Summertime is approaching, and usually for our family, summer means at least one road trip.
With the closest grandparent living 1,400 miles away and not wanting to regularly purchase a billion dollars' worth of airline tickets for our family of 8, we've become unofficial experts at packing our van with kids, luggage, and noise and driving for days.
For the most part, these are good memories. You just need a lot of car activities to keep the kids from attacking each other or turning feral. Here are our favorites.
Best Books for Kids on Road Trips
For our kids who are voracious readers, finding books to keep them occupied isn't hard. We can throw any old novel back at their seats and not hear a peep from them for hours. But our younger kids who can't yet read are harder. Some of our favorite road trip books for pre-readers are:
- Where's Waldo? series by Martin Handford
- I Spy series by Walter Wick
- On the Loose! series by Sage Stossel
These are all books that don't require reading: they're just looking at pictures and searching for hidden objects. Older and younger kids can even work together if they're sitting next to each other.
What about kids who are allergic to reading? The ones who can read but get bored with it after 10 seconds? We like joke books and books of tongue twisters. The best part is the kids like reading and laughing about them with each other in the back, so we get a break up front.
Oh, and then there's this Minecraft novella series if your kid's into that (trust me, I do not want to talk about it. I can't stand Minecraft, but my kids are crazy about it.)
More Road Trip Activities for Kids
Let even the biggest bookworms read for too long, though, and you'll get some very cranky kids with headaches. And possibly vomit in the backseat of the car (don't ask me how I know that.) So you need plenty of other stuff to do. My favorites are:
- Peel and stick foam tile mosaics. Ordinarily, I hate crafts. They're generally messy and the end result is a bulky piece of junk I'd rather throw out. But I love these things. They create no mess and keep kids busy for hours, and the finished product is a cute picture that doesn't take up much space. My all-time favorite kit is the Make Mosaic Masterpieces kit because it comes with so many pictures and you can't tell before starting what each one is going to be (so it's more of a challenge for the big kids.)
- Mad Libs. Oh my gosh, my kids love Mad Libs. They will do them ad nauseum without getting tired of them (but after a while, we do have to invoke the "you can only say 'toilet' and 'underwear' once" rule.) Sometimes we go around the car with everyone taking turns, and sometimes two of the kids just do them quietly with each other in the back.
- Friendship bracelet making kits. You know how said I hate crafts? Well, we dust off the unused craft kits they've gotten for their birthdays and Christmas when it's time for a road trip. Last time, the kids had fun with the Klutz friendship bracelet kit that comes with embroidery floss and instructions for making 10 different kinds of bracelets. I brought a clipboard and some tape as a working surface for each of them.
- Dry erase activity books. There are lots of dry erase books out there depending on the ages and interests of your kid. I'm amazed at how many times our preschooler can do this book and it never gets old for her. (Even our older kids are entertained by it, at least for a while.)
- Adult coloring books. Adult coloring books are the best thing ever invented. Just as kids start to grow out of "regular" coloring, hit them with some adult coloring books and colored pencils and they suddenly love it again. My girls like the Mandala ones, and this Harry Potter one is also a favorite.
- Brain Quest cards. Brain Quest is a deck of cards with hundreds of age-appropriate brain teaser questions (with answers on the back) for virtually every grade level, every subject. (FYI, buy one level up to keep your kids challenged, otherwise the cards are kind of easy.) And can I just say, as a parent, that I love how the cards are stuck together with a little rivet so I'm not picking each one up off the floor after every use?
- Magnet toys and a cookie sheet. We always bring along a cookie sheet for the younger kids because they make a convenient flat surface for coloring and the lip on the sides keeps their markers or crayons from rolling away. They're also great for magnet toys; my older ones really like this Magnetic Poetry set for kids and all of them keep occupied for a while making things with some magnetic shape tiles like these (we picked ours up at a yard sale.)
Best Kids' Audiobooks for Road Trips
Audiobooks are the best things ever invented for long car trips, but it's hard to find something everybody will like.
Either the preschooler thinks the big kids' stories are boring, or the older kids are exasperated by listening to a "baby story." And then there's me: some of the kids' favorite audiobooks have made me want to gouge out my eyeballs with a tire pressure gauge.
We've listened to dozens and dozens of stories on CD, and the best ones to interest everyone in the car of every age, hands down, have always been anything by Roald Dahl (Fantastic Mr. Fox and The BFG have been our personal favorites.)
Nighttime Activities for Kids on Road Trips
My favorite nighttime road trip activity for kids is sleeping, but sometimes it gets dark before they're quite ready for that.
We hit the jackpot one time when we ordered this pack of 100 glow sticks. It comes with plastic connectors to make all sorts of shapes, and the kids had a blast with them. Of course they would've blown through the whole container in 5 minutes if we'd let them, but we paced them by passing back a few more pieces every once in a while.
We also being along a pack of party favor flashlights. They can do light shows on the ceiling or use them to read by in the dark. (Which will hopefully help them calm down enough to finally go to sleep.)
We've been taking family road trips for a decade now, and these are our best activity ideas for long car rides. Are you planning any road trips this summer? What's your best tip?