Planning a road trip with the little ones but unsure how to manage a car full of toddlers?
Our comprehensive guide on how to entertain a toddler in a car sheds some light on preparation, common issues and stress-reducing tips ensuring that family vacay begins on the right foot.Every parent (and grandparent!) has a checklist of the things to make sure there are enough games, snacks and other items to occupy kids’ minds and keep the bubs happily distracted.
Observing my nephew on recent journeys made me realize how quickly they get bored or tired, leading to a DEFCON 1 meltdown if you hit the road under-prepared.
Let’s look at 14 top tips to keep those eye-rolling cries for attention at bay while being stuck in that four-wheeled box of frustration!
How do you keep a toddler entertained on a long car journey?
It's not easy keeping up with kids. Entertaining them at the most convenient of times is challenging enough, let alone from the front seat of what essentially becomes a toddler trap.
As an infant’s interests shift constantly, they tend to ask plenty of questions and you may find your patience wearing thin.
Despite your best efforts and personal tolerance levels, toddlers will continually change up their oftentimes hard-to-translate requests for attention. Fortunately, there is a way to keep your kids entertained in the car on long trips, it just requires a decent amount of planning.
Prior to exploring our tips on how to entertain a toddler in the car, consider these important safety points before seating them, including:
- Activate the child lock on all doors and windows.
- Clean the car seat and line it with the softest materials you have on-hand.
- Fasten the car seat securing it in place ahead of the seat. Test the buckles and positioning for movement ensuring it won’t fall or slide off.
- Position the car seat away from direct sunlight without obstructing your toddler’s view of what’s happening outside. Adjusting air con vents also significantly alters your toddler’s comfort levels, so be sure to consider how temperature could affect the quality of your trip.
Now that we’ve sorted out parental responsibility, let’s get cracking!
14 ways to entertain toddlers on a car trip
Food and snacks
Nothing is worse than a hungry baby stuck in a car seat with a long drive ahead. So how do I keep my two-year-old entertained in the car?
Acceptance is half the battle. Be prepared for unaccounted for hunger, screams for Mum’s milk or just something to suck on just like at home. Kids eat often and in small portions, so stock up on chips, mashed veggies, nuts (unless they’re allergic), yoghurt, cheese cubes, and fruits keeping them happily chowing-down for hours.
Try breaking for snacktime in a park or playground so children can eat outside, possibly play with others and burn up those outrageous energy levels we all envy as adults. Also, don't forget to bring a reusable water bottle that won't spill easily!
Listen to kids' music.
Often, food and snacks aren't enough when you're travelling with kids. Whenever other distractions fail, music and audiobooks are generally your second best option. Organise your toddler’s favourite tunes long before departure and you’ll appreciate the replacement of howling monsters with soothing, easy-listening vibes.
It’s also a chance to sing along, interact with them and maybe even present as an excuse to get a little silly with your kids!
Watch a movie.
Download kid-friendly movies to a tablet or laptop for some much-needed device-motivated relief. The best part? You can always watch your own film favourites or play catch-up on work after they get sick of it.
Just remember that forgetting that precious, in-car charger is your life-line, with unfulfilled promises (realising you’re starting on low battery), often making things worse.
Provide colouring materials and sheets
Pack colouring books and scrap paper with plenty of drawing and creative instruments so your children can doodle, play and scribble. Ask them to draw or colour a picture of their favourite place or something they’ve seen along the way.
This allows them to focus on documenting the trip from their perspective, introducing a mentally challenging task while having multiple items to play with.
The idea is to redirect their attention away from misbehaving and to keep them engaged for a considerable period of time.
Play games like car/truck spotting
Want to know one of the best ways on how to keep a two-year-old entertained in the car? While your toddler sits by the window seat and looks out, ramping up the fun-o-metre should be your primary goal here. This is where the age-old car spotting trickery works a real treat for Mum and Dad.
Ask your kids to count vehicles passing by or to identify their colours, shapes or any other defining or unconventional characteristics. These sorts of mind-based games are incredibly intriguing for toddlers as they learn a variety of problem-solving/differential techniques. Also, how about bringing binoculars to take vehicle spotting antics to a whole new level?
Read picture books or stories.
