Car rides, while seemingly empty spaces in the day, can be meaningful ways to engage with toddlers and young children. Interactive car games not only strengthen a playful bond with kids, they also help kids learn vocabulary, problem-solving skills, observation skills, pre-math skills, and pre-literacy skills.

Research suggests that the quality of conversation parents have with young children predicts the children's vocabulary three years later. Engaging in fun talking games during car rides is one way to follow experts' advice to "expose children to words in meaningful contexts." Games are also an ideal way to strengthen a bond or attachment with young children and build joy into your family's day. Research suggests that parents’ emotionally close connections with children are important for children's self-esteem and behavior, and also provide a solid foundation for their future relationships.

Here are 16 simple and fun games to play with toddlers and preschoolers in the car.

1. Nursery Rhymes with a Wrong Word

Say a nursery rhyme and use one wrong word and see if your toddler can guess it.

  • You: "Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as milk."
  • Kids: "Snow! Not milk! Haha."

Or

  • You: "Humpty Dumpty sat on a fence, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall!"
  • Kids: "Wall! Not fence!"

2. Habitat Game

Say an animal and have your toddler say where it lives.

  • You: Monkey
  • Kids: Jungle!
  • You: Fish
  • Kids: Lake!
  • (Reverse it)
  • You: Sky!
  • Kids: Bird!

3. Shape Game

You say a bunch of things that are a certain shape and they guess the shape.

  • You: Sun, ball, pancake, orange, plate...
  • Kids: Circle!
  • (Reverse it)
  • You: Rectangle
  • Kids: Door, cabinet, a piece of paper... 

4. Color Game

You say a bunch of things that are a certain color and kids guess the color.

  • You: Bananas, macaroni and cheese, corn, sun...
  • Kids: Yellow!
  • (Reverse it)
  • You: Blue
  • Kids: Water, blueberries, sky, Dad's car...

5. Best Friends

You say one of a twosome of friends and they say the other one.

  • You: Bert
  • Kids: Ernie!
  • You: Thomas
  • Kids: Percy!
  • You! Emily Elizabeth
  • Kids: Clifford!

6. Big and Little

You say something and kids say if it’s big or little. (Can add medium for variation.)

  • You: Raisin
  • Kids: Little!
  • You: Elephant
  • Kids: Big!

7. Last Names of Friends and Family

You say a cousin’s (or a friend’s) name and kids say their last name.

  • You: Kim
  • Kids: Jones!

8. Estimation Game

(Everyone guesses a number and see who wins.)

  • How many snowplows do you think we’ll see today? 
  • How many for sale signs do you think we’ll see on the way?
  • Do you think we’ll see a cement mixer on the way to Grandma’s?

9. Car of Every Color

Let’s find a car of every color.

  • You: I see a white one!
  • Kids: I see a brown one! There’s a gray one! Yellow! Blue!
  • You: We still need red. Tell me if you see a red one.
  • Kids: I see one!
  • You: Okay, all we have left is green. Anyone see a green one?

10. First Letter Game

You say words that start with the same letter and kids guess the letter.

  • You: Dog, diary, dance, dim, duck, dirty
  • Kids: D!
  • (Reverse it)
  • You: E
  • Kids: Eggs, elephant, enter...

11. Rhyming Game

You say a word and they say the rhyming word.

  • You: Ball
  • Kids: Wall!

12. Rhyming Game #2

You say three words and they guess the one that doesn’t rhyme.

  • You: Ball, couch, wall
  • Kids: Couch!

13. Animal Noises

You say an animal noise and they guess the animal.

  • You: Sssssss
  • Kids: Snake!
  • Or
  • You: Owl
  • Kids: Hoot! Hoot!

14. I Spy

You say something that you spy (that’s right in front of you) with a color and a description and the kids guess it.

  • You: I spy something red that looks like an octagon.
  • Kids: Stop sign!
  • You: I spy something that’s dumping rocks out and it’s huge and green.
  • Kids: That dump truck!

15. Punch Bug Game

Spy Volkswagon beetles. One point for regular, two points for a convertible, and three points for old-fashioned. Keep a running total throughout the day for some friendly competition.

16. Find it!

  • Try to find a motorcycle.
  • Spot three water towers.
  • Find a car with any sort of trailer.
  • Find one barn and one silo. 
  • Find a railroad crossing sign.

Erin Leyba, LCSW, Ph.D. is a counselor in Chicago's western suburbs. www.erinleyba.com. She is the author of Joy Fixes for Weary Parents: 101 Ideas for Overcoming Fatigue, Stress, and Guilt - and Building a Life You Love (New World Library). Join her on Facebook or Instagram or sign up to get free articles on parenting with mindfulness and joy.

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