Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to Survive 9 Hour Car Trips with Six Children

To save money on gas, we opted to drive with my brother's family to get to the family reunion last week. It was in Colorado, an 8.5 hour drive. The situation in a nutshell: 1 twelve passenger van, 4 adults, 6 children (well... 5 children and 1 infant). Overall, it went quite smoothly, but I thought I'd share the games we came up with to pass the time.

Game 1:

Starting with A, go through the alphabet letter by letter and find something outside the car that starts with that letter. Examples: A - airplane, B: bus, C: car, D: deer, etc. It must be something visible (we didn't let them count "wind" for W, but "valley" was okay for V). Once you reach Z, go backwards. Then look for numbers (primarily on license plates, trucks, and signs). We got through A-Z, Z-A, 0-13 before they lost interest.

Game 2:

Earn 1000 points to get a prize (in this case, the prize was watching me play Plants vs. Zombies on my iPod Touch for an hour). The rules of how you earn points will vary depending on your location, but essentially you earn points by finding certain things outside the car. Here are a few examples of things we used:

- speed limit signs (10 pts)
- passing a semi (20 pts)
- counting 10 moving semis going the opposite direction (20 pts)
- lakes (10 pts)
- rivers (5 pts)
- livestock (1-3 pts per animal)
- trees (1 pt each)
- fire hydrants (20 pts - but they are worth 100 pts if the 2 year old notices them!)
- motorcycles (50 pts)
- absolutely nothing (20 pts) (We drove through Wyoming. It was really empty.)
- road signs (15 points for every 5)
- not whining if it's not your turn to earn points earns you bonus points (up to 100) for when it is your turn.

The point values shifted somewhat depending on how rare something was; they also all decreased after the total points earned got over 900. Once they reached 1000 points, they had to do a finale. The finales we had them do were:

- all say "oooooooohhhhh" every time we went around a curve for 5 consecutive curves in the road
- find semi trucks with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple cabs
- figure out approximately how many semis we have passed going the other direction (and counted) throughout the day (at least 200, probably more)
- get the 2 year old to say "fire hydrant" even though there weren't any for miles and miles in any direction

When it wasn't their turn to play the points game, the rest of the children read books, worked on puzzle books or Sudoku, or played with travel Tangrams. Poor baby S got the raw end of the deal, having nothing at all to do the entire time. When she was really bored I held a rattle in front of her and turned it back and forth, which was apparently fascinating enough to keep her content until my arm got tired. Young T took a lot of naps (to the detriment of bedtime) and worked on a block puzzle when he wasn't spotting fire hydrants.

What were your favorite games to play in the car as children?


  1. DVD player...nuff said. :) Of course, I apparently don't have the Jenkins constitution and can't do anything other than stare at the road. However, I have found that if I hold my phone in just the right angle I can watch a movie and be mostly fine. It beats staring out the window for 6 hours.

    1. I wish I could watch movies. I get so carsick doing just about anything I'm limited to either driving or listening to music (or both).
      I usually save up my podcasts or audiobooks (which is what I did on this trip when I wasn't making manipulative games up to spend the children's time...the point game was my idea :P) or just stair aimlessly. I usually can't sleep, which is also lame, but luckily my brain shuts off easily when I'm the passenger.

  2. I remember trips at night when Nathan(iel)would look out the window and tell us the mythology behind the names of the constellations. We also told personalized Lego stories (if you use every Lego in the house in one project it comes to life at night), and personalized paleontology stories (how one of the brothers made the find of the century), and personalized Thomas the Tank Engine stories (you visit the Island of Sodor). We listened to the Grandma tape. We complained...

  3. We used to write stories, trading back and forth for each sentence. Sometimes we'd trade back and forth each word and tell them aloud. I used to make my own road bingo and mad libs, which were fun. We drew a lot. My sister and I invented stories with our dolls and made them dance to music. Sometimes my parents would get in education mode and tell us all about the geology or history of a place we were going through, and I remember actually being interested. I have great memories of road trips (and we had some really long ones)! I don't remember ever being bored. I don't expect to have the same luck with my own kids, though . . . sigh.