If you’re planning a long road trip or simply need to run errands with your little ones in tow, you likely need to prepare with some car activities for toddlers. Entertaining toddlers in the car can be a challenging task, but fear not! We’ve compiled a list of fun and engaging activities tailored for both 2- and 3-year-olds. These activities are not only enjoyable but also educational, ensuring that your kids have a great time while on the road.
I love a good family road trip, but the truth is that long car rides can be tough. This is especially so if you have younger kids that need stimulation and entertainment to keep there you-know-what together. And, if you’re not the type to stick a screen in front of your kids (or if you just want to limit the amount of screen time they get to have), you may be looking for some ideas to keep them distracted and sane for the trip. And, the longer the ride, the more entertainment you’ll need.
When I was a kid, whenever my family would go on a long trip, my parents would pack a portable DVD player, books, and magazines. We would also play interactive games like the “movie game” where someone would give the acronym of a movie and everyone had to guess what it was, with three clues available to them. This was one of my favorite road trip activities. They did whatever they could to keep us busy, and taught us what it meant to entertain ourselves without cellphones and iPads because, well, they weren’t a thing back then! Whatever would keep me and my three siblings entertained as we drove from New England down to Georgia or Florida to visit family.
Today, there are way more options that can make long car rides enjoyable and even fun for young kids. Whether you’re road tripping it to visit family for the holidays or you’re traveling for the pleasure of travel, it’s my hope that this list helps you and yours have a stress-free experience.
SAVE THIS POST FOR LATER:
If you’re looking for other ways to entertain your kids, check out Best Indoor Toddler Activities for Fun at Home.
This post may contain affiliate links which means we may receive a small commission at no cost to you if you make a purchase using one of these links.
Quick Tips for Traveling by Car with Toddlers
Before we get into some of our favorite car activities for toddlers, here are some quick tips on making your ride as stress-free as possible:
1. Bring a travel potty: There’s nothing worse than hearing “Mama! Poo poo?” when you’re on the highway and the next rest stop isn’t for another twenty miles. When your kids have to go, your kids have to go! And if you’re in the middle of potty training – or just coming off of a successful potty training experience – you don’t want to ruin a good thing! Pull over, put your travel potty on the floor of the back seat or in the trunk, and let them do their thing when they need to. We have always used this travel potty whenever we needed to take breaks on the road but didn’t have a bathroom available to us.
2. Keep Essentials Handy: This means everything you would keep in a diaper bag: diapers, wipes, extra clothes, snacks, water, and their favorite toys. Having these items within easy reach can save you from frequent stops and meltdowns. I keep an open structured tote (such as a Bogg Bag) on the floor in the middle of the back row so I can easily reach my hand back from the front passenger seat to grab whatever is needed.
3. Make Regular Stops: Plan for regular breaks during your trip. Toddlers have lots of energy, and they need opportunities to stretch their legs and run around. Use these breaks for diaper changes, bathroom visits, and quick play sessions.
4. Snacks on Snacks: Pack a selection of healthy snacks and a spill-proof cup with their favorite drink. Opt for mess-free snacks to minimize cleanup.
5. Use Travel Trays: If you want to keep your toddler’s activities contained, travel trays are always a good idea! Many of the activities listed below and snack time will be a lot easier if you use a tray. This way, your kids can more easily use their toys and art supplies. We include a round-up of some of our favorites at the bottom of this post.
6. Bring Something New: A great way to tame any incoming meltdowns or alleviate boredom is with a new toy or activity. Don’t give it to them right away, save it for emergency use!
7. Keep a Schedule: Easier said than done, but keeping a schedule is important if you are going to be on the road for a long time. Break your ride up into play, rest, snack, and learn as you would at home. This way, you minimize the risk of messing with your child’s normal routine.
8. Pack a Comfort Item: Bringing your toddler’s favorite pillow or blanket is a great way to give a little comfort in an otherwise uncomfortable situation. This can provide a sense of familiarity and security, making them more at ease during the trip. This is especially important if you are driving at night during regular sleep time.
Best Car Activities for Toddlers
These days, there are loads of activities that are so much fun for the whole family. From road trip games to developmental play, there are a variety of ideas on this list! You’ll find that many of these activities work for restaurants and flights as well. All you have to do is get creative with your environment. Traveling with kids doesn’t have to be stressful – all it takes is a little preparation and your trip will be much more enjoyable.
Family Games & Engagement
These fun car games are the best thing to do when your young children are freshly rested and need a fun activity that is going to put their mind to work.
I Spy: This is a simple game that never fails to capture a child’s attention. Take turns saying, “I spy with my little eye, something that is…” and let your toddler guess the object based on its color or shape. This game encourages observation and vocabulary development.
Some object ideas:
I spy with my little eye… a school bus
I spy with my little eye… a stop sign
I spy with my little eye… a helicopter
Or take the descriptive route:
I spy with my little eye… something yellow
I spy with my little eye… something big and red
The Alphabet Game: This is a fun game for toddlers who are learning to associate the alphabet with objects. Starting with A, go around the car and have each player find something that begins with that letter. It can be in the car or something they’re able to spot from their window.
B… brick building
D… dump truck
…and so on.
License Plate Game: Put your older children to the test! Have them keep an eye on passing license plates and see who can spot the most states in a given period. This game is generally easier for kids that are a little bit older, but if you have toddlers, it’s a good learning experience. Soon enough they’ll be hollering out their own answers!
