Thursday, June 13, 2013

Entertaining Kids in the Car--Our Successes (With Links!)

For our family vacation this year, we drove from central Illinois to Orange Beach, Alabama.  We broke up the driving into two days, driving more than halfway the first day and staying in a hotel.  We did the same for the drive home.

Just a few days before we left, I panicked about how I would entertain the kids for two days driving down and two days driving back.  I scoured the internet for ideas and saved lots of great ideas to Pinterest.

View my Pinterest board here.  (Pay no attention to my pins of modest swimsuits for vacation.)

I am happy to report that the driving time went VERY well!  We didn't even use every single thing I had taken for entertainment.

My kids are 3, 5, and 7 years old (for reference in case you want to use these ideas for your kids).

Here's what we did.

Super Successful Ideas:

1.  Shower Caddies Storage

I got the idea here.

Basically, you stick a shower caddy/compartment to the inside of the car window so your child can use it for storage.

I bought two little suction-cup compartments from the bathroom section at Target.  Poor Nolan didn't get one since he sits in the middle (not near a window).  Griffin and Nora loved their little compartments, and I would even do more than one next time (or a larger one).

Griffin used his mostly for food.

Griffin with Jelly Bellies in his window compartment

Nora kept calling hers her "apartment."  She used hers to hold things like paper, pens, markers, etc.

2.  Behavior Clips

I got this idea here and here.

Both of the women from the inspiration blogs made super cute clips using scrapbooking paper and stickers.  However, I didn't get to making our clips until very late the night before we left.  So, I just wrote each child's name on a wooden clothes pin.  I used each child's favorite color.  Does that count as creative?

The clips were up on my visor the whole time.  If a child misbehaved, then I pulled their clip down.  Only children with a clip up got a surprise/treat at the next stop.

I was AMAZED at the power of the clips.  All I had to do was look at a child and point to the clips, and said child straightened up immediately.

There was only one instance of clip-pulling on the drive down, and the clip(s) were earned back through extraordinarily good behavior at dinner that evening.

One child lost a clip on the drive home.  Unfortunately, it was RIGHT before I was about to give them each a surprise, so that child missed out.  The clips wouldn't be effective if I didn't follow through on the consequences.  The clip was earned back before the end of the trip.

This was so effective, I'm trying to figure out how to translate it to everyday life.

And speaking of those little surprises...

3.  Wrapped Surprises

I used a couple things we had on hand, some items from the Target dollar spot, some dollar store toys, and a couple things from Walmart.

I wrapped each item in wrapping paper left over from Christmas (because I had it and because I knew which paper was assigned to which child).  I numbered the gifts on the back.  So there were three gifts labeled #1 (one for each child), three #2, and so on.

I had seven gifts for each child.  Remember that each one cost about $1 (or even less).

Examples of what I wrapped:  mini whoopie cushions, candy necklaces, activity books, retractable measuring tapes (from the fabric section at Walmart; my kids love to measure stuff), small games.

The seven surprises lasted for both days driving down and both days driving back.  I didn't give them at every single stop.  The anticipation kept the kids in line.  :)  In fact, I gave the kids the seventh gift when we arrived back at home.

I was so pleased with this award system.  I was initially afraid that we'd blow through all the gifts in the first day, but the kids were so busy with all the other entertainment and excitement that they didn't notice my stall tactics.  Plus, what kid is going to complain about getting 1-2 gifts per day?

4.  Travel Pillows

I already told you that I bought travel size pillows at Walmart and made pillow cases for them (read here).  The kids loved them!  They snuggled them in the car and slept on them at the hotels and condo.  We could easily tuck their snuggle blankets into the pillow cases for travel, and each child always knew which pillow was theirs.  Plus the pillow cases could be removed and washed easily.

5.  Numbered DVDs

I previously shared my DVD idea with you.  I bought 22 new DVDs for vacation, put them in a CD book, numbered the pages of the book, and put corresponding numbers in a baggie.  The kids took turns pulling out a number, and they watched that corresponding DVD.  No arguing, no complaining.  It worked like a charm.  

We didn't watch all the DVDs, even though the kids wanted a new one whenever one ended.  It was often just background noise while they were doing other activities in the car.

