I don’t know about you, but when I hear the words, road trip, I picture a convertible, newlyweds, a winding road and a beautiful sunset.
However, simply tack on the words, “with kids” and I get get a startlingly different picture. I hear the long grown of frustration that my kid exclaims when we hour four in the car and trying to exit the Brooklyn-Queens-Expressway.
It doesn’t have to be that bad though….
With enough planning, the car ride (or bus ride, train ride, etc) is an essential part of the experience of adventuring for kids. The car can be a place of laughter, sharing and good old-fashioned family bonding.
Unlike a road trip you might have done pre-kids, the family road trip really requires a concentrated amount of preparation. Obviously, snacks, hydration, pee-breaks, the odd plastic bag in the back seat to hold who-knows-what…all ought to be accounted for.
Once you have all these essentials figured out, spend a little time planning your play! It will make the journey so much more fun and cut down on the times you hear, “are we there yet?”
Here are tips for ways to tell stories and learn more about your with your kids. Additionally, you can even sneak in those executive function skills like working memory and turn-taking as you play these games. True to the spirit of Child’s Play NY: “Acting on Imagination”, none of this requires you to buy anything or take out a screen. They are based on the creative work we do in our drama classrooms and rehearsals!
Road Trip Games That Help Kids Tell Stories
I love playing the game Story Sound on a road trip. First, I used it as a playful vocal warm-up in class and a way to help kids build stories. That said, it translates wonderfully into a car game! This weekend, we road-tested and it had us all laughing so hard!
Here’s how you play:
- Make up a story – one element at a time.
- For each new phase of the story, add in a sound.
- Take away the narration and just tell that story using sounds.
Tips for play:
- Keep the story really simple, that way the emphasis can be on the sounds. For example, one character has a problem, meets another character who helps her solve that problem.
- I especially find that starting with the animal kingdom makes this all easier. Animals inherently make distinctive sounds and allow you to build from classic stories.
- As far as the story goes, you can build it using story clap or just take turns with one person telling the story and the others making the sounds. Add in an element of conflict or “drama” to liven up the narrative. Find some sort of resolution.
- First you make up the story and then ask your child to contribute the sounds, and then you can switch. Ask your child to tell the story while you add in the sounds.
- Challenge yourself by starting with a 3-part-story and then as you master the memory component of this, add in more elements and more sounds to memorize. Build up to 10 sounds or more!
- Eventually, if you have more than one kid in the back seat, take yourself out of the equation, and (ideally!) the kids will be telling the story and making their sounds together.
- Make a voice memo of your favorite stories so that when you finally are done with the road trip, kids can listen back to the story and act it out, add onto it, or illustrate it!
- FUN VARIATION (if you have a couple passengers in that backseat!): Player 1 whispers the story elements to Player 2. Player 2 makes the sounds. Player 3 guesses the story!
By creating cool stories and being creative, you are teaching kids to take risks and make something from nothing!
Sound Story is a great game to help kids “find their voice” – both creatively speaking and literally. Read this for more tips on ways to use play to help kids find their voice.
Through this game you are strengthening core executive function skills, for example: working memory, and turn-taking.
Finally, remember: There is no right way to play. By encouraging their own imaginative impulses (and sounds) they are working on thinking creatively and improvisationally in a positive environment. Come up with your own variations and let me know how it goes!
Road Trip Games To Connect with Your Kids
Hometown News Reporter
On your way home from your road trip adventure, pretend you are a news anchor from your own hometown. Come up with interview questions for your gallivanting kiddos about where they’ve been and what they’ve seen. Sometimes just taking on a simple other character (like a newscaster or podcaster), does wonders for opening up conversation. Here are some sample interview questions:
“Hello, Brooklyn! We are reporting live from Backseat Adventurers, where our merry band of travelling kids has just seen _______” (insert details from wherever you just were!).
Our viewers at home want to know: What was the most exciting thing about this trip?
- What advice would you offer to other kids hoping to do this same excursion?
- How does this compare to other experiences that the Backseat Adventurers have taken?
- What unexpected challenges did you encounter on the road?
- If you could summarize this trip in one word, what would it be?
- Keep the questions open-ended.
- Branding is everything. For instance, calling your kids the “Backseat Adventurers” (or any other kind of name that they want to come up with), puts a cool label on who they are and what they are about.
- Ultimately, this character helps you too to channel your own neutrality, just like a journalist. Since you have a non-judgemental role, kids may be more inclined to open up.
Road Trip Games to Work Memory
Memory is like a muscle: the more you work it the stronger it gets. For example, games can help kids as they work on recalling details from their day or curriculum for school. Whether they need to remember the titles of shapes, presidents, geography or a multiplication fact-family, building a strong memory – through play – will invariably support their academics.
Going on a Picnic
The classic game, “Going on a Picnic” is a great way to practice this core Executive Function skill and also have fun on your road trip.
- One person starts by using this phrase and contributing something that starts with the letter A, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring an a______”
- The next person says, I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring an a_______ and a b_______.
- The game ends when you get all the way to Z!
Change it up:
- Instead of “Picnic” say the place you are going to (or coming from).
- You can keep it open to something you would bring on a trip, or narrow the options by only saying food
- Play non-competitively where if a player is stuck they can ask for a “life-line” from another player who might remember the next item. Since it isn’t fun to have hurt feelings in a long car ride, really make an effort to tailor the game to the age of each player!
Road Trip Games to Be Silly
Some of the best ways to pass the time are through music and when kids can create their own lyrics, so much the better.
Here are some of my favorites for this!
Watch this video to see how we play it!
Name Game (Banana-Fana)
Here’s how this one goes:
Nate, Nate, bo-Bate
Banana Fana Fo Fate
Me My Mo Mate
Play around with recalling…
- all the names of the kids in your child’s class,
- Everyone that you will see (or did see) on your road trip!
- Kids can make up their own knock knock jokes. I like to get inspired by the National Geographic “Just Joking” series – and then see if I can make up our own word-play from there.
- “What did the ____ say to the ____?” – is also a great template for some wacky fun!
- While these jokes may not even make much sense (depending on the age of your kids, especially), sometimes the humor comes from the attempt.
- You can record your favorite jokes and hone them for a night of family stand-up once you get to your destination!
Road Trip Games to Help Process Feelings
Taxi is an awesome way to help kids strengthen their social-emotional skills, but it is also so fun to play in an actual car. Skip the part about physically getting in the taxi, and just go right for the character speaking to the driver. Your kids can work on different characters that they love from books or shows, and imagine where they need to get to and why!
Roses, Thorns and Buds
While this isn’t so much a game, is a great structure to jump off and talk about feelings. The Obamas famously played this around their dinner table.
- Rose is something that fills you with joy.
- Thorn is something that was a tough moment or something you could improve
- Bud is something that you are looking forward to.
You can use this to speak directly about memories from your road trip! Model how this would look and your effort to share and be personal with your children will help inspire them to open up with you as well.
If you haven’t already, check out my Car Games article from last summer! It is also chock-full of games that you can play in the car.
Please let me know what you love to play on your road trip – and happy travels!
Thanks for watching and playing!