When I was pregnant, I bought all of the usual baby gear for the car. I had the baby mirrors, the backseat organizer, the window shades to block out the sun, and was planning to buy some car toys. I wanted to be ready for any car trip we took.
Then I took our car seat to get professionally installed at a fire department. I learned a lot about car seat safety while there, and they said that those baby items are not safe. WHAT?! I still do not understand how items that are unsafe are allowed to be sold, but they most definitely are. Any item that does not come with the car seat itself is not considered safe.
An item labeled as “crash tested,” does not necessarily mean it is safe for your car because it was not crash tested with each specific car seat manufacturer. Loose items should not be hanging around the car because they could become deadly in the event of a car crash. Anything you need to be stored in the car should be placed in the trunk. If you must have your diaper bag or purse in the car, it should be buckled into the seat.
With that being said, it is clear that car toys are not safe. And this is true no matter the age of your child. What you choose to keep in the car is your choice, but it’s scary to think that some random object could hurt my child if a car crash were to happen. I have either returned the car items I had bought or found another use for them.
But what should we do then during road trips or long car rides? If we can’t have toys, what do our kids do on the trips?
No car toys = long trips.
Long road trips = frustration for everyone.
So how do you avoid car trips from turning into complete meltdowns? Here are 20 safe games you can play with your child that do not require toys inside the car. The games listed are for a variety of ages and can be adapted for whatever age you need.
Books On Tape
A visit to your local library could result in finding fun books on tape (books on a CD) to keep your children occupied. You could find old favorites on tape or brand new stories to spark their interest! If you wait until the trip to listen to the books on tape, it will be even more exciting because it’s new. Make this activity interactive by pausing at appropriate times to guess what will happen next, and then talk about if you were right or wrong.
You can hype up this activity and make it something they will look forward to! We as parents have such power when it comes to influencing their mood, and if our children see that we are excited about something, they most likely will be too.
If you feel like your child needs to see pictures to go with the story, why not take turns with your spouse driving and sitting next to your kids as you go through a paperback book together.
Wait until your car trip to introduce brand new music! Again, if you are excited about the new songs, your child will be too. Talk about which new songs are your favorite and why. Safely dance while seated in the car to make it more fun for forward facing kids!
What Comes Next?
If your child already has favorite songs, you can still use them to play a game. Start by playing some of the songs, and then pausing it to see if anyone knows the next line. Continue as desired.
With a favorite book, ask if your child knows the character names before reading. Then you can pause it and ask if they know what part of the story comes next. You can ask other comprehension questions as well.
Sing In Funny Voices
Play your favorite tunes but sing the words using different voices! Be sure to explain that using a funny voice does not mean screaming, or else your ears will get tired of that game very quickly.
Together you can choose an item that everyone will be looking for. Each time you see this item, you add to your count. This game would probably only be fun for children up to 8 years old, although you know your child best. Before you start counting, you can make a number prediction to guess how many you will see and then compare afterward to see if your guess was too high or too low.
Choose an object to look for and see who can find it the fastest. You can look for a certain car, cows, horses, birds, airplanes, police cars, billboards, or a certain sign. Once you find the object, move on to another one.
Tell Silly Stories
In this game, one person begins to tell a story. He continues for about a minute and stops when reaching a really exciting moment in the story. Then the next person picks up where he left off. The game continues with each player having a turn to add to the story. It ends when one player decides to give the story a final ending. This game is sure to bring on the laughs as the story gets sillier and sillier.
Guess The Sound
Each family member can take turns making animal sounds while everyone else guesses the animal. You can also hum a song or sing a line from the song to see if others can guess what song you are singing. Finally, you can take turns quoting a movie line to see if people can guess which movie you chose.
Find The Color
Someone in the car can announce a color, then everyone in the car must find an object that has that color. Young children can find 1-2 items with the color whereas older children can find 3-5 things with that color.
