Truth: Long car trips with my kids (especially my toddler) give me major anxiety. And they shouldn’t because I have this amazing list of car activities for toddlers.
I have a 6 year old, but she’s much easier in the car than her 3 year old sister and she can do all of these activities as well!
Keeping toddlers occupied and happy in the car on long car rides or road trips is actually pretty simple, as long as you are prepared ahead of time. This is definitely not something that you want to ignore until the last minute.
Have you ever tried to entertain a toddler in the car for hours without any real plan?
Yes, you could just load your tablet or portable DVD player with tons of movies, but is that really going to keep your kids occupied?
My guess is no! At least not if they are anything like my kids. There is only so much zoning out that my kids can handle.
They like being active, not confined. They like interaction and stimulation.
This is why I have developed this list. Because even if I put on a movie during a long car ride, inevitably one of my kids (halfway through) will start. “Are we there yet?”
Having a bunch of these car activities for 2 and 3 year olds ready to go will help you to not want to jump OUT of the car during your next road trip.
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Car Activities For Toddlers
Getting some new books for your trip will definitely buy you some quiet time in the car. You could also get some from the library. I would go with books that your toddler will be majorly interested in (favorite characters, for example). For my 3 year old, that would mean a bunch of Paw Patrol books.
It’s also a great idea to have your toddler tell everyone in the car what’s happening in the story. It’s a great way to get your toddler’s creativity flowing while she’s stuck in the car for hours.
Melissa And Doug Water Wow Books
Water Wow books are super popular toddler road trip toys. Simply fill the water pen with water, and your child can “color” in the pages.
It works surprisingly well, and by the time your toddler colors in the last page, the first pages will be dry so that your toddler can start all over again.
I would love to read to my toddler in the car, but reading makes me carsick.
Read-Along Storybooks that come with a CD are actually even better for in the car. There are so many great books to choose from and the narration is really great.
We own quite a few of these books, and we often listen to each of them several times on long trips. At first, I had to prompt my daughter (when she was 2) to turn the page when she heard the chime, but she caught on very quickly and was then able to do it independently.
An Old Cell Phone
This cell phone doesn’t even have to be working or charged. I’m not kidding, your toddler will love it and will feel like such a big deal. The key is to tell your child that it’s “her phone”.
Both of my kids play with their non-working phones all the time. They call people, they receive calls and they tell their cousins that it’s real. Old phones are great things to keep a toddler busy on a road trip.
Would You Rather Questions
I love asking my toddler questions, and these Would You Rather questions are the best type. They’re super easy for your toddler to answer because they give 2 options for your child to pick from. The sillier the better!
Stickers are always a hit, and I love that (especially at the toddler stage), it’s an activity that takes a long time.
Make sure that you remove the sticker paper around the stickers first so that it’s less frustrating for your toddler.
We recently got the Pete The Cat Sticker Book and I seriously LOVE it because the quality of it is really amazing for the price. It has different scenes where you place the stickers and the stickers don’t easily rip like some others.
Reusable sticker pads are alsto a great option.
Flashlights Or Glow Sticks
If you will be traveling when it’s dark, flashlights and glow sticks will be a big hit. Just make sure to keep them put away until then.
A Stack Of Post-It Notes
A stack of post-it notes just provides for so many possibilities. Your toddler can stick them all over the place, can write on them with crayons or colored pencils, or can re-stack them endlessly.
Small Toys Put In Small Containers
Scour your house for some smaller toys and put them inside plastic Easter eggs. Your toddler will love opening them up to see what’s inside. Your toddler can also put them in and out of the Easter eggs.
I LOVE this one. It can be done with Jelly Belly jellybeans, gummy bears, fruit snacks, etc and is probably best saved for older toddlers so that you don’t have to worry about choking.
Have your child close her eyes, hand her one of the previously mentioned foods, and have her guess the flavor or color.
Before you go on your trip, you and your toddler could make an edible necklace out of cereal such as Cheerios. Then store the necklaces for the trip. This is a great activity because the necklaces will take your toddler a long time to consume, and they’re more fun than simply handing over a bag of Cheerios.
A travel tray will simply make coloring, playing and doing all of these activities so much easier. This travel tray is my favorite, because it has side pockets, sturdy sides and it folds flat for storage.
Just imagine: All of your child’s toys and snacks will stay contained to their little space and you won’t have to worry about her dropping her toys or getting goldfish crumbs everywhere. Oh, and according to the reviews, this tray have saved MANY road trips.
12. Your Child’s Blankie Or Lovey
If your toddler still has a lovey or special stuffed animal, be sure to bring it with you so that your child can more easily take a nap.
A (Kid-Safe) Mirror
It’s simple but oh-so entertaining!
I don’t know what it is about the Slinky, but my kids are mesmerized by them.
