Five Screenless Car Activities for Kids

Five Screenless Car Activities for Kids

Bethany Johnson headshotPosted by Bethany Johnson, guest blogger

Most people I know are hitting the road this summer, both for quick day outings and those long, memorable family vacations. Road trips are some of the best memories a kid can have, but for parents, being cooped up with them for long stretches can be tiring.

keep kids busy on long car ridesIf your kids are anything like mine, their attention is all over the place. Still, I prefer not to hand them a tablet or smartphone for entertainment. Instead, I bring a few “screenless” activities for kids every time we load up.

Parents should be proactive so their young ones don’t come up with their own mental challenge, which usually means picking on one another or seeing what they can “get away with.” Here are five games that can turn trouble into learning without a TV or mobile device.

Classic Bingo – But For Travel!

Although it’s tempting to break out the toys right away, I prefer starting with a game the whole family can participate in. Before leaving home, print a sample doc for each player. My son’s favorite bingo squares are the ones with trucks and earth-moving machines. My preschooler is just learning letters, so her favorite bingo card is one with simple road signs.

car bingo activities for kidsYou can customize your bingo game to include all kinds of things kids see on the road.

alphabet game for car ridesTo play, everyone receives an individualized bingo card. Then, when someone spots an item outside of the vehicle that’s on his sheet, he or she says it aloud so everyone can identify the sign or item, and verify the find. The first player to mark off enough squares on their sheet to make a 5-in-a-row run, wins!

Upcycled ‘Eye Spy’ Bottle

Of all my favorite activities for kids, I love this one, because the kids can help to make it days in advance of the trip. And when a child contributes to the preparation of a game, he or she is much more likely to enjoy playing it.


  • A recycled water bottle
  • Birdseed or rainbow rice
  • A handful of hodgepodge-shaped noodles
  • Paper clips
  • Googely eyes or craft pompoms
  • A few marbles
  • Clothes pins
  • Pennies
  • Barbie shoes
  • Cheerios

Encourage random little additions they may find also fit into a water bottle, and make a list of each item. To assemble, let your little spies collect everything on the list from around the house. Using a funnel, help them fill the bottle with all these little treasures and mix them together. Use super glue when screwing on the cap so you can be sure none of it turns up beneath a car seat next month!

Once on the road, hand your kids the list you made of each item that went inside. They’ll enjoy turning the bottle to find each one.

Lacing Activities

This activity is quiet, and it lets us adults talk uninterrupted. Lacing cards are inexpensive, but if you’re feeling crafty, save money and make a few yourself.

lacing activityBecause threading a string through tiny holes goes just beyond the abilities of a toddler, lacing is a winning activity that helps develop focus and fine motor skills. Add with the unpredictable bumps and turns on the road, your little one will be lacing for what may seem like hours.

Magnetic Puzzle

One of my kids loves puzzles, so I put together a “travel puzzle” just for her. With three supplies and a few minutes, you can do the same.

What you’ll need:

  • A full-sized recycled cookie sheet
  • A favorite children’s puzzle (roughly 26″ by 18″)

Before your trip, have your brainy child peel back the paper from each magnetic dot and stick it to the back of a puzzle piece until all the pieces are magnetized. Puzzle pieces can be stored in a zipper bag until your trip, and the cookie sheet can fit in the back pouch of most driver and passenger seats.

Music on Wheels

Because our house is usually full of music, it should be no surprise that our car is, too. Not all games need visuals; to connect in this way, crank upbeat tunes and see who can keep time by clapping along.

child listening to musicWant to relax in silence? Offer headphones and the ability for your little ones to control which track is played next. Just remember to set the “max volume” control on your device before handing it over to young listeners.

listening to musicWhat car-friendly educational games do you swap for screen time? Share what you’ve learned in the comments below or tweet your ideas to @TomsofMaine.

Image sources: Bethany Johnson

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.