I’m not opposed to electronics on long road trips, but I would prefer my kids to be curious and engaged in the world right outside of the car window. Keeping your kiddos entertained in the car, without headphones stuck in their ears, takes a little planning, but this list of 25 car games for kids makes planning easy. There are fun road trip games, free prinatbles, and activities for kids ages 1-12.
Many of these mostly free car games for kids are from Cassie of the pint-sized traveler. Cassie is a pro at road trip activities for little kids after her and family took a 30 day tour of the western United States!
Pipe Cleaner Car Games
Who knew pipe cleaners could save the day on long car rides? The are very cheap, colorful, and not messy. Here is a awesome deal on a pack of 200 pipe cleaners, and here are 3 pipe cleaner activities to do in the car.
1. Stringing Beads on Pipe Cleaners
This is just as simple as it sounds, bring a small tupperware of plastic beads and let the kids make bracelets and necklaces. I always like to suggest that the kids make a necklace for whomever you are going to visit whether that is Grandma or Aunt Kelley. Also, if you don’t have pony beads on hand, noodles or Cheerios work great too!
Another simple pipe cleaner car game for kids is making sculptures. I like to give simple directions like, “Can you make a pipe cleaner monster?” or “Can you turn the pipe cleaners into animals?” Check out Frugal Fun 4 Boys for directions for a pipe cleaner lizard, dinosaur, and caterpillar.
3. Are We There Yet Game
This simple pipe cleaner car game for kids will put the “Are We There Yet?” questions to rest.
Here’s how you play the “Are we there yet” pipe cleaner car game:
- Before you start your road trip, decide how long you will drive each day, an estimate is just fine.
- Gather enough pipe cleaners for each kid to have one for every hour you drive. You could also do one pipe cleaner per 30 minute increments if your kids are younger.
- Prep the car by making a loop around the car handle on the ceiling with string and running it across to the other side above their heads. This is so the pipe cleaner chain does not have to dangle in their faces for the entire car ride.
- Explain before you take off that every hour (or half hour) you will hand out a pipe cleaner to each child. Instruct them to make a loop with the pipe cleaner.
- To make this activity take a little longer, have the kids string pony beads on the pipe cleaner, leaving enough room to twist the loop shut.
- At the end of the day you can all easily count the hours and remove the pipe cleaners so you can start fresh again the next day.
Felt Car Crafts
Like pipe cleaners, felt is another inexpensive craft material that does not make a mess. Which is exactly why pipe cleaners are perfect for a road trip! Here is an awesome deal on 42 pieces of colorful felt squares. For these felt car activities for kids we are going to make scenes. To prep this craft, cut out the scenes before you leave on your trip. I typically suggest cutting 6-8 scenes and putting them all in a galloon zip lock bag for the kids to go through at their own pace.
Next, glue one felt sheet to a clip board. Clip the ziplock bag under the clip. This gives a nice hard surface to play on and keeps everything well contained.
4. Felt House
For the felt house scene, cut out the different parts of the house. Things like, windows, door, roof, flowers, tree, and grass.
5. Felt faces
Cut out a head shape and then go wild with faces. Here are a few to start with, frowns, smiles, teeth, big eyes, small eyes, freckles, lashes, noses, short hair, long hair, and hats. For more felt face tips and tricks, check out this post from C.R.A.F.T.
6. United States
Cutting out the 50 states takes a little prep time, but is a lot of fun for the older kids.
7. Ice Cream Cone
Cut out a cone and multiple scoops of ice cream. Then, add the toppings! Things like sprinkles, a cheery, and even gummi bears are fun for kids. The same thing can be done with a pizza!
Cut out a blue rectangle for the ocean and then add fish, seaweed, coral, clams, sharks, and even a scuba diver!
Older kids are the natural fit for keeping a travel log, but this can be done with little ones too. Younger kids can draw pictures, cut out pictures from magazines and travel brochures, or add stickers. I like to assign a portion of the day to writing when the car should be quiet.
Pro tip: f you sign up with your destination’s visitors bureau, you can request free catalogs.
9. Travel log for older kids
First, have the kids make their journal. The free approach to making a travel journal is to take an old cereal box, and cut out a front and back for the book. Cut large pieces of white paper out and glue them on the cardboard to create spaces to write and color.
After the travel log is made, consider giving kids a prompt to write about each day. Here are a few fun prompt ideas:
- Today I have seen the color ______ the most because…
- The best thing I’ve seen on the road today was…
- The best food I’ve had on the road trip so far is…
- Describe what you see out of the window right now.
10. Travel log for preschoolers
Younger kids will love this activity too, just make sure to have a few more supplies on hand. I love to bring map pencils, stickers, tape, at least one magazine, glue sticks, and scissors to keep the younger ones excited about their travel journal.
