Even if you’re making a trip you’ve made a hundred times before, kids in this age group still need a diversion to pass the time. Give them a map and a highlighter, and have them follow the route you take. Or create your own scavenger hunt, challenging young passengers to spot license plates identifying as many states as possible. For an educational boost, Kids’ Road Atlas (ages 6-12) from Rand McNally is a colorful U.S. atlas offering a kid-friendly map, state symbols and games that describe each state’s history, geography or folklore. Young travelers learn how to read a map by using a legend, scale and coordinates.
For the budding young artist, bring along a sketch pad and lots of pencils. If you want to get a little fancier, a laptop coloring desk is a great way for kids to keep occupied and make postcards to send to friends and family. Alex Toys makes a Car Valet with plenty of storage pouches and adjustable straps that attach around the car headrest.
Storytelling is a perennial favorite among children this age. I’ll never forget my mother’s tale — she’d add chapter after chapter — of Timmy the Gorilla, a mischievous character who had all sorts of adventures with his cousin Stanley. You might try telling a story of your own and have each family member take a turn. You may be surprised at how inventive — and outrageous — your children can be.
Certain word games are perfect for the car. Try the classic 20 Questions: You think of a person or object, and your opponent(s) asks you 20 yes-or-no questions to try to figure out who or what you’re thinking of. Then there’s the Memory Game “I’m going to the World’s Fair, and in my trunk I packed …” Players take turns adding a new item to the list. Beginning with A, the first letter of each new item must start with the next letter of the alphabet.
If you can’t remember all the word games you played as a kid, Great American Puzzle Factory’s A Box of Silly Word Games (ages 8 and up) is your answer. The cleverly designed cube box holds cards with 25 word games that can be played using only a pencil, paper, die and sand timer.
Self-contained travel activities are also passenger pleasers. A fun game for little hands is Tiny Tins: Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! (Patch Products, ages 5-7). Kids draw cards and collect as many colorful finger-puppet bugs as they can. If your survival depends on packing a hand-held electronic game, add an educational element with LeapFrog’s Turbo Twist Brain Quest (ages 5-11). Choose one of four mind-challenging game modes, twist to select an answer and see how you stack up. Difficulty levels adjust automatically.
You can’t go wrong by packing a deck of cards. Popular games like War, Rummy or Go Fish can keep kids busy for hours. For a new twist on cards, try Ten Awesome Card Tricks (Troll Publishing, ages 8-10). Clear instructions and illustrations show every step, and the tricks work flawlessly — with a little practice, of course.