1. Counting Cows
One person keeps time in this family car game. Another person calls out a subject such as cows, sheep, red cars, white trucks, and so on. Each player tries to count as many of that thing as they can before time runs out. If your little one can’t count well yet, show them how to keep track using their fingers.
2. Color Contest
Name a color and challenge your kids to spot objects that you pass (signs, buildings, other cars, people’s clothes) in that hue. Start with more obvious colors like red and white before working up to less common ones like purple.
If you have children of multiple ages in the car, have the littles try to spot just one thing, while older kids have to find three or even five.
This simple car game will quickly have everyone giggling. Assign one person as the “leader” and everyone else a “copycat.” The copycats have to mimic everything the leader does for a certain amount of time – say one minute – and when the timer goes off, a new leader is chosen. (Unfortunately, the driver doesn’t get to participate in this game.)
4. I Spy
Take turns picking an object either in the car or along the road with this classic boredom-busting car game. Then give others a clue such as, “I spy with my little eye… something big and red.” Give more clues until someone guesses what it is.
5. Find a…
Another variation of “I Spy,” this question-and-answer car game is easy to play with the youngest children because they can point as well as answer verbally. One player says, “Find a… ,” and the other players look for it. Things to look for: Cows of course, as well as birds, horses, big trucks, tractors, police cars, or fire trucks. Pictures on billboards count.
6. Go “Slow”
Scan road signs and see who can find the word “slow” first. Then see who can find the most in a certain amount of time – say, 10 minutes. Make it even more fun by letting the winner pick where you’ll stop for lunch (or offer some other reward if the thought of letting your 5-year-old choose a lunch spot isn’t appealing!).
7. Name That Tune
If you have school-aged children who have started listening to music on their own, they’ll love the chance to show off their musical knowledge. Take turns testing each other by playing a short – three- to four-second – portion of a favorite song and seeing who can name the tune first. (Since it’s too distracting for the driver, you’ll need another adult or older kid to play DJ.)
To extend this car game, add additional challenges: Can they tell the difference between Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez? Do they know the name of the song along with the artist? How many songs do you have to go through before everyone gets three correct answers?
Advertisement | page continues below
8. Continue the Lyrics
For another variation of “Name That Tune,” play a familiar song and stop the music when no one is expecting it. Who can provide the words to the rest of the line or, better yet, sing the next line too?
9. Animal Antics
In this fun car game, each person takes a turn making an animal sound, while everyone else tries to guess which animal it is. With the youngest kids, it works best to start out making the sounds yourself and having them guess. Once they get the hang of it, let them try making the sounds for you to guess.
10. Tall Tales
The rules are fairly simple: One player starts telling a story, talking for a minute and stopping when they’ve been talking for 60 seconds. Then the next person picks up where the story left off. The game continues in this manner, with the tale twisting and turning with each speaker. The game is over when one player decides to give the story an ending. One benefit of this car game is that the driver can easily participate, too!
Similar to Tall Tales, above, this car game helps nurture your kids’ imaginations with a prompt for open-ended storytime. Announce a word or general theme to inspire the stories (keep it simple, like “beach,” or “koala”) and set a timer for five minutes. Each player takes a turn spinning a story entirely from their imagination using the prompt.
12. Stop on Red, Go on Green
This car game is a great way to make the most of time spent at stoplights. Using the timer app on your phone, designate someone the official timer. Each time the car stops, everyone calls out how many seconds they think it will be before the light turns green and the car starts moving again, with the timer determining who made the best guess. Whoever has the closest guess is the winner for that round.
13. Alphabet Objects
Starting at the beginning of the alphabet, tell kids to look for items they see outside or inside the car that begin with each letter. For example, if they’re on the letter A, suggest that kids look for an arrow-shaped sign or license plates from states like Alabama or Arkansas. After everyone has found an “A” item, players can start looking for “B” objects, and so on until they get to the end of the alphabet. If you want to make this car game more of a competition, the winner is the first person to get all the way to Z.
You can also play this game by looking for the actual letter on signs or license plates, rather than objects that start with the letter.
14. Name That Animal
One player thinks of an animal. The other tries to guess which animal it is by asking no more than 10 “yes” or “no” questions. If they guess correctly in 10 questions or fewer, that player gets to think of the next animal. If not, the first player reveals the answer and then thinks of another animal. The game is over when no one wants to play anymore.