Cardboard Box Top Activity Tables
The following 4 car games for kids all use a cardboard box top to contain the supplies. I’ve found that a printer box top works best since it has sides and you can typically get one for free at your job.
All you need for this is black construction paper and chalk. Simply hand your kiddo the materials and let them get to work. Another fun idea is to paint the inside of the box lid with a few coats of chalkboard paint.
12. Coloring Box Top
This is as simple as adding a few sheets of paper and coloring utensils. Another idea is to use a hot glue gun to attach a clip board to one side of the box to secure the paper to the lid.
This is a big hit with the 4 and under crowd who really love trains. Consider using 3M strips to stick 3-4 train track pieces to the box top. I don’t recommend sticking them all to the box, part of the fun is completing the track. This can also be down with a car race track. Just use a permanent marker to draw a race track on the lid and give your child cars to race.
14. Sticky Letters
For this road trip activity, you will need duct tape, contact paper, buttons, and of course, a cardboard box top. You can find the free printable dotted alphabet needed for this activity on C.R.A.F.T.
Printable Road Trip Games for Kids
What would a road trip be without a rousing game of roadside bingo or the license plate game? There are so many awesome blogs and sites to hit up for free road trip game printables! Three of my very favorites are listed below.
15. License Plate Bingo
I love this free printable from Today’s Creative Life. It’s a single sheet of paper with a place to check off every state you find. I like to do this one with the whole family.
16. Road Trip Bingo
Urban Bliss Life has an adorable free prinatble road trip bingo.
17. Restaurant I-Spy
This road trip game is exactly what it sounds like, you have to keep your eyes peeled to find all the fast food joints. Grab the free printable at 3 Boys and a Dog. I love that this printable is made with logos, so it works well for little ones too.
Books on Tape
Download the Audible app to your phone for free, and then you can buy audiobooks through Amazon that get sent right to the app. You can listen to the audio books as much as you’d like! Here is an awesome list of 35 audio books for kids from Everyday Reading. Some of the books come with images and some do not.
19. Record books with your voice
To record most children’s books all you need is your cell phone. I love this idea for little kids who enjoy hearing your voice. Don’t forget the actual books! Having the child follow along with your voice in the book is a great early reading skill. Here is very simple tutorial for recoding your voice using Voice Memos on an iPhone.
20. Pod casts for kids
Here’s an awesome list of pod casts for kids that adults will enjoy too. Did you know that Cookie Monster has his own pod cast?!
Play With Your Food
21. Twizzler Writing
Grab a package of the rope twizzler pull and peel, not the traditional braid and a clip board or lap desk to have kids practice their letters. You can print and laminate (or stick in a ziplock bag) large letters for the younger ones to trace. Call out words of things you see as you drive past and have the older ones spell the words out. The best part is clean up is a synch… and a tasty snack!
22. Bead organizer snack packs
While this is not exactly an activity, you will be amazed at how long it keeps them busy. Buy 1 bead organizer per child and fill it with snacks in each little compartment. You can also bring stickers for the kids to use to personalize their snack boxes.
Here are some simple road trip snack ideas I’ve used before:
- Carrot sticks
- Cucumber slices
Road Trip Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers
The last 3 car games for kids are specifically for youngest travelers.
23. Post-It Notes
This is seriously as easy as handing your toddler a stack of Post-It notes. Then let them go wild sticking notes any where they want. Another method I’ve used is to stick a ton of notes to an empty oatmeal container and let the child pull them all off. The empty oatmeal container serves double purpose as a storage spot for extra Post-Its and coloring supplies.
24. Learn something new
My son and I worked on numbers on a long road trip to Florida and it was amazing what 10 sessions of 5 minutes each can do over a one week period. By the end of the week, he could identify the numbers 0-9! This would work well with letters, multiplications facts or states and capitals for older kiddos.
25. Asking older kids to read/ teach/ sing to the younger ones
This is on of my personal favorites because if the older kiddo agrees, it’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. Maxwell is 4 and he will sing his 2 year old sister songs and “read” her books for fun. This typically only lasts for 5ish minutes, but 5 minutes increments add up fast.
I hope we have inspired you to pack inexpensive car games for kids before you hit the open road! Just remember, do not show all your tricks at once. Try to stagger the activities so that you never run out of a “trick” to pull from your bag when those “Are We There Yet?!?”s start coming at you fast.
If you are in trip planning mode, you might want to check out these posts:
- Tips for long road trips with a baby
- 16 Road trip tips for ages 3 and under
- Tips for traveling with a baby via airplane
- Traveling with a mobile lap baby via airplane
- Tips for flying with a toddler