Speaking of noise, we had headphones for all the kids this year.  They thought the headphones were the best thing ever.  Jared had a pair that Nolan used, and I bought two more pairs at Target.  They are the kind that completely cover the kids' ears, and they are very comfortable to wear.  They even have a volume control as well as an optional add-on cord that limits the maximum volume so the child can't accidentally turn the volume up to a dangerous level.

Mildly Successful Ideas

1.  Window Markers

I got the idea here.

I had to really search, but I found both types of Crayola Window Markers (regular and crystal effects) at Target.  They were a bit of a splurge at $3-4 per box, but I thought they'd be fun.

I wrapped them for Griffin and Nora for one of their surprises.  Nolan got something else that time since he doesn't sit near a window in the car.

Griffin and Nora really enjoyed coloring on the windows.  I just had baby wipes in the car, and we used those to wipe off the windows.  As you can imagine, it didn't exactly leave the windows clean and streak-free.  Oh well.

It was funny because Griffin is left-handed but drew with his right, and Nora is right-handed but drew with her left.

Then Nora dropped the cap to her pink marker, and it was never recovered.  Hers were the crystal markers, and the marker tip crystalized.  Jared used it to draw a mustache on his window, and then we threw it away at the next stop. 

The markers were fun for a bit but didn't last terribly long, which is why I put them in the mildly successful category.

2. Travel Bingo

I printed travel Bingo cards from this website.  I placed all of my printed games (free printables from various websites, see my Pinterest board) in clear page protectors and put them all in a three-ring binder.  When the kids wanted to play a game, I simply pulled it out of the binder--still in the page protector--and gave it to them along with a wet-erase marker.  They used baby wipes to erase the marks so the games could be reused.

The kids played Travel Bingo...sort of.  Griffin and Nora just marked off stuff that they saw.  No one ever tried to get five in a row or anything like that.  Nora also marked things that she had previously seen rather than waiting to spot them after the game started.  

It was fun while it lasted.  It got the kids engaged in watching their surroundings.  I suppose the lack of competition (since they didn't play traditional Bingo) meant that the kids didn't fight at all. 

3. The License Plate Game

This was another game that I printed for free.  I printed ours from this website.  Nolan was the only one who was interested in this game.  I think I was the main person spotting the license plates, and Nolan enjoyed finding them on the game sheet and crossing them off.  This game will be more fun in another year or two when the kids are a little older.

For Mom & Dad

I printed this questionnaire from this post on The Dating Divas.  The questionnaire has 50 questions for a couple to ask each other.  While our kids were all watching a DVD in the back seat (with their headphones so it was quiet for us!), I pulled out the questionnaire to entertain Jared and me.  It was super fun.  We didn't try to guess each other's answers and keep score of correct guesses; we just took turns answering each question.  It entertained us for quite a while, and it sparked more conversation between us. 

Additional resources

Looking for more ideas?  Try these:

"Would you rather?" Questions for Kids
50 Road Trip Ideas for Kids
Bubble Wrap Travel Game
Car Travel Games for Kids (Preschool Age & Up)
6 Road Trip Games for Kids
Road Trip Survival Tips
Printable Family Conversation Cards
10 Ways to Keep Kids Happy in the Car

How about a few more pictures from our travels?  Sure thing.

Griffin playing iPod and sitting with his legs crossed

The boys holding hands and running toward the car after a stop at a rest area

Griffin and Nora shared a bed at the first hotel.  They were so soft and snuggly!

We let the kids watch Disney on the iPad while we packed up in the hotel room.

Nora put all of her pretzel rings on her fingers, cracked up, and then ate them off.

Griffin tried to fight sleep in the car.  Sleep won.
Nora's goofiness took over and she made Nolan smell her foot.

Candy necklaces and bracelets

Nora eating her candy bracelet and necklace

I gave Nora a stamp and princess notepad.  She stamped her entire body.

Everyone eventually gives in to the lull of driving long distances.



  1. This is A-W-E-S-O-M-E!!!!!!! We are driving to Gulf Shores in July & you better believe that I will be pouring over this post in the weeks leading up to it!!!! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the clothespin idea!!!! Thanks for this resource!!!!!!

  2. So glad you found some things that work! I love that you and Jared found yourselves with quiet time in the car. Jason and I love road trips for many reasons, but being in the car for long periods of time gives you opportunities to talk a lot. Jaxon loved the pictures of the kids coloring on the windows, guess I'll be picking some of those window markers up for our next road trip.