6 Screen-Free Ways to Survive a Long Car Trip With Kids

My husband and I know that it is important for our kids to have a good relationship with both sets of their grandparents, including understanding where they live and where they come from. My parents live nearby, but my husband’s family lives approximately 400 miles away. And so this means several times a year we make the 7ish hour trek north to central Minnesota to spend time with “Oma” and “Opa.”

A long car ride with two small children is a daunting undertaking. 

Boredom sets in, tempers flare, and everyone is strapped and trapped in a fast-moving tin can with no way to decrease the time to destination, short of either some kind of time warp or risking a very expensive speeding ticket. 

During our long trips I will be the first to admit that my kids get a lot more freedom and access to technology than at other times.  The iPad can really be a Godsend (thank you, Netflix downloadable shows!) for passing time without conflict.  However, it is also nice to have other options to keep kids entertained in the car without relying on tablets and technology.  Here are 6 ideas to pass the time in the car that don’t require charging devices, WiFi, or screens.

6 Screen-Free Ways to Survive a Long Car Trip With Kids

1. Workbooks and coloring pages

My first go-to activity is a simple sheet of paper and some crayons.  We also keep a stash of coloring books and alphabet or math skill workbooks around for variety.  I’ve found that crayons can be organized in a small paper cup and placed in the cup holder of the car seat, and that a small pillow with a cutting board placed on top of it makes an excellent (and cheap!) lap desk.

6 Screen-Free Ways to Survive a Long Car Trip With Kids

2. Magna Doodles or mini chalkboards

Sometimes changing up the drawing surface can keep interest just a little bit longer.  Magna Doodles (or similar erasable drawing pads) can be hours of fun.  If you are even slightly crafty, you can use a piece of chalkboard fabric to sew a roll-up travel chalkboard, which are easily stuck in a diaper bag or the corner of a car seat for many more Picasso moments. I’ve done several using this tutorial. 

3. Reading aloud or Audiobooks

This might be a little bit of cheating in the “no technology” category, but audiobooks are a great way to pass several hours while encouraging kids to use their imagination to visualize the story.  Most libraries have audiobooks available for check-out, or they can often be found for discount prices at local consignment stores. 

If you really want to go low tech (and your stomach is able to tolerate reading in the car) try reading a book together out loud!  Younger kids can listen to the story and older kids can take a turn orating the story. 

4. “Me Readers”

My son got one of these as a birthday present, and I love it!  He is able to push the buttons and follow along with the story.  He gets a kick out of “reading” the book all by himself and also loves to show the pictures and share the story with his younger brother.

5. I-Spy (or other word games)

Sometimes my oldest really wants to interact, and games such as “I-spy” or “Going to Grandma’s house” get us all talking and laughing together. 

6. Trivia cards

These are a little above my boys’ attention and ability level at this point, but several of my friends swear by these trivia and question/answer card games by Brain Quest.  Family fun and fighting the summer slump all in one!  Genius!

Honestly, we still rely quite a bit on technology to get us through those marathon car rides.  But it is great to have a slew of other tricks up my sleeve to pass the time. 

What helps you pass the time during a long car trip??


Sarah Bengtson
Sarah is a proud Iowa native who currently lives in North Liberty with her husband and 2 sons. She grew up in rural Benton county and moved to the Iowa City area in 2005 to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa in Physical Therapy. Now she balances raising two growing boys with a work as a pediatric physical therapist. Outside of work and family, Sarah loves music, playing her cello, running, baking, crochet, church activities, and cheering for the Hawkeyes and the Minnesota Vikings.



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