Long car journeys have always been boring for children. But in the modern world they can spend the time glued to their phones and tablets, passing the drive with much less fuss than their parents did when they were kids.
But aren’t they missing out? Being stuck in a traffic jam or on the motorway for hours on end is never exciting, but there’s a whole world passing by the window. If the kids are occupied only by their screens, they’re not taking in their surroundings.
Keeping their children engaged with the world beyond the screen is an ever-increasing challenge for parents, and when there’s a boring car journey to contend with it can sometimes seem like an impossible task.
But it’s an important one. Those little screens can help a lot when it comes to your children’s learning but they can also be limiting.
So here’s a quick guide to some games designed to test their powers of observation and encourage them to take a look around. Some of them involve drawing up or printing off resources beforehand – bingo cards, for example, or scoresheets – but they’re all simple, dominated by what’s happening outside the car, and a lot of fun.
Six games to play in the car
The ultimate car journey observation game. Pick 16 things or places for the kids to see from the car, create a bingo card, and let them breeze through the journey hunting for a full house. Sheep, pubs, buses, Birmingham – the only limits are your imagination and the route you plan to take.
As an alternative, why not consider filling your bingo cards with 16 models of car for your kids to find?
A great game for kids with a keen eye for detail. There are loads of games involving the number plates of other vehicles on the road, and this is one of the simplest.
The challenge is to spot registration plates from one year at a time. Start with 01, then 51, then 02 and 52, and so on – right up to the very newest vehicles. Slow start? Begin at the end and work backwards!
If your kids are a little younger, a great alternative might be to work through the alphabet using the first letters of place names on road signs.
Building the farm
A top task for competitive families. Give your kids the duration of the journey to build an imaginary farm. The winner is the farmer with the most animals when you finally reach your destination.
To claim the animals, they simply shout out before the other farmers when they see them at the side of the road, then write them down.
But don’t worry – they won’t be building enormous agri-empires in the back of the car. One flock of sheep or one herd of cows in the real world only equates to one sheep or one cow in the imaginary farm.
The value of scarcity. This game helps to keep the kids’ attention by asking them to compete for scores by spotting a colour that doesn’t pop up very often even on long journeys: orange.
For every orange vehicle or orange part of a vehicle they spot before the other players, points are scored. You can make things even fruitier by creating a scoring system to reward the players who spot certain types of vehicle.
Maybe the biggest vehicles or the ones with the most wheels get the highest scores, for example. Or perhaps cars get the most points because there are more supermarket vans and lorries on the road than orange cars...
First to ten
Fast, simple and as competitive as it gets. Pick a colour and sit back while the kids fall over themselves to shout out when they see vehicles of that colour on the road. The first to spot ten gets a point, and then you can do it all over again with a different shade.
The old classic. Start by taking the lead and challenging your back-seat passengers to guess what you’ve spied, then give them ownership and relax.
Of course, making sure your children are taking in their surroundings is only part of what makes for a fulfilling car journey. By inspiring them to come up some car games of their own, you can help them to cultivate their creativity, give them a reason to think outside the box, and stop them from getting bored without needing to just switch on a screen.