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 Ashley Austrew
Jun 18, 2019

Ages

3-13

road trips with kids activities
iStock.com / FatCamera

Jun 18, 2019

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 arsenal 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 give them a break from the screens and introduce other types of fun that help them learn (that's the dream for all of us parents, right?). Here are five simple ways to put an end to the incessant “Are we there yet?” questions without relying on screens.

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

You already know that interactive playtime is the most engaging, but of course, 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. Think magnetic play boards, crafts you need just one or two supplies for, and no-strings-attached finger puppets! 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.

Low-Maintenance Games and Activities

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

Sharpening skills can be entertaining for kids, especially when you have the right accessories, like flashcards and workbooks that are actually fun (that last part is key). For instance, some flashcards encourage kids to brainstorm what they would do in certain situations, without any rigid right-or-wrong answers, and there are lots of 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.  

Activities to Help Them Learn on the Road

3. Help your younger reader feel more confident.

The reason it’s trickier to simply hand a beginner reader books and say “Happy reading!” during a road trip is because they tend to get frustrated and bored easily 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. It’s 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 both familiar scenarios (like sleepovers) and out-of-this-world adventures (got a pirate, video game or superhero fan?) and perhaps their first engrossing mystery.

Branch Out With These Great Early Readers

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.

Audiobook Favorites to Play and Read Along With

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, and you won’t hear “Are we there yet?” every time you pass a speed limit sign.

Great Boxed Book Sets for Every Age

Summer reading
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Reading