Car Activities for Toddlers
Guest post by Karen Archibald
The best road trip or car activities for toddlers are simple and mess-free. Included here are lots of easy road trip activities for long car journeys.
Let’s set the scene. You are watching day time television when an advert for an incredible toddler attraction or activity appears on your screen. Wow – you think to yourself… We must make a visit there! You reach out for your phone and punch the postcode into Google Maps, only to find it a 2 and a half hour drive away.
You peruse the room and see your mini me terrorising the living room and flitting from toy to toy whilst pulling on the cat’s tail in between. Could we do it? Could we manage to take our lovely, little toddler for a two and a half hour car journey without numerous stops/tantrums and actually entertain them as well?
Long gone are the loud sing-a-long journeys or using that time for a little snooze in the passenger seat but here are some ideas to help to persevere to provide your child with those magical memories of a life-time!
Easy Road Trip Activities
I have compiled a list of cheap and easy car activities for toddlers below which could help to entertain and may even make that road trip fun for all involved! (For longer road trips with kids, here are some great tips!)
Sometimes we’ve made simple DIY busy bags and created our own activities. Some of these are shown on my Instagram Flying With A Baby Travel Toys highlights page
Other times we’ve purchased fun toddler travel toys.
Bonus tip: If you are in the USA download the iExit app so you can easily plan for kid friendly food and other stops along the way.
Of course we have tablets and phones which we could easily load up with activities and games for car rides, or we could pop a DVD in that handy portable DVD player that you panic bought after the last road trip.
This may work for a little while but there’s only so much screen time which can occupy a toddler who wants to be active and on the move so I have tried to think of some fun things to do on road trips and some interactive car games for toddlers.
Firstly, what do kids actually do on a family road trip? They look out of the window and usually attempt to annoy each other if they have siblings or become bored when they’re alone. The first way to solve this problem is by playing good old-fashioned games which will start our toddler road trip ideas.
Road Trip Activities For Toddlers
An oldie but goodie! This fun game to play in the car can keep even the littlest people interested, with the use of colours or something of their interest to keep them going!
It can be changed to suit toddlers by using an i-spy bag which entails filling a sealed bag with random toys/images which each person takes in turn to describe to the rest of the car and they attempt to guess what this mystery object is.
This bag can also be used as a solo game and can be given to a toddler as a stimulus of things to look for out of the window. Multi-use activities and resources are always a win in my book!
The Counting Game
The name says it all. Count everything and anything! Toddler car activities like these are not only occupying but also a perfect learning opportunity too to help get those little brains ticking!
Road Trip Bingo
A quick Google search for ‘bingo toddler road trip ideas’ will easily bring you up a set of bingo cards with images commonly seen on road trips – print these out prior to your journey and away you go.
The first person to see everything on their card earns an extra snack… we will get to that fun in a bit!
Noughts and Crosses
A great car activity for pre-schoolers to practise their mark making (it doesn’t need to be a nought or a cross) and a great game for you to play with your toddler or for an older sibling to co-ordinate in the nearby seat.
Need an activity for 3 year olds but want to make sure they are learning? A great game and one of my favourite car activities for preschoolers to help with sound and letter recognition – even if you need to give them a hand.
In My Bag I Packed…
A simple memory game but great to add a little competition which is easily accessible for all participants on the road trip by listing something you would pack in a bag you take on holiday or vacation and then repeating this but inserting your own addition afterwards.
You can incorporate some challenge by using the alphabet to list objects. A perfect travel activity for kids as it can help you all to remember those last few bits that you might have forgotten to pack!
Can you answer the questions without saying yes or no? A clever game for car rides but may need a little help for toddlers to join in initially!
After these games become hard to continue or as your toddler becomes inevitably restless, it’s time to think of some alternative plans.
Is there anything more exciting to a toddler than a surplus of snacks?! Now we can all pack lots of goodies and fill our children with E numbers but wrapping these in tin foil or unveiling a snack after certain time periods can add extra excitement for all involved and extend the time it takes for your toddler to inhale said food.
