Embarking on a road trip with a toddler in tow can seem intimidating at first. Many, if not most, young kids don’t enjoy sitting in the car for hours. Fortunately, with proper planning, it’s not too difficult to keep toddlers happily occupied a great deal of the time. This list of road trip activities for toddlers can help make your adventure more enjoyable for the whole family.
Sleep and Naps
I’m going to start with this one because, if you schedule things well, most toddlers will sleep for at least a few hours in the car each day. This often means altering the normal sleep schedule that you keep the kids on back home.
What has worked well for my young kids is reducing the total number of hours they sleep at a stretch during the night. While at home, I know it’s best to allow them to get a long stretch of sleep at night and then a shorter nap during the day. On road trips, however, I change the timings a bit.
Normally, when we’re traveling, I let my kids stay up later than they normally do. If bedtime is normally 8:00 pm, I’ll let them stay up until around 9:30 pm. Then, I’ll wake them up around 7:00 am. This way they still get a decent stretch of healthy sleep at night, but they will be a bit tired in the morning.
Waking up earlier on a trip is usually not too difficult for toddlers. They tend to be excited about all of the novelty of being in different places and environments each day.
Once my kids wake up, I’ll normally let them play for just a bit. Then I’ll feed them breakfast, and give them a little while to play again after they’ve eaten. Toddlers need a chance to move and run around, especially during long road trips.
After they’ve eaten, played a bit, and used the bathroom, it’s time to head out for the day. We usually fill the car up with gas first thing before leaving the town or city we’ve stayed in for the night. During this time, I’ll talk to the kids about where we’re headed that day.
Once the gas tank is full, I’ll announce nap time. It generally works out perfectly. My toddlers and preschool-age kids will fall asleep fairly quickly and generally take a full three hour nap. For potty training toddlers, you’ll need to take them to the restroom as soon as they wake up.
Once nap time is over, toddlers will surely be hungry, which brings us to our next toddler road trip activity.
Snack time for toddlers can end up taking quite a while which absolutely works to your benefit on road trips. I prefer scheduled snack times for toddlers on road trips. This helps prevent the endless cycle of asking for snacks (and often not really eating what’s given). It also gives them something to look forward to and helps keep some structure to the day.
Simple Art, Coloring Books, and Drawing
Now’s probably not the time to pull out those Pinterest-inspired art projects and crafts. You’ll likely want to keep things as simple as possible. A clipboard with some blank paper and a box of colored pencils works well.
You can also pull out a new coloring book. Make things more fun for your little one by letting them choose one special page to color each day. This will often keep them occupied for a while. Most toddlers enjoy going through the coloring book and trying to decide which page they’ll color today.
Finger puppets make a great toddler toy on long car trips. They are small and easy to pack, and they can keep kids busy for a bit. If you are crafty, you can even make some yourself with this tutorial.
The key with road trip toys like this is to resist the temptation to pull them all out the same day. A tired, cranky toddler is liable to play with each thing for a few minutes and then quickly tire of them all.
My suggestion would be to bring one special toy such as this out each day and allow your child enough time to really get creative with it.
Play I Spy
Toddlers often don’t have as full a view outside the windows as older kids do. This means certain road trip games like traditional scavenger hunts can be difficult or frustrating for little ones.
I Spy is the perfect road trip game for toddlers because they can choose whatever they can see. Young kids will often choose basic things like trucks, cars, or trees. They also enjoy learning and repeating the “I spy with my little eye” phrase.
Nursery Rhymes and Preschool Songs
These can be especially useful when your toddler gets really tired or cranky and is in need of a nap. Singing simple nursery rhymes and preschool songs like the ABCs, Five Little Monkeys, and Wheels on the Bus can help to calm them down and break up the monotony of long stretches of time in the car.
Magnetic Drawing and Doodle Boards
These are great because they aren’t as potentially messy as traditional art supplies, and they are reusable. When we went on a cross country road trip, my young daughters enjoyed using magnetic drawing boards above all other in-the-car activities.
Encourage them to take the time to draw something nice and then show their artwork to the parent who isn’t driving. If they complete their drawing too quickly, encourage them to add details. This helps keep them occupied longer while also expanding their creativity.
Stretching Exercises Inside the Car
With their small bodies and short limbs, toddlers can actually get in a decent stretching routine while sitting in their car seats. A parent can explain each stretch and tell them when to stop and start.
Keep instructions really simple so that your toddler can follow along without frustration. Simple things like lifting arms up high, stretching arms out to the sides, and circling the ankles all work well. You can also ask your toddler to develop a stretch of their own and then explain it to you.
Newly Borrowed Library Books
Before a road trip, I like to borrow several new books from the library for the kids to read while traveling. It’s important that they don’t get a chance to look at these books before the trip because you want them to be entertained by the novelty of something they haven’t seen before.
For toddlers, I choose board books for car trips because they are hardier and less likely to get damaged. This helps make sure the pages don’t get torn, and if the books end up getting held in sticky hands, a quick wipe down of the cover will usually suffice to fix things up.
Try to choose books consisting mostly of pictures so that your toddler can enjoy them without being read to. While it may be tempting to rely on screens or devices to entertain your toddler on a road trip, books can be equally engaging. There are many benefits to a device-free road trip for little ones.
What Animal Am I Thinking Of Game
When planning toddler road trip games, it’s important to keep things simple. This game can be made easier or more difficult based on the level of the kids playing. If you have multiple children in the car, older kids can play a more complex version while toddlers can play the game in its simplest form.
The rules are simple. One person thinks of an animal, and the others need to figure out what animal they’re thinking of. They narrow it down by asking yes or no questions; the key being that all questions must be answered with nothing more than a yes or a no.
For toddlers, start off with animals they like and talk about normally. This will make it easier for them to guess correctly and understand how the game works. Help them practice asking simple yes or no questions such as “Is it bigger than a lunchbox?” or “Do people keep them as pets?”
Your toddler can also think of an animal while you (and any older kids) try to guess what it is. This game is great because it’s both fun and educational.
Stop Periodically and Let Them Run Around for a While
While brainstorming road trip ideas for toddlers, don’t forget the time spent outside of the car. Make sure your toddler has plenty of opportunities to get out of the car and play throughout your road trip. The whole family can benefit from getting a bit of physical activity and spending some time out in the fresh air.
In this post, I covered many different ways to help kids get exercise on road trips. For toddlers specifically, you might want to focus on things like stops at playgrounds, playing catch, blowing bubbles, or just taking short walks together.
If you’ve already traveled with a toddler, I’d love to hear your experience. What activities worked best for your little one?