Color and Shape Hunt: A little twist on “I spy”… encourage your child to spot different shapes and colors outside the car window. Whether it’s a red stop sign or a square-shaped building, this activity sharpens their observational skills and introduces them to basic concepts.
Storytelling: Bring along some favorite picture books and create an interactive storytelling experience. Use funny voices and animated expressions to captivate your toddler’s attention. Alternatively, you can engage their imagination by inventing a story together, taking turns adding to the plot.
If your child is younger, be sure to help them out with some story prompts, such as, “What color was the dog?,” “What did Bobby eat for breakfast?,” “Was it sunny outside or what it raining?,” “How many friends were at the park?”
Invest in washable markers, coloring books, sticker books, and drawing pads designed for travel. Your little Picasso can unleash their creativity while you drive. And best of all, they are intentionally mess-free. You should be able to find some affordable options at the dollar store.
Window Decorating: Your toddlers will LOVE this unique opportunity – when have mom and dad ever let them stick things to the windows?! Grab a set of window clings so your kids can stick them to the car (or airplane!) window. These reusable stickers are always a hit and the best part is you can take them down and use them again for the car ride home.
Magnetic Drawing Board: This mess-free art activity is a great option for young kids who like to draw and create.
Release Some Energy
Sing-Alongs: Crank up their favorite nursery rhymes or children’s songs and let the car be your very own karaoke stage! Singing along to catchy tunes not only entertains but also enhances language skills and rhythm recognition.
Dance Sessions: Along with sing-alongs, dance sessions are the perfect way to let off some energy. Turn on their favorite songs and let your toddler wiggle and groove in their car seat. This a great way to burn off energy when you’re stuck in a car for hours on end.
If you’re not into the children’s songs, or you’re at the age where your children like the radio but bad language is becoming a *thing*, try Kid Bopz. It’s a great way to enjoy some of your own favorite tunes without having to sacrifice hours on “The Wheels on the Bus” and other cute (but I’m going to go crazy!!) kid songs. Older kids may also enjoy some radio hits – I know my daughter will ALWAYS drop what she’s doing (or stop mid-meltdown) if I turn on Taylor Swift! Hearing her try to keep up with the lyrics and watching her groove in the back seat is always fun.
Stretch & Exercise Break: Make a point to pull over at a rest stop parking lot every couple of hours to get out of the car stretch out your legs. Make it fun by having your toddler jump up and down, do jumping jacks, run from one end of a grassy area to another, spin in circles… anything that will help them move their little body. While stopping regularly may feel a little cumbersome, younger toddlers aren’t as patient as their older siblings and need time to move around. You will be glad you did when they take more restful naps later in the drive!
Toys & Independent Games
Busy Boards: Busy boards are one of my favorite car activities for toddlers because they are loaded with all sorts of things that can keep your toddler busy while developing their fine motor skills, finger dexterity, and cognitive skills. Many include the letters and numbers, clocks, puzzles, and other Montessori-style elements.
Busy Bags and Busy Boxes: Create your own busy bag or box using a lunch box or other small bag. I love to fill my daughter’s small backpack with random toys that she only sees when we get in the car. I’ll often throw one or two new items in so that as she digs through, she has a nice surprise. This type of activity is intended to keep your kids busy and has all sorts of room for customization!
Toy Cars: Grab a selection of toy cars and have your kids match the color and style to the ones they see on the road! This is a fun way to work on association and color matching. You can use a travel tray (recommendations below) or a simple cardboard box to keep them contained.
Alternatively, get a set of city cars and trucks and see if your child can match the vehicle type! Such as fire trucks, taxis, and tow trucks.
Magnetic Cookie Sheet: If you’re looking for a cheap way to entertain your kids, grab an old cookie sheet and some magnets and you’ve got yourself an activity that will not only keep your kids busy, but amuse them!
Simple Counting Games: Engage your child in counting exercises. You can count passing cars, trees, or even clouds. This simple activity helps develop their number recognition and counting skills.
Interactive Apps and iPad Games: There are plenty of age-appropriate educational apps and games designed for toddlers. Load up your tablet with these apps, allowing your little one to engage in interactive learning while having fun.
Mini Scavenger Hunt: Before the journey, hide a few small toys or treats in the car. Provide clues and let your toddler embark on a mini scavenger hunt. This activity promotes problem-solving skills and keeps them entertained as they search for hidden treasures.
Remember, every child is different, so feel free to experiment with these activities to find what works best for your little one. With these engaging car activities, your trip will be filled with laughter, learning, and precious family moments.
Books: Pack a few of your child’s favorite books for independent quiet. Alternatively, stop by your local library on your way out of town to check out some new books for the ride. Not only is it great to encourage little kids to read but if you can make a habit out of it, mom and dad will get some much needed quiet time for the drive.
Snack Time Adventures: Make snack time fun by packing a variety of healthy snacks like sliced fruits, crackers, and cheese. Be sure to include options that are always a win, and options that are new or not had very often to keep up their excitement. Not only will this keep them munching happily, but it also enhances their fine motor skills as they grasp and eat their snacks independently.
You can get really creative here by putting together snack boxes that have compartments to keep food separate.
Our Favorite Travel Trays
Looking for a travel tray for your kids? If your kids have a tendency to drop things in the car, or if you are going to be on a long drive, a travel tray may be worth the extra cost. Trays help keep small objects contained to your child’s space and makes it easier for them to play and eat. Many have compartments on the sides where they can store their favorite toys or books, and some even have a stand for an iPad or other tablet.
This one is meant for snacks only and is intended to fit in your car seat’s cup holder so that your child can have a drink and eat.