Magnets And A Cookie Sheet
If your toddler is learning letter recognition, some alphabet letters would be a great activity for the car. You could also tie it into looking outside at signs to try to find a letter (if your toddler is forward facing).
Measuring Cups To Stack
I’m sure your child is already a fan of stacking Tupperware, bowls, and whatever else she can find in your kitchen cabinets. Bring some small measuring cups to continue the stacking fun in the car.
Color Wonder Mess Free Coloring Pad
For some reason, kids just like markers more than crayons and colored pencils. What is it?
Color Wonder markers and pads are amazing because they have the excitement of markers but they only work on the special Color Wonder paper.
17. Imagine Ink Mess Free Coloring Sets
Imagine Ink Coloring Sets are very similar to Color Wonder but they are more compact and only come with one marker (which means less chances of losing a marker in the carseat). My 3 year old also prefers the Imagine Ink books.
Look And Find Books
Look And Find books will keep your toddler’s mind engaged and thinking creatively during your road trip. Though a lot of these books are maybe to advanced for as car activities for 2 and 3 year olds, there are many Look And Find books that are geared toward this age level.
- Paw Patrol First Look And Find
- Peppa Pig First Look And Find
- Mickey Mouse Clubhouse First Look And Find
Wrapped Dollar Store Items
Break the monotony of your car ride up by handing your child some toys wrapped in gift wrap. You can visit the dollar store to buy a few small toys, or you could even wrap up some of your toddler’s existing toys.
I love the idea of giving your child one wrapped toy at certain intervals. You could give a toy after a certain time period or when you cross over into a new state to celebrate.
Snacks, Snacks And MORE Snacks
I remember thinking (before kids) that I was NEVER going to let them eat in the car. Then I had kids, and surprise! I laughed at my pre-kid self.
Even if you do not allow food in the car (how do you do it?!), car trips could be the exception to the rule. While I’m a HUGE crazy person about what my kids eat, I have been known to give my kids some special treats on long car rides.
Pack your snacks wisely. I like to choose foods that take a long time to eat such as pretzels, goldfish, cereal necklaces, etc.
You could also try incorporating food with something else, like a game. Winner gets a pretzel!
Snacks will be your number one tantrum deterrent, so make sure you pack more than enough.
A Boogie Board is an LCD board that your toddler can write on with a stylus and erase with a push of a button. It’s pretty simple (and actually you can then use it for jotting down your daily to-do list).
I actually bought one for myself, and then had to buy a second and a third because my kids kept stealing it from me.
What better time than to get to know each other than when you’re stuck together in a small car for hours?
These conversation starters will help you get a little glimpse into your toddler’s mind. If your toddler is struggling to answer the questions, give your answer first as an example.
Okay, your toddler might not completely understand kid jokes yet, but toddlers don’t care! My toddler will laugh at any joke I tell her, even if she has no idea what it means. These jokes for 5 year olds contain many that your toddler will actually understand.
You can also have your toddler make up her own jokes. My 3 year old loves to invent her own jokes, and though they never make sense, they always make me laugh because it’s adorable. Her jokes always end with “because he was a real hot head!”.
This is another toy that will make your toddler feel like a big hotshot. It’s like an iPod for toddlers. It might be the phone shape of it, or it might be the headphones that come with it.
It plays cute songs and your toddler can also play a few games with it. It’s really interactive and will give you some quiet time to just relax in the front seat. (My 6 and 3 year old fight over this all the time).
The Counting Game
Choose something that the whole family needs to look for (black cars, red trucks, stop signs, cows, etc). See how long it takes you to find a certain number then start again.
I love this even for the youngest toddlers because it will help your child practice colors and numbers, and the repetition with help immensely.
Try to pick your number limit based on what your toddler knows. My 3 year old can count up to 15, and then gets them a little mixed up. The next time we play this game, I will go up to 20 so that she’s getting repetition of the numbers 15-20 that she needs.
Okay, you might hate this idea and you can choose to ignore it completely, but kids love repetitive songs that we find to be, well, annoying. Think “The Wheels On The Bus”, “10 Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed”, and “The Song That Never Ends”.
Movie Soundtracks And Kid’s Music
If you don’t feel like having “The Song That Never Ends” stuck in your head for the duration of your vacation, bring along some movie soundtracks or your toddler’s favorite songs to play in the car.
No, not a mixed tape, actual scotch tape. Or washi tape or whatever.
I have a feeling if I handed my 3 year old tape in the car and told her that she could use it all, she would be like a kid in a candy store.
This one could go either way. It could occupy your toddler for a VERY long time, unless your toddler is the go-big-or-go-home type. Then your entire roll of tape might be pulled out in one long, sticky strand in about 10 seconds and then you’ll be on to the next activity real quick.
So what if your next rest stop is spent peeling band-aids off of every inch of your child’s clothing. I am telling you, this activity will last a LONG time.
