Christmas is fast approaching, and it’s one of those times of the year where I sort of have no choice but to consider the dreaded family road trip. Except this year it’s been cancelled – wahhhh. Usually the trip itself is tedium incarnate, because we have small children…however since COVID has put paid to our plans, I find myself yearning for the opportunity! Anyhow, I thought I’d offer our tips for keeping kids busy in the car for those who are still able to travel. (Damn you tier three.)
As a rule, I can think of nothing worse than piling into the car with our brood; not least because we seem to have terrible luck and always get stuck in ridiculous road closures. Of course I’m always grateful it’s not us involved in any incidents, but it happens so often it’s genuinely put me off visiting anywhere outside of our local vicinity!
With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about the best ways to entertain kids in the car, and I’ve put together my personal survival tips, in case they might help other families.
Best Ways to Entertain Kids in the Car
1. Car Games
Elfin is currently big into colours, so we regularly play a tally game where we’re each looking for a specific coloured car*. (This is also great for keeping a tired child awake when they’re liable to have a danger nap en route home from a local trip).
*Borrowed from my friend Laura.
For the most part, I’m fairly anti electronics. I prefer almost anything in a restaurant to using a phone or iPad as babysitter, which I find quite sad. While I appreciate that it’s sometimes a case of needs must and wouldn’t harshly judge, I personally think if I’m taking my children out to eat then it’s a nice opportunity to engage with them and teach manners/etiquette.
That said, there have been circumstances when we’ve allowed Pixie to play a game on a phone in order to avoid a scene. Last resorts and all that.
Once children are of an age where they can be trusted not to eat everything they’re able to physically hold in the palm of their hand, car-suitable toys are ideal.
My girls have fab imaginations and a couple of characters will keep them quiet for ages. For older kids puzzles and games with small counters are also viable options – assuming you’re able to stop them passing small pieces across to younger siblings who still try to eat anything small enough to fit inside their mouths!
We love these fab scavenger hunt games which are magnetic, so fumbly fingers will (hopefully) not drop the pieces! Note you need to buy the board first, and then get the add-on pack for car journeys.
4. Stories and Music
Pixie loves a story, and if you can tolerate the tediousness, be bothered with the effort, and you’re happy to forgo conversation with an adult, telling epic tales is a great way to occupy children – the wackier the better. The storyteller featured in this post is an excellent alternative to being put on the spot!
Often we skip stories and sing (badly) to annoying Sing and Sign songs on repeat (this CD seems to possess magical properties creating silence in mere moments!). I have even, on occasion and out of desperation, successfully got a harmony going with myself leading and Pixie and Elfin joining in with great enthusiasm. Their favourite songs (lyrics sung on repeat) for this purpose are ‘Daddy is a Bogey’, with ‘Enchanted Village’ and ‘Unicorn Pony’ coming in close behind.
A Few More Great Tips For Keeping Kids Busy in the Car
5. Lie (Shhhh)
‘Are we nearly there yet?” the only correct answer to this is – of course – yes! Small children have not fully developed a concept of time, and if you tell them you’re close and then employ a distraction technique, you may buy yourself another whole hour. It’s definitely worth a go.
When you’re at the point of losing your mind to wailing in stereo, bribery is also acceptable. No judgement here.
Not something I advocate as such, but very definitely something I resort to when necessary! If we plan carefully then we can bookend our road trip with food, meaning less opportunity for boredom to strike. And if we prepare ahead of time then it’s easy to ensure we have items which are safe for both the girls – and safe for our carseats too.
Nutrition is a bonus but not a priority in these circumstances, with rice cakes and oat cakes being my go-to car snacks.
Saving the best for last, my very best tip, although probably obvious to all parents with small kids, is to plan your journey around naps.
This is our priority when travelling, over and above all else. Irritatingly that usually means travelling at a less than ideal time – but the pay-off is totally worth losing a few hours at your destination.
The reality for us is that our family are spread across the country, and if we want to guarantee seeing them all during the festivities then chances are we’ll be making at least one hideous journey.
With that in mind, it’s imperative that we plan meticulously in order to minimise the associated boredom (theirs), which inevitably leads to unimaginable stress (ours). This list is by no means foolproof, but it might give you one or two new ideas for some of the best ways to entertain kids in the car.