Gearing up for road trips or a day out running errands with children can present an entirely different set of challenges than when you’re alone. You’ve got so much to pack and bathroom breaks to consider but you don’t want to forget car games for kids to keep them entertained.
The good news is that this list contains many free car games for kids that help build critical thinking skills and exercise memory function. Of course, if you don’t ever want to run out of ideas, inexpensive books and kits full of games made by professionals can step in to help. The other good news is that nothing on this list requires a digital device.
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1. Going on a Trip
This game is a very fun and a great memory test for your kids (and you, too). The game starts with someone saying, “I’m going on a trip and I’m packing…” and then they list a noun, like “my socks.”
The next person repeats “I’m going on a trip and I’m packing my socks and…” adds another item to the list. The next person has to remember what the prior two people packed. The game keeps going until someone can’t remember an item.
2. Knock Knock Jokes for Kids
Having a long list of knock knock jokes for kids is always handy for turning moods around. “Knock knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad I’m not a banana?” They’re silly but kids love them.
3. Rory’s Story Cubes
We’ve talked about these in the past as one of our favorite travel games for kids, but they really are pretty wonderful so bear repeating. Rory’s Story Cubes are dice with pictures on them. Roll them and then make up your very own story based on the pictures facing up. This game is fantastic because there’s no winner and no round will ever be the same.
4. Triple Threat
The adult running the game will pick three nouns — they can be related or not — and then the other people in the car have to create a story including all three items.
Like Rory’s Story Cubes, there’s no real winner, but story games tend to make time pass by very quickly. Something about crafting a story in your mind or being entertained with a story really makes time fly.
5. Auto Bingo
A longstanding tradition on road trips, car bingo is played with these super handy cards from Regal Games. The idea is pretty straightforward. Slide the red window on the cards open when you spot the item (barn, stop sign, police, horse, etc.) beneath the window during your road trip. Just like regular bingo, the first person to fill a line wins.
6. Wikki Stix
These little bendable sticks come with instructions to make various designs, but they’re the most fun when you let your kids’ imaginations run wild. They can create all manner of fun things and when they’re done they have a neat little keepsake. You can buy Wikki Stix in individual packs but we like this traveler set.
7. I Spy
A favorite of children in situations where they have to sit for long periods of time, I Spy is incredibly easy. The person chosen as the Spy chooses an object and says, “I spy with my little eye, something that is…” and then they list an attribute such as color or the letter that the object starts with. The other players take turns guessing what it could be, and the winner is the person who figures it out first. Then that person is the Spy and continues the game with their own item.
8. Car License Plate Bingo
Each player writes down a seven-letter word. As your car passes other drivers, everyone pays attention to passing plates. If you see a letter in your word on a license plate that passes by while you’re driving, mark it off.
The winner is the first person who crosses their word off entirely.
Alternatively, you can play license plate bingo by looking out for various state license plates with this handy printout.
9. Would You Rather
Would You Rather is another one of the popular car games for kids that only requires your imagination. One player asks, “Would you rather…?” and provides two choices for another player to choose from.
If you need some inspiration, this version of Would You Rather is aimed at 6-12-year-olds and offers some truly bizarre, head-scratching scenarios that will have your car laughing and potentially cringing, too.
10. Scavenger Hunts
You can buy a highly rated Scavenger Hunt card game or opt for the free version where parents establish a list of things for the kids to be watching for. The winner is the first person to complete their list.
This can be especially fun if the parents are aware of certain unique landmarks on the road that the kids might not know are about to appear.
11. 20 Questions
This is an old standby for restaurants and road trips alike. One person thinks of a person, place, or thing and the other passengers take turns asking a single yes-or-no question to try to figure out what the mystery object is. The person who guesses the correct answer before 20 questions are asked is the winner.
If 20 questions are asked, the guessing players each get one guess to figure out what the game leader was thinking of. The person who guesses correctly wins, and if nobody does, then the game leader wins.
12. Auto Alphabet
Start the Auto Alphabet car game by giving the first person the task of finding something that begins with the letter A. The next person finds something out of the window or in the car that starts with the letter B. The game continues until the alphabet is completed.
13. Mad Libs
These little books are so much hilarious fun and can be completed by the entire family. If you’re unfamiliar with Mad Libs, each page is a story with blanks that you fill in with nouns, adjectives, and verbs chosen by players who are unfamiliar with the storyline.
For instance, a sentence might be, “The small (noun) (verb) on the moon, and then it ate a (noun).” Your family each fills in a blank and when it’s done, you read the story back. Hilarious.
14. The Name Game
The first player picks a category of items — animals, for instance — and names one, like a cat. The next person names an animal that starts with the last letter of the prior animal. So, in this case, “turtle” would work and you keep going from there.
15. Magnetic Games
Using magnets with game pieces is the best way to play checkers, tic-tac-toe or hangman as car games for kids. Check out this pack of three for your next car ride.
16. A Long List of Back Seat Games
If you’re not keen to ever run out of car games for kids, turn to this handy resource book. The Best Ever Back Seat Games includes over 100 games, useful facts and other things to do on a road trip without ever needing to pick up a digital device.
17. 501 Questions
In addition to Would You Rather mentioned above, this giant book of questions also includes prompts such as “If You Could…” or “Tell Me About…” in addition to a ton of trivia suitable for ages 4–104. 501 Questions is full of conversation starters to keep everyone entertained.
18. Road Trip Kit
If your kids like to stay busy in the back seats, this road trip kit comes with games like word searches they can play or color on their own and some two or more player games like hangman. There are also some neat countdown cards that you can write on with included dry erase markers to record the day’s progress.
19. Loaded Questions
How it works is that one person draws a card with four questions on it. Each player writes down an answer to the question and then passes their answers to a different player who reads them out loud. The card reader has to guess who wrote down each answer. This game is best when played with 4-6 people.
20. Brain Quest for the Car
The makers of the popular Brain Quest books have created a version just for the car (or plane or train). Brain Quest for the Car covers 1100 interesting facts about America, based on first through sixth grade curricula, making it a perfect road trip game.
Road trips don’t need to be naptime. With a little planning and a car full of enthusiastic participants, you can make any long drive feel significantly shorter and much more enjoyable.