You can easily customize this game for younger and older kids when choosing an animal. For example, older kids may find animals such as cats and dogs too easy to guess and enjoy the challenge of harder choices, like wallabies and yaks. But younger kids may recognize only the most basic options, such as lions, tigers, and bears.
15. Two Truths and a Lie
This is an ideal activity for school-aged children who are starting to understand lying – and the difference between fantasy and reality. The first player says three statements about themselves out loud (for example, “My favorite color is blue,” “My best friend at school is named Sarah,” and “I’ve never been to the zoo,”). Two of the statements are true, and one is a lie. The other players need to guess which is the lie. Whoever guesses correctly takes the next turn.
As a bonus, this car game is a fun way for family members to learn more about each other – it may even lead to some interesting conversations!
16. Silly Stories
For a slightly different version of “Two Truths and a Lie,” tell your child a true story about something in your life – how you met their mom or dad or how Grandma taught you to swim. As you tell it, sneak in a few “whoppers” along with the facts (“… and then the shark came along and nibbled Grandma’s toe!”). At the end, ask your child to guess which parts were untrue.
17. Rock, Paper, Scissors
You probably already know the rules for this classic game. Two players face off against each other by chanting “Rock, papers, scissors… go!” Rock (a closed fist) beats scissors (two fingers), which beats paper (an open palm), which in turn beats rock.
To incorporate additional players, make it a tournament: the first two people play three rounds, and the winner goes on to play the third person. (Of course, the driver’s excluded from this game.)
18. Born Yesterday
Fans of the TV show “Bluey” will be familiar with this silly game, and it’s an easy one to play in the car. One person pretends that they were “born yesterday” and everyone else takes turns explaining how the world works to them (for example, Why do we drive cars? What are shoes for? Why do we eat certain foods for breakfast?).
19. Find All 50 States
Challenge your school-aged kids who are starting to learn about geography to spot license plates from as many U.S. states as they can. (If you have a small notepad in the car, write the states down as they’re spotted to make it easy to keep track.)
Unless you’re on a long, cross-country road trip, it’s unlikely that you’ll find all 50 states, so you can suggest a time limit to end the game. After 30 minutes, whoever has spotted the most states is the winner.
20. I Went to the Grocery Store…
Memory games are particularly fun for older children, and they’re one of the easiest types of games to play in the car, too. These activities help strengthen kids’ ability to retain key concepts, a useful skill for school.
Start this game with the prompt “I went to the grocery store and I bought…” and list one item, such as “apples.” The next player repeats what the first player bought and adds a second item, such as: “I went to the grocery store and I bought… apples and a loaf of bread.” Continue around the car with each player adding on another item. The game ends when someone can’t remember something that was “purchased” or says the list incorrectly.
21. A Ship Came Into the Harbor
The first player starts out by saying “A ship came into the harbor carrying…” and declares a category, such as “types of fruit.” Each player then takes a turn listing types of fruit that would appear on the ship (“bananas,” “mangoes,” “papayas”). The round ends when someone can’t think of a new fruit to add or accidentally repeats one that has been said.
Make the game easier or harder depending on your children’s ages and interests. For younger kids, go basic (types of fruit, types of vegetables, farm animals, songs) but you can make the categories more challenging for older children (countries around the world that have four letters, Beatles songs, U.S. presidents).
22. High and Low
Although this car game doesn’t produce a winner, it’s a nice way for the whole family to reflect on a shared experience and debrief together, especially after a vacation. Each person takes turns saying their favorite (high) and least favorite (low) thing about the trip. For example, “My high was when we went on the carousel, and my low was when we got stuck in traffic on the way home.”
23. The Quiet Game
Okay, this one is less a game and more an attempt to get a little bit of calm. Challenge everyone in the car to be silent for as long as possible. Whoever stays quiet the longest wins and gets to pick the next game.
24. Stretch Time
If you’ve been driving for a long time and have gone through all of the car games on this list, consider pulling over at the next rest stop for a quick reset. Try some of these activities to let your little ones burn off excess energy:
- Hop three times on one foot, then three times on the other.
- Sprint back and forth three times between adults.
- Do jumping jacks for one minute.
- Pretend to jump rope for one minute.
- Skip back and forth to the water fountain.