The Best Screen-Free Activities to Entertain Kids on Road Trips

These books, games, and mess-free crafts will keep them entertained for miles — no iPad needed.
By Scholastic Parents Staff
Jul 12, 2022

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road trips with kids activities
iStock.com / FatCamera

Jul 12, 2022

Few things say “summer break” like taking a long, scenic road trip somewhere special. But whether you’re headed to the Grand Canyon or Grandma's house, every parent knows that no road trip is possible without an abundant supply of snacks and activities.

While most kids would be happy to watch Netflix or play on a tablet for a few hours, this can be a good time to break from the screens and introduce other types of fun that also help them learn. Here are five simple, screen-free ways to dodge the incessant “Are we there yet?” questions on your next family road trip.

1. Pick out a few hands-on games and activities that are mess-free — yes, they exist! 

In choosing what activities to pack for the ride, no parent wants to lug messy supplies or a 100-piece game into the car. Instead, look for crafts and games that have a creative and tactile elements (which are also handy for tuning up fine motor skills), but are also clutter-free. Getting absorbed in an interactive activity will help the time pass faster for kids, and the quiet, uninterrupted playtime will give you a little break, too.

The activities below are all car-friendly options that are designed to captivate young minds, without tiny pieces that get wedged between the seats with the cracker crumbs.

2. Look for backseat learning opportunities that are disguised as fun. 

Sharpening skills can be entertaining for kids, especially when you have the right tools, such as colorful flashcards and workbooks that combine learning with “just-for-fun” activities like doodling and coloring.

The picks below are our favorites for keeping kids glued to their seats during long car rides, and they come with the added bonus of teaching them new skills. In turn, you'll be feeling pretty accomplished in the front seat — it's a slam-dunk #ParentingWin.  

3. Help your younger reader feel more confident.

It can be tricky to get your beginner reader to enjoy a book during a road trip, especially with texts that are beyond their reading level.

If your child is ready to advance from leveled readers, but isn’t quite ready for chapter books (and will toss them aside five miles into the trip), try a few books from the Scholastic Branches line. These books are specifically designed for newly independent readers, and the stories below will captivate them with easy-to-read text, simple plotlines, plenty of context clues, and meaningful illustrations that help with reading comprehension. Kids will lose themselves in out-of-this-world adventures (got a dragon, video game or unicorn fan?) and perhaps their first engrossing mystery.

4. Put your listening ears on for a great story. 

You’re obsessed with your weekly podcast — and kids love audiobooks, too! Listening to stories can be engaging and funny, and it’s the perfect way to get the whole family involved in an activity together. Getting caught up in a daring adventure or a heartfelt story will spark great conversations that last for miles.

The audio packages below come with a CD and a physical copy of the book for kids who want to follow along. For young children, following along with a story can help them recognize sight words and develop their reading skills. And for older kids, absorbing the story through careful listening is a great way to develop focus and comprehension skills.

5. To keep them hooked on a series, box it! 

Sure, you can bring a bunch of different books from various series on a road trip, but book boxes with a series make it easier to keep them all in one spot. What’s more, when your kids get invested in a certain character’s story, they’ll be more likely to dive into the next book without any prodding from you. Get them cozy in the backseat with some snacks and one of the boxed series perfect for summer reading below.

Keep your child reading over the summer with expert tips and book recommendations with our summer reading guide.

Summer reading
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