play and pause.
  • Animal noises. Take turns naming an animal and their corresponding sound. Snake! Hisssss! Cow! Mooo!
  • Big or Little? Name an object and your child has to say if it’s big or little. Airplane? Big! Peanut? Little!
  • Colors. You name a bunch of items: banana, lemon, sunflower and your child says the color: Yellow! Or try it with shapes.

Elementary aged passengers

  • Would you Rather? This one’s a game changer: “Would you rather have pizza for breakfast or ice cream for dinner?” “Would you rather be 10 feet tall or 10 inches tall?” The possibilities are endless!
  • The Alphabet Game. This one just keeps going and going. You go around the car and pack a bag for a trip, repeating what the previous person packed via alphabetical order. “I’m going on a trip and I’ll pack an Apple, a Boomerang, a Cat”… “I’m going on a trip and I’ll pack an Apple, a Boomerang, a Cat and a Dress”. See if you can build up to Z.
  • Build a Story. Everyone takes a turn telling a part of a story and then the next person builds on what the previous person said. “I was playing in the back yard and I saw a unicorn under the trampoline.” Next person, “The unicorn’s name was Larry and he was wearing gold boots and huge sunglasses.” On and on it goes!

Tweens and teens

  • Real conversation! You have a captive audience! This is your chance to have an actual conversation in a relaxed way. Key tips for success include:
  • All cell phones in the center console, please.
  • Now, ask Open Ended Questions. Not: “How was school today?” It will very likely get that typical response of “fine.” Make your inquiry more specific, like, “Who performed in the assembly today?” or “What was the most interesting part of science class?”
  • If your teen or tween is sharing a story, validate and empathize, but don’t react. For example, “Oh, you must have felt so annoyed – I’m sorry to hear it,” instead of “Are you kidding? I would be so annoyed!”
  • Don’t insert yourself into their story or you’ll likely lose the momentum of the conversation.
  • 20 Questions is always a crowd pleaser, especially if the goal is to stump mom or dad. Perhaps with a reward of stopping for ice cream if any kid can beat a parent?

Happy travels! And, don’t forget the snacks!

Author’s profile: Lisa has been an Occupational Therapist since 1996 and has specialized in Pediatrics for 23 of those years. She has worked in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Mexico in early intervention, school therapy and at the Center for Development and Disability at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. She also spent the past 10 years working in Germany for the EDIS program in the Kaiserslautern and Stuttgart areas. She is now an OT at GrowingUp Therapy in Kaiserslautern.