This is a classic game in which one player thinks of a person, place, or thing. They keep the noun a secret, and everyone else takes turns asking questions to figure out what the item may be. All questions must be able to be answered with a yes or a no. So let’s pretend player one is thinking of broccoli. One question may be “can we eat it?” Player one would say yes, and then the questioner may guess an item. Then another player could ask “is the food healthy?” And so on and so forth. The game continues until the secret noun is revealed. If the other players are not able to guess the item before reaching 20 questions, player one wins. To make it a little easier for younger children, you could come up with a category that the noun has to be from…like it has to be an animal, or it has to be a place.
Would You Rather?
Here is another well-known game that can be silly and help everyone to get to know each other better. Players take turns asking, “would you rather” questions that everyone can answer. One example is “would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?”
License Plate Initials
This is another silly game for you. When stopping at a red light, look at the letters on the license plate in front of you. Use the letters to make up words that the initials could stand for. So for example, HAP could stand for “Hello Apple Pie!” Everyone in the car should have a chance to guess what the letters could stand for before moving onto the next license plate. This game gets better as people become used to it.
Everyone agrees on one car to use for this game. Look inside (politely). Together you will make up a story about the passengers in the car and their destination. You can think about who they are, what their names are, where they are going, and what they will be doing there.
This game can be funny once everyone gets the hang of it. You can begin by saying “fortunately, we are all in the car together.” Then the crazy sentences begin! Someone can say, for example, “Unfortunately, there is also a lion in the car.” Then someone can reply with “Fortunately, he is a vegetarian.” Next someone could say, “unfortunately, he wants to try new things.”
The game continues as you create a sentence building off of the prior one and alternating between “fortunately” and “unfortunately.”
Look for items that begin with each letter starting with A and ending with Z. You do not have to see the word but just find an item that starts with the letter.
ABC In Order
Players look at passing objects to try to find the letters of the alphabet in order. You can use road signs, billboards, or any other signs you may see. This can be done together or against one another. Whoever finds an item for each letter of the alphabet first wins the game!
One person begins this game by stating “A is for ___.” The blank is filled with any word that begins with the letter A, such as alligator. The next person repeats the first statement and then says “B is for ___” and says a word that begins with the letter B. Each player repeats the phrases already announced and creates a new one for the next letter in the alphabet. This is a great game to test your memory! Parents and older children may need to help the younger ones!
The Name Game
Begin this game by saying a name that begins with the letter A, such as Addison. The next person has to say a name that begins with the last letter of the name that was just said. So since n was the last letter in Addison, you could say Nick. Then Katrina could come next. All names must be real names and cannot be repeated!
I’m Going On a Picnic
This game starts with player one saying, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing…” and they would choose something that begins with the letter A. The second player would then repeat what was just said but then add something that starts with the letter B. Each time it is another person’s turn, he/she must say the phrase “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing” and then announce each item in the alphabet that was chosen. The game continues until the end of the alphabet is reached. Whoever can recite each item without any help is the winner!
The Preacher’s Cat
This game uses the same sentence repeatedly but changes two words. Starting with the letter A, you would choose an adjective and a name to fill in the blanks to the following phrase, “The preacher’s cat is an _____ named ____.” You might say, “the preacher’s cat is an amazing cat named Abigail.” The next player stays on the letter A but tries to use a new adjective and name that begins with the letter A. If he cannot complete the phrase or repeats a word, he is out, and everyone else moves on to the letter B. The game continues until only one player is left.
What About Babies In The Car?
Again, since car toys are not considered safe, even if attached to the car seat, you are pretty limited with baby games you can play. So, you can sing or talk (using funny voices for each) or read a book if someone else is driving. If you have older children, your baby will most likely be satisfied watching them play car games. Hopefully, you have a baby who enjoys sleeping in the car, but take a break whenever you can. If you feel you must have a toy, offer something soft but be sure that there isn’t anything that can come detached.
Not only are these 20 games safe, but they are sure to be fun for the whole family. They also get those brains thinking, more than any car movie ever could! And after those brains are thinking, they may even want to sleep for some of the car ride!
Good luck and happy road tripping! Remember, car safety should always be a priority because car accidents are never planned.
For more information, check out our favorite car seats of 2018.