Top tip: pick snacks with as little crumbs or mess to save the back of your car from complete devastation. Cereal necklaces are an amazing way to do this – thread some of your child’s favourite circular cereal pieces onto some string and they have less potential for being thrown or dropped and it takes the ravenous little ones extra time to eat them!
Remember those toys at the bottom of the toy box which were left forgotten and unloved? Use the tin foil trick and wrap them up as a ‘special treat’ – this can save money and add excitement of a new gift! You can also pop these in plastic eggs (like those you find covered in chocolate) which can then be reused and played with too.
Speaking of toys; little cars, animals or toys which can be used in various contexts for different games with the parts of the car accessible to the toddler (arm rest, window, car seat) are best to help prolong the play.
Stacking cups are multi-use and as long as you can stand the noise, can be used as instruments, to fill with other toys and obviously… to stack! I particularly liked this bath set from Munchkin. (affiliate link) which is neatly stacked for packing and ideal for in and out of water. We found these cups were great to play with in a bath or a pool at the destination too.
Continuing from their life as babies, toddlers are very ego-centric and love to look at themselves in a mirror. Give them a mirror and encourage some vanity with this simple resource and enjoy the noises which accompany the silly faces they will pull! You can buy some which hang over the passenger seat in front if you don’t want to be constantly leaning over and picking it up.
With the confined space in the back of a car, moving toys are often a tricky one but a slinky loves to slink and move off various surfaces and is big enough for little hands to catch and manipulate with ease.
I’m sure, as mine is, your fridge is covered in magnets holding up your toddler’s masterpieces! Nab a few and a baking tray and you have a magnetic surface to use. Magnetic letters are even more useful if your child can identify letters/sounds and can be incorporated into lots of different games.
Finally, take a look around the house for anything such as wooden lacing boards/cards or puzzles with few pieces which can be taken from the living room into the back of the car.
Rotating any toys you use stops your toddler from getting bored too quickly and always allows you to have repertoire of resources to help stop the: ‘I’m bored!’ comments.
If you have a younger toddler or one who enjoys sensory play; creating an activity mat covered in buttons, different materials and things for them to flick, twist, scrunch and tap can be great. Although time consuming to create, this can be something to keep until your little one gets older.
Sandwich bags filled with slime (the new craze and a great way to ‘allow’ your child to play with it) and little plastic toys, lets toddlers squidge and squeeze with their exploratory hands… just make sure there is no way for the liquid to leak out!
Travelling at night? What about some glow sticks to keep your little ones hands engaged – they’re bendy and they light up, what more could you need?!
For me, books are a fail safe for every occasion. Those brightly coloured pictures can take your toddler on an imaginary adventure and create lots of discussion too.
You may well have an older sibling who will read to your toddler or flap books such as Julia Donaldson ‘Lift the Flap’ series. Fox’s Socks, Hide and Seek Pig etc. or books with texture can help to make this a quiet, solo activity for your little one too. An audio book could also be great if all passengers don’t mind listening to toddler-friendly stories.
Colouring books are often overlooked but can be great but the need for a variety of colours can be a little bit of an issue.
Melissa and Doug do a great range of books which use a pen filled with water to colour in the pictures on each page called Melissa & Doug Water WOW.(affiliate link) These are mess free and unlimited colouring!
They also have reusable sticker books which is a parents’ saviour as no need for reams of stickers which end up in places you didn’t think possible.
Another alternative to stickers are gel window stickers (affiliate link) or gel clings. These are reusable, mess free and very handy if you have a window seat on a plane, or even for road trips in a car or coach.
Audio books with favourite nursery rhymes and stories can help while away a long journey. Be warned, the tunes will stick in your head!
Paper, pencils, post-it notes
Toddlers are a source of imaginative, creative and wacky ideas so let them loose. They can draw, mark make, rip, scrunch, make, do and play with these alongside any of the above activities and toys to add a new and exciting development. Add in some stickers and you’re definitely winning.
As a final word on car activities with toddlers, all I can say is… Good luck! Do let me know if these toddler road trip ideas have helped or if you have any more road trip activities for kids to add to this list!
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