These days we all have smartphones or tablets to keep us entertained on the road, even the kids. But instead of just distracting them with bright digital colors and moving objects, why not encourage them to take in the actual colors and objects passing by right outside the windows. These games may seem quaint in the 21st century, but many are education and help build situational awareness or critical thinking skills.
Here are ten time-tested games to play with your kids while over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house you go for the holidays.
- Cows on My Side - This is an easy game to play if you have a couple of kids in the car, or the parents can play too. Contestants look out the window and try to be the first to spot cows on the side of the road. When you see cows you call out “Cows on my side!” and score a point for being the first. You can also call out cows on the other side of the car, which mean you not only win a point but the other person loses one. The first person to see a cemetery can call out “ghost cow!” and steal all the points from the other side.
- Alphabet Game - One of the all-time classics, this game can be played many different ways. The goal is to find a word that begins with each letter of the alphabet in the world you are driving through (no fair using license plates) starting with “A” and working alphabetically. You can score by keeping track of who finds more letters, or work independently and see who finds all of them first.
- Punch Buggy - This game had become all but impossible to play, but then VW came out with the New Beetle. When you see a Volkswagen bug you call out “Punch buggy!” and the color, and you get to punch another passenger in the arm or leg for good measure. Obviously, they can’t score the same bug you just spotted. See who can spot the most bugs, of any generation, in a given time period.
- Name That Tune - This is one of the few old games that has gotten better thanks to technology. Choose a music source: Radio, iPod, Pandora, YouTube, etc. Hit shuffle, or seek, or random. The first person to correctly identify the song gets a point. If you have multiple iPods, make it fair by changing up whose machine gets shuffled every few songs.
- License Plate Poker - This one is best if the kids already know the ranking of poker hands. When the hand starts, everyone tries to spot the best poker hand on a plate within view in a given amount of time. You can play by the honor system, snap a cell phone picture, or call it out for verification when you see it. A pair of ones would be the lowest hand, with zeros being the highest numerically, then the letters A to Z. There are no flushes, but you can have a straight. For example, 7V0738 would count as a pair of sevens, 21M2373 would be two pairs.
- Road Trip Bingo - This one requires a little bit of preparation, but like most things these days, there is an app for that. This game requires you to look out the window and spot things in the surrounding countryside. There are numerous apps for Apple or Android products to generate a random scorecard full of items to look for and mark them off on. The first person to score a row, column, or diagonal is the winner. Make sure everyone is using the same app because some of them use items that are easier to spot.
- I-Spy - “I spy with my little eye, something that begins with the letter…” What makes this game fun is the challenge of spotting something unusual as you roll along. Of course, you have to be honest. No fair having your siblings and parents ask 20 yes or no questions, only to have you lie and say you spied a llama in New England.
- Geography Fact or Fiction - This can be a fun game if you know a little history and geography of the area you are traveling through. As you drive, one person will state a “fact” about a town, bridge, river, church, etc. you are passing, and the rest of the car has to determine if it is true or not. Everyone else gets to ask a question about the fact, so you can make up elaborate fake stories, or baffle them with actual history. There are no winners or losers in this game.
- Padiddle - A padiddle (Pronounced to sound kind of like Bo Diddley, without the Y at the end) is a car with just one headlight lit. Obviously, this game is best played at night or in bad weather. You just try to spot the most vehicles driving with a blown out headlight bulb. You score a point for everyone you spot, but if you call “padiddle!” and it turns out to be a motorcycle you lose a point.
- License Plate Game - This is the old standby, you try to be the first person to spot a plate from each state, and even Mexican and Canadian states and provinces. You can play elimination style, where each state can only be spotted once, and whoever gets the most wins. Or you can play where each player has to spot a plate from each state. Call out the state as you spot it so other passengers can confirm your find.