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Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

By Chrysta Naron

It’s that time of year. We’re packing our suitcases, putting on the sunscreen, and eating Goldfish crackers aplenty! But all that time in cars or planes can be tedious for little ones, so how do you keep them occupied? 

Games, of course! Here are a few of my favorite educational road trip games for kids, to keep your children engaged and learning while you travel. All of them are free or cheap, require little to no prep work, and fit into a backpack or purse. Happy trails!

Educational Road Trip Game 1: The Alphabet Game

It’s free and all you need is a keen eye! As you travel, everyone has to keep an eye out for letters of the alphabet and call them out as you see them. But it has to be done in alphabetical order. You might see them on license plates, billboards, airport gates, t-shirts, or even suitcases! 

The first person to get all 26 wins. This game is great because you can play it with as many people as you want. You can make it an ongoing game throughout the trip or give it a time limit. If you want to switch it up, try doing it in reverse. Finding Z won’t be easy!

Educational Road Trip Game 2: Alpha-board

Cut a piece of cardboard into a rectangle that will fit inside your child’s backpack or whatever carry-on bag you’re using. About the size of an iPad is perfect. On one side of the cardboard, write the alphabet in uppercase letters in a mixed-up order. Do the same thing on the other side, but in a different pattern. Wrap the entire thing in clear packing tape.

Next, on a set of stickers, write all the letters of the alphabet in lowercase letters. Hand the stickers and the cardboard to your child and let them match the lowercase letters to the uppercase letters. When they’re done, they can flip it over and do it again. If they’ve finished both sides, you can peel off the stickers and save the game to use again another day. If you want to make it a little more challenging, time them. Then see if they can break their own record!

Educational Road Trip Game 3: Fill-in-the-Blank Storytelling

This one is a fun way to create original stories that are unique to your family. Start off by saying, “Once upon a time there was a …” and pause. The person next to you can say whatever they want (cat, princess, alien, mountain, etc.). Pick up the story and pause occasionally, letting everyone have a turn to add their own twist to the story. 

For example: Once upon a time there was an … alien! The alien was very … slimy. The slimy alien decided it wanted to … eat cookies! But there were no cookies in the … and so on. In five minutes, you’ll have a completely crazy and fun story that no one else has ever heard before.

Tip: Record the audio of your story as your family is telling it. Later, you can write the story down and have a copy for your family to illustrate and have as a forever keepsake of your vacation.

Educational Road Trip Game 4: Rhyming Go Fish

Try our literacy adaptation of the Go Fish card game. Now, card games can often get a bit unwieldy in a moving vehicle, so I’ve got a couple of modifications you can make: To make it travel size, cut the index cards in half before you add the words and illustrations. Give kids baggies to keep their completed sets in. 

To create a stable place for the draw pile to sit while playing on the go, place Sticky Tack on the bottom of a Tupperware container and stick that onto the armrest, drink tray, or seat. Then place your cards inside the container. Sticky Tack costs about $5 and is reusable!

Let us know in the comments or on social media how you keep your little ones enriched and entertained on the go!

Chrysta is an early childhood educator and curriculum specialist in Austin, Texas, who believes everything is better with glitter! Read more from Chrysta at playfulprek.com.

Two little girls leaning out of a car window