Simply getting the band-aid out of its packaging with take a while, and it’s a great fine motor activity too. Don’t worry about your toddler wanting your to open all the band-aids. Most (every?) toddler wants to do everything themselves anyway.
Play I Spy
While I don’t think I Spy is a very good game for DRIVING because you’re simply whizzing by everything, it is a life-saver when you are stuck on the highway because of traffic, construction or an accident.
- Magnetic Toys
Magnetic toys are great because they won’t be falling all over the place. Magnatiles are a great choice, and will get tons of play even after your trip.
- Wooden Lacing Activities
Hone your toddler’s fine motor skills with these on-the-road activities for toddlers.
I know that flashcards kind of have a bad reputation, but my toddler LOVES doing her alphabet flashcards. We have these flashcards and they are great because they are super thick and sturdy, they have pictures of common things and they are connected by a ring which is perfect for in the car (my biggest pet peeve about driving with kids is when I hear that someone has dropped something. Did I say that already?!)
Scissors And Paper
Give your child some scissors and paper or a magazine. Your toddler will cut and rip that paper and likely make a gigantic mess, but it’s guaranteed to be a very engaging activity.
If you’re really brave you can give your child a glue stick also so that she can glue all of her pieces onto some paper.
Your toddler can spin it and (try) to blow it. Or just swing it around, whatever floats her boat.
A balloon on a string in a confined area is super fun (for the kids, at least).
- Wikki Sticks
Wikki Sticks are made out of yarn and food-grade wax. They can be stuck together to make endless designs and are completely reusable.
You were probably wondering if I was ever going to suggest electronics.
If you’d like to offer up some electronics, here’s what I suggest.
If you do games on a tablet, my ABSOLUTE MOST FAVORITE app is Endless Alphabet. It is an incredible app, but is also simple and will teach your child letters and new words.
Your child will drag letters to form words, all while the letter that you’re dragging is making silly sounds (the K will make a K sound over and over). Once your child has finished the word, there will be a very short scene showing what the word means in a very silly way. My kids LOVE getting to the end to see what the little creature will do.
If you’re going to show a movie or a TV show, I highly suggest this tablet holder for the back of your seat. This is the one that we have because it goes in between the two front headrests so that both of our kids can watch a movie on it. This awesome Disney movie list can give you some great options.
You should also purchase an extra long charger so that you don’t run out of batteries in the middle of Chase’s mission.
If it’s near Christmas, give your toddler the latest toy catalogue and have her circle the toys that she wants. Yes, she will probably circle everything in sight. No, she won’t remember what she circled.
You can definitely listen to a podcast while your toddler is playing, snacking or whatever. Check out the 5 Best Podcasts For Kids Under 5.
Dollar Store Or Target Bullseye Playground Toys
Your kids can even go with you to pick some toys out. Just make sure to put them away for the road trip.
You can describe an animal, a family member or a mystery object.
The Quiet Game
The Quiet Game is simple. Whoever speaks first loses.
You could even up the ante and have someone in the car try to MAKE everyone else laugh.
Another idea would be to give a small prize for being the last to make noise.
Mom, older siblings or your toddler herself can draw a picture and everyone else needs to guess what it is. The great thing about this game is that my kids love stumping us, which is great for those times when you have absolutely no idea what your kid has drawn.
My husband often tells my kids stories at bedtime. The main character of the story is always themselves, and the story inevitably contains some kind of silly occurrence.
Another fun option is to have one person start the story, then the next person will say another sentence of the story and so forth. This is really fun and great for your toddler’s imagination.
A Tape Measure
If your toddler’s got a bunch of toys back there with her, give her a tape measure and ask her to measure each of them!
Play 20 Questions
Make it simpler for your child by starting with a category (animals, foods, etc).
This one might be a no-go, but if your toddler can blow bubbles on her own (or if there is an older sibling in the back to blow them), then this will work. Just make sure that you get the mini bubbles so that if they spill, your child won’t be covered in sticky bubble solution.
Play Finish The Doodle
Have your toddler make a doodle on paper or on her Magnadoodle. An older child (or mom) should use that doodle to make a drawing out of it.
Avoid The Complaints
If your kids are prone to “Are we there yet?”, this idea is PERFECT.
Give your kids a roll of quarters. Each time that your kid says “Are we there yet?”, she has to hand over one quarter.
Ask your toddler to create a surprise for you out of pipe cleaners. They are super easy to bend and form into different shapes!
Give your toddler a paper with a bunch of squares on it (one square for every 50 miles of your trip). Every 50 miles, have your child cross off one of the squares.
This provides a great visual for your child to be able to see how much farther you have to go.
Make sure that you don’t just throw a bunch of toys in the back with your toddler. Give one toy at a time, and once your toddler starts to fuss, switch that toy out for another one.
Rest Stop Mini-Olympics
Get your kids to get all that pent-up energy out each time that you make a stop. You can have your kids hop, do jumping jacks, stretch, run, etc.