Get your kids a set of picture books with colourful illustrations before you travel. Read them a story or let them explore the pictures. Additionally, you could opt-in for the classic ‘point and watch’ book series, in which the reader must recognise and identify certain images or objects in the book. Besides providing entertainment, you want to try and find ways to incorporate learning into their activities.
But what if the above methods don't work? Don’t panic! We've got you covered with another 7 ways on how to entertain a toddler in the car.
Give them a Lego set or a deck of cards.
A Lego set is one of the best ways to entertain a toddler during a car trip! Provide them with Lego sets or even hook them up with some toy car activities for toddlers for an imagination-inducing activity to construct objects of their choice. Lego sets will keep them occupied long enough for you to kick back or prepare their next distraction in advance.. Alternatively, you can let them fiddle around with a deck of cards aimlessly, however they’ll likely be returned dribbled-on, scrunched up or with a few missing!
Sing nursery rhymes
One of the best ways to keep your toddler entertained is by singing their favourite songs and nursery rhymes. You can encourage them to belt out the old classics like Wheels on the Bus, This Old Man, Ants Go Marching, Down By the Bay, etc. If they love Disney songs, get those cranking! As a keepsake from the trip, record videos of your kids playing and singing to truly make it worth your while as these will probably be stuck in your head several days after arrival!
It is one of the cheapest, most simple and easiest ways to keep your toddler entertained while travelling. You can cram old wallets with expired gift cards, stickers, and pictures for an ultra-savvy solution to keeping a kid honed-in. Children can use this as a toy substitute, forcing them to trigger their imaginations or to get involved in roleplaying by mimicking their parents. Additionally, you could suggest a treasure hunt based on what's inside the wallet. Ask them to search for a particular card and the first one to find it wins.
Puzzles and shaper sorters
You can take puzzles like shape sorters, shape puzzles, and basic 2 to 4-piece puzzles for your toddler while travelling. They’ll learn to figure out solutions to achieve a task, following a few instructions from Mum or Dad. This keeps them in touch with their own sense of reward through achievement while still being able to have fun.
Whiteboard and dry-erase markers
Sitting in one position is difficult enough for adults, but expecting kids to follow suit should never be on the cards. Movement restrictions can be exhausting for kids on a tiring road trip. By equipping them with whiteboards and easy-erase markers, they’re able to express their creativity and imagination over and over again. With markers, your kids can sketch the world around them or you could propose challenges to really get them thinking.
A road trip with finger puppets is another option for keeping things interesting. By drawing different shapes on the kids' fingers, you can create a story with finger puppets. You can also have them chat to each other using funny voices in conjunction with the finger puppets about the trip. This will also stimulate their minds diverting their attention from how tired or annoyed they really are with being in the car.
Magnetic Cookie Sheet
Cheap cookie sheets with alphabets, numbers, shapes, animals, and characters are generally available at your local discount store or supermarket. You could start with spelling challenges for older kids, ask toddlers to make patterns, or just let them play as they please. The key is to bring along enough variety to mix things up every hour or so.
Wikki stix are bendy, sticky kids’ toys that provide hours of entertainment. Introduce your children to travel-themed sticks and let them come up with their own designs and ideas. Some ideas include showing them how toy cars can run on train tracks and roads or make small balls for them. Flowers, necklaces, letters, and a spectrum of other awesome designs can also be made from Wikki Stix.
How long can a toddler ride in a car?
Most parents are unaware of the two-hour guideline that certain car manufacturers recommend - A baby shouldn’t be in a car seat for more than two hours within a 24-hour period.
The reason for this is that sitting in an upright position for long hours will affect the baby's spine and can result in restricted airflow to the lungs, especially when they are sleeping with their head forward.
Frequent rest stops should be pre-planned when travelling with a baby. It’s important to take them out of the car seat, laying them comfortably flat in a cot if they are sleeping. You could also let them walk and run around for a while before resuming travel.How to keep a two-year-old busy in a car?
By now you’ll have discovered fresh ways to keep a toddler busy while travelling. Specifically for younger kids, you can sing lullabies and encourage them to take a nap since travelling long distances can be tiring.
It’s a lot to ask of a toddler to remain seated, silent and satisfied for numerous hours, however using the above-mentioned tips will ensure your trip flies by relatively hassle-free!
Start planning that next trip today!