Family Games

Having Quality Time In The Car With Your Kids

By: Sarah Rivera
A parent buckling their children into their car seats.
For All Ages
Critical Thinking

A car ride with kids can be either the best of times or the worst of times. Sure, all parents have had those hard, fraught drives with whining children chorousing, "Are we there yet?" More memorable, though, are those magical moments when the vehicle is filled with laughter and real conversations.

Whether you’re driving the kids on short jaunts, in carpools or on epic family road trips, here are some ways to have more good times than bad on the road.

Games make everything better

Road trip games can eat up the hours on the highway. Favorites include:

  • The License Plate Game: There are many versions of this game. Look for license plates from all 50 states. Write them down as you go, thereby honing some U.S. geography skills. 
  • The Alphabet Game: Use road signs or the first letter of a license plate to spell out the alphabet in alphabetical order.  
  • The Memorization Game: Whether it be a favorite song, a famous poem, or the U.S. presidents through history, take turns trying to say things in order. Or go with the classic: "We were going on a trip and I packed my…" Have everyone keep adding something to the list, then reciting the list as it grows. 
  • The Silent Game: Try to be silent! It's so hard and is sure to bring on the giggles. 

Have your kids read an old-school map

It might seem obsolete as we rely more and more on mobile phones and GPS, but knowing how to read a map is a vital and fun decoding skill. Using a map, have kids follow along on the route. Ask questions as you go. What other towns are near here? Where is the closest body of water? See whether kids can find the ordinal directions as you go along. (It might not come as much of a surprise that many kids aren't sure which direction the sun sets! See why this can be such a valuable way to pass the time?)

Make memories by singing together

Pat Rumbaugh, the co-founder of Let’s Play America, has this advice for short and long car trips: "Sing a couple of songs!" Her grandson, Charlie, is a big fan of the “Baby Shark” song. The singing can always be adapted to kids’ ages and music interests.

Road trip games can eat up the hours on the highway.

Talk about upcoming logistics and grocery choices  

OK, this might not be as fun as playing a game, but car time provides a good opportunity to talk about what events are coming up on your family’s schedule, and maybe what snacks the kids would like to see in the pantry. It empowers kids to see that their activities are priorities on the family calendar and that you are listening to them when it comes to food choices.

Use windshield time to foster natural conversations

Aside from games, being in the car with kids can be a wonderful time to talk. The climate is more relaxed and less adversarial than other settings — in part because of the lack of direct eye contact. Car time is also private and finite; the window of talking time ends as soon as the destination is reached. Driving kids to and from school, sports or even the mall can sometimes feel like a chore, but remember that these are fleeting and important opportunities to connect, especially if you get some one-on-one time together.

One mother revealed that her son requests that she NOT ask him about his day as soon as he gets in the car after school. "I don't say a word until he's ready,” she said. “Sometimes, he's just not ready to talk." 

She pointed out that kids often need some time to decompress after a school day with a lot of directions. It can be hard on her, especially on days when her son is quiet for the entire ride. But, this ritual helped them establish car rides as a place for special talks. 

"Every now and then, my son and I will go get in the car and go for a drive,” she said. “He'll tell me about his world, school, friends, whatever." They take their time, meandering on back dirt roads. 

Her advice on how to ask about sensitive topics? She doesn't. 

"You just listen," she said.

Author Photo
By: Sarah Rivera