It’s summer! Let’s go somewhere. Wait. The dreaded road trip. What will we do with all those hours in that small air-conditioned space?
Whether you are traveling to the beach, to the country, to your hometown, or cross-country destinations you’re going to need some go-to activities for those moments when everyone is getting antsy in the car. This is a problem even snacks cannot solve. Believe me. I’ve tried.
We personally haven’t given in to using screens on the road yet and my goal is to keep it that way. But that means we need to have a lot of tricks up our sleeves.
Today, I’m sharing this trick list with you.
Keep it handy for when you need it most. Not all of these are musical but many are. Let’s break them down into categories:
I’ll start with the tiniest passengers because most of you have one on board. There is nothing worse than being stuck on a congested highway with hours ahead and having a crying baby in the back seat. For these games I am going to assume you are not the driver and can give it your full attention.
- Peekaboo – Grab a towel, a lovey, piece of paper, anything. Peekaboo is a game that can delight for hours. As you are playing it, notice the musicality of the game. Notice how your voice rises at the top to signify a moment of surprise when you say “Peekaboo!” or “There she is!”
(For a song to use with this game try mine here).
- Seat dancing – Babies love to dance and move to the rhythm. Put on your favorite dance song and move their legs and arms around to the beat. Bend their legs, straighten them, move their arms around. Part of what makes the carseat so unbearable is the constriction. So help them move.
- Hand gesture songs – Those who have taken my class know the why and the how of hand gesture songs. But basically, use dynamics, make big gestures, think of dancing with your hands, use facial expressions for extra credit. (Bikeride is a fave amongst parents in my classes.)
- Puppets – Grab a puppet or really anything – even a shoe can be a puppet – and bring it to life. In fact, it may be even more fascinating for babies to see inanimate objects that don’t obviously have a face come to life. Have your puppet sing a song, do a dance, talk to your baby, and best of all – play hide and seek with your baby.
- Books – when your baby is on the verge of tears she needs you to bring out your full book-game. What does that look like? Bring out the voices, the gestures, the facial expressions, the melodic reading. Slow down when the Hungry Caterpillar is eating to count each and every plum slowly.
- Painters Tape – did you see my post about surviving a flight with a baby? If not check it out for more tips that would apply here too. Especially the painters tape trick. All you need is a role of it. Tear it up into pieces. Put it along your baby’s chair. Let your baby take them on and off and play with the stickiness. (Best to do this when you are next to your baby so she won’t put the tape in her mouth.)
For the older ones:
- 20 questions – Reminder: This is when you are thinking of a person place or thing and the others need to guess what you’re thinking about. They can only ask questions that have a Yes or No answer. It’s fun to play this with kids and try to guess family members, friends or movie characters. What’s great about this game is that it teaches kids how to go from thinking in general terms to increasingly specific ones.
- I spy – My four year old can play this one for hours. Every time I think we might have exhausted objects with colors in the car, she finds something new or we switch it to thinking about something with the first letter blank.
- Who am I – We play this game a lot at home when we can act it out . It’s basically speaking or acting like someone and having people guess who it is.
- The association game – This one is not quite a traditional game. There’s no end result but instead there’s a never-ending association game that can be fascinating. We started playing it when my daughter would say something like, “I’m thinking of … a car.” And my husband would respond, “ … and I’m thinking of wheels.” Then she would say, “ … and I’m thinking of the street.” So basically each person is just free associating with what the person said right before. The tricky part of this game is to truly go with associations to the last word said, not with the topic itself. For instance, the word street might remind me of gum if I’m thinking about sticky gum stuck to the street. That would be disconnected from the car theme that was going prior and might be a very unique association. It makes each person stay on their toes and truly react to the last thing said, not plan it ahead of time.
- Story in sentences – One person starts the story by saying a made up sentence. Then each person adds in their turn. Again, with this game, we need to relinquish our associations and accept the other ideas that people have and then build on them. This is a real Yes And game.
- The singing game – I grew up playing this game with my cousins and I think it had a lot to do with me becoming a musician. It trained me to listen closely to lyrics and songwriting. The idea is that one person sings a song and the others need to start singing another song that shares a word from the first song. For instance, someone might sing “You Are My Sunshine” and another person would cut in and start to sing “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” Obviously transitional words like the or and don’t count. And when you get really good at it you can make the word “love” not count either to add an extra challenge. A song can’t be repeated.
