On The Road

two little girls looking out the window of a parked car
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Keep Your Toddler Busy In The Car With These 16 Screen-Free Activities

Because tablets die eventually.

You probably know by now that the easiest way to keep kids occupied on a long car (or plane or train) ride is to put headphones on their ears and hand over the tablet. That’s not always possible though; sometimes tablets lose their charge, and sometimes, shockingly, kids lose interest in shows or apps. That’s when these 17 car activities and games for toddlers come in handy.

Whether you like games that get the whole family involved like I Spy or the alphabet game, or you’re looking to get a little peace and quiet by handing over a car-friendly toy, these car games will do the trick. Most of the physical games here feature magnetic pieces, because no parent wants to turn around every other minute to fish small objects off the floor.

And even though it seems like you’re just killing time, your child may actually be practicing some important skills through play including reasoning, categorizing, logic, and fine motor skills.

When snacks fail and your toddler tells you they’re tired of their show (why does this never happen at home?), these car games and activities just may save you, because the answer to are we there yet? is a resounding no.

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I Spy

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A classic road game for a reason, I Spy turns your surroundings into the game. You probably know the basic gist, but someone in the car says, “I spy something blue” (for example) then the others have to guess what it is. To avoid meltdowns, it’s probably best to pick something that’s in the car unless you’re in standstill traffic where nothing will go out of view (the worst).

Would You Rather?

You’ve probably played the adult (potentially NSFW) version of this game, but it’s actually really fun with toddlers too. You give them two choices: for example, would you rather be a zebra or a horse? It’s fun to hear them explain their reasoning, and it’s also funny that toddlers almost exclusively pick the second choice offered.

A Busy Board

Perfect for the kid who likes to bounce from activity to activity, this busy board has a bunch of different things to play with, all secured on one board. Close the case up and they can practice letters and numbers, and when they unzip it there are laces to practice tying, different types of buckles, snaps, zippers, and more. This is fun and engaging and can help with fine motor skills.

Fill In The Blank

In this game, you say a line from their favorite book or show (you know how kids always remember those verbatim?) and leave off one word. Kids can shout the missing word out, and this works well too when it’s a lyric from their favorite song, so prepared to have some Daniel Tiger tunes stuck in your head for a whole car ride.

Color Contest

Similar to I Spy, the color contest game sees who in the car can name the most things of a certain color in the car. If you’re running out of objects, you can also play this game by just generally listing things that are a certain color (not necessarily in the car or on the road), which makes the game last much longer.

Find The Fib

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Tell your little one a true story about you or about them, and make up one wild detail. For example, you can tell them about the day they were born but add in that a volcano exploded or a giraffe brought them a gift. Your toddler can guess what’s the fib, and it’s fun for the them to tell a story too (just be prepared for the whole thing to be pretty fishy).

The Last Name Game

It’s pretty hilarious to test out whether or not your toddler knows certain people’s last names, because generally they have no clue, though they may surprise you. You can also play the name game, where your toddler tells you the first name of certain people like grandmas and grandpas, that they might not know because they don’t call them by their first names.

A Magnetic Matching Picture Game

This cute set has several scenes (including soccer, a playground, and a busy road) and corresponding magnetic pieces that kids can stick to the board to recreate the scene. If you don’t want pieces covering the car floor (and you have a spare 10 minutes), you may want to separate out the pieces that go with each scene so it’s less of a free for all.

Sing Along

You can make singing in the car a game by each taking different parts or singing in funny voices. Yes, this game is loud, but kids will love it, and you may be able to introduce them to some tunes you enjoy. You can also combine this with the fill in the blank game, and have your kid fill in the lyrics you leave out.

What Do These Things Have In Common?

Here you and your toddler can take turns grouping things by a certain category. For example, you can say, “blueberries, the sky, dad’s car” and the answer would be that they’re all blue. This works well with things that have the same shape, too. In addition to being fun, this helps toddlers with grouping and categorizing.

A Magnetic Animal Matching Game

Magnetic pieces are key when it comes to car activities, and this fun matching game is no exception. The sleek travel case opens to reveal a magnetized board where toddlers can match the animal pieces to their corresponding homes. When it’s time to get out of the car, this is quick and easy to pack-up.

Alphabet Game

If your kid is starting to get the hang of letter sounds, try saying a bunch of words that all start with the same letter, and they can tell you what it is. They’ll get a sense of achievement, and they can try to group words too and have you do the guessing.

A Magnetic Construction Site

Vehicle-lovers who are feeling sad about leaving their dump truck or excavator in the trunk (because you know they’ll drop them the minute it’s handed to them in the car) will have fun with this magnetic board. The little construction workers are all cute animals, and the magnetic pieces include bulldozers, cranes, wrecking balls, cones, and more. They’ll be able to create a ton of scenes.

What Am I?

This classic guessing game can go on and on for hours. Parents and toddlers can take turns describing what or who they are, and you can vary the difficulty and specificity level based on your child’s ability to deduce. You could start by saying something along the lines of, “I fly in the sky,” then continue giving clues until your toddler guesses a bird or even a specific type of bird. You could do inanimate objects, animals, people you know, characters, and more.

A Drawing Board

Take coloring on-the-go with this doodle board. One side has a gel screen that responds to touch (a good option if they drop the crayons) and another looks like whiteboard and can be used with washable crayons. It’s a good idea to have some extra wipes in the front seat, so you wipe off the crayons when they’re ready to make a new drawing (and you can offer to take a picture of their existing drawing if they’re having a little trouble saying goodbye to it).

A Water Game

This is pretty close to a screen without actually being battery-operated (which means it can mercifully never run out of charge). Kids can use the controls to try to get the little rings onto the spikes, and even if they’re not super successful in that, it’s still fun to press the buttons. This comes with a cute carry case (that doubles as a purse) in either bright pink or yellow.