16 Fun Games to Play With Toddlers & Preschoolers in the Car

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 children’s vocabulary 3 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 all of their future relationships.

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

1. Nursery Rhymes with a Wrong Word

You: Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as milk.

Kids: Snow! Not milk! Ha ha.

Or

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

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, 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 the last name of that cousin.

You: Kim

Kids: Jones!

8. Estimation Game

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?

(Everyone guesses a number and see who wins.)

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 you spy (that’s right in front of you) with a color and a description, 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. 1 point for regular, 2 points for convertible, and 3 points for old-fashioned. Keep a running total throughout the day for some friendly competition.

16. Find it!

Let’s try to find a motorcycle!

Spot 3 water towers.

Find a car with any sort of trailer.

Find one barn and one silo. 

Find a railroad crossing sign.

Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD 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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