- Car DJ – This one is not quite a game but it has passed many hours for us in the car. Each person gets to choose one song to play on the stereo and we go around and take turns. At this point, we all know the words to Sofia the First because my daughter always chooses the same song. You too may have an uber fan of an artist or songs at home. These days with streaming music, Car DJ is so easy to do. Every song is at our fingertips!
- Call and response songs – About a month ago, I did a post about doing music with the whole family and I added in some ideas for the car, as well. This was in that post, as well as other ideas that are not car specific. (You can see that post here.) There are a bunch of call-and-response songs out there similar to “Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?”. Those songs get everyone singing along for a little while.
- Made-up songs – The other day I did this with my daughter in the car. It is similar to Story in Sentences but with a song. We each took turns making up a phrase. You can sing about what you see, where you’re going, how you feel or what you’re doing. You can use a melody that exists or make one up.
- Sound orchestra – This one was also on the list of musical activities to do with the whole family. With this game, someone will start making a sound repetitively – like tapping on their knees or clucking their tongued. Another person will join in layering their sound on top. And then the others will do this one by one. It’s fun to hear the tapestry that is created by all the sounds together.
- The quiet game – The game of all games. How does it still work with my big kids? Don’t ask questions. It just does. When the energy runs high and people are getting exhausted, it’s worth a shot to try this one. You probably remember it. You are just trying to be the quietest. The person who makes a sound first loses. This game has saved us many times. And each time I wonder when my luck will end and they will refuse to play. But, for now, I think they are just as thankful as I am at that moment to have some quiet.
Stuff to listen to:
- Favorite ALBUMS – This might sound obvious but these days the album has been a little forgotten in favor of the single or the five most played songs at the top of the artist’s profile. It’s so nice to have the time to listen to a full album in the car. I put together a list of Kindie musicians who we love to listen to in another post so I’ll just mention a couple of albums here: Molly Ledford and Billy Kelly’s “Trees,” and an oldie but a goodie that has never been surpassed in my opinion – “Free to Be … You and Me”.
- Musicals – Musicals are so great for car rides because they tell a story through songs and they often take about an hour. Our favorites are “Hamilton,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Sound of Music,” “Annie,” and the Disney soundtracks, too.
- Stand up comedy – Once you have a 10 year old, you are in a different listening world and doors open up. On the other hand, I still have the littles in the car so I need to make sure everything is age appropriate. Stand-up comedy has been a new love of ours. My friend Billy Kelly (who is also a musician mentioned above) made a stand-up comedy album for kids. It’s really great and I wish there were more like this. We’ve managed to find some comics who are more or less appropriate for kids. We love Brian Regan although you may not agree with me on whether it’s fully appropriate. Nine years old seems to be the turning point for these types of jokes that can have more complex set-ups. My seven-year-old struggles to understand all of the nuances while my ten-year-old giggles throughout.
- Podcasts – I’ve developed a huge love for podcasts myself and they can also come in handy with the kids. Our favorite one to listen to is “Wow in the World” by NPR and the wonderful Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz. It seems to appeal to all the ages I’ve got in the car. It’s funny and educational. There are many more podcast for kids out there but I’m not a connoisseur. I would love to hear which ones you listen to with your family so that I can get more ideas.
- Switch it up – My final suggestion is to switch up your musical genres in the car. It changes the mood completely when you put on classical, jazz, acoustic, world music or any other. Since you’ve got your kids captive, you might as well expose them to the wonderful music in the world. We love listening to Bach, Beethoven and others in classical. And recently we have been listening to my brother in law Yotam Silberstein’s lovely new jazz album Future Memories.
With this list, your goal is to have your car ride be just as memorable (in a good way) as the destination itself.
And hey, this list is never finished – add to it! What are your road-trip tricks, podcasts and go-to games? COMMENT below with your faves.
Know someone embarking on a family roadtrip? Send this to them and get a big hug when they return. You’ll get one from me, too, clearly. They can sign up for more on the link below.
Yes! Please send me more of the Tuesday Tune-In!