Nana’s 5 Fun, NO TECHNOLOGY, Musical Road Trip Games

When my kids were little, we didn’t have tablets, smartphones and movie players for the car.  When it was time for a family vacation, we only had each other, a CD drive for our favorite music and lots of snacks. When we went on family vacations, we played some fun family games. 

Today, parents are challenged to find fun things for road trips that help eliminate their children's screen time. While those devices can be lifesavers, (and will indeed fit inside each kid's backpack we've designed) many parents don't want their kids to be zombies for the whole ride. After all, the fun of family vacations is the time spent doing stuff together. 

In this post, I've pulled together some of my made-up-on-the-fly family road trip activities! And, since I LOVE music, I came up with some fun musical ways to play together while on a long car ride.

1. “Talk-to-the-Tune”

I made up this silly game during those years when it felt like all I did was drive my kids around!  I wanted to have fun, meaningful communication with them beyond the usual. I’d pick them up from school and immediately ask them “How was your day?” or “what did you do in school today?” but I wouldn’t TALK, instead I would SING the words to a familiar tune.  (One of my favorite songs to use was “Oh, Susanna!”)  I’d sing my question to the tune of the first line, then they’d answer using the continuation of the tune. 

Everything we wanted to communicate had to be sung to the tune of “Oh, Susanna!”  Within minutes we’d all be laughing so hard! The kids were more expressive and communicated more information when we did it this way.  They would often come up with clever ways to ‘sing’ things and tried to include all the details. (Priceless!) 

Fun Road Trip Application: I used to pack “goody bags” in each of my kid's backpacks when we would take a road trip.  They couldn’t look inside until we got on the highway. When it was time to look inside, I’d sing the phrase “Now look inside your backpack and tell me what you find….” (think "Oh, Susanna" here!) They took turns singing each of the things inside. 

2. “Your-Last-Name-Here" Family Band

Each person has his or her own part to sing or beat to play. Letting small children tap things on their car seats to establish a beat is a fun way to distract them and get them involved.  You may even want to get small tambourines, maracas, etc. Sing in rounds to songs that everyone knows, while also trying to keep the beat. 

Put a few small 'noise makers' into each kids backpack and when they find it, let them decide how to use the noisemaker!

3. "Tune Trio"

Help kids learn to sing in parts with this silly game.  Try singing The ABC song, Baa Baa Black sheep and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star all at the same time!  Kids LOVE how these three songs are the same tune! When you split up into singing all 3 at once, see if the whole family can still stay together.  The easiest way I found to help children learn this game is to do it in this order:

  1. Assign the songs before you start: Ex. Kid 1 and Kid 2 have the ABC song, Mom has Twinkle, Twinkle, and Dad does Baa Baa Black Sheep. Then start by singing all together.
  2. The ABC Song – whole family sings
  3. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – whole family sings
  4. Baa Baa Black Sheep – whole family sings
  5. NOW, on the 4th round, split into pre-assigned parts. You’ll laugh for miles and miles with what comes out of everyone’s mouth!

If the whole family can sing through one entire verse without messing up, it might be time to stop for ice cream!

4. Play a clapping game

(Adapted from a drinking game I learned in college!) Each family member chooses an animal.  Then you set the beat:

  • 2 slaps on the knees
  • 2 claps of the hands
  • Right hand snap
  • Left hand snap

On the snaps, the first person says the name of his animal when he snaps his right hand, and the name of another animal when he snaps his left hand.

He HAS to say the name on the snaps, or he's out.  The person who has the animal he said on his left hand now calls out her animal on her right snap and another animal on her left.  Pass it around the car, back and forth, make a pattern, etc. And yes, you can use the names of our animal backpack characters! 

5. Lyrical Genius

My favorite thing about this game is that the whole family works together to beat the game.  Before the trip, make a list of common words in songs everyone knows.  Write each word on its own notecard (include a picture for very young kids.) Place the cards inside each of the kids backpacks and have them take turns 'reading' the word on the card. The family then comes up with a song with that word in it, and together they sing the song.  If the family can get 10 words in a row, without missing one, then it's time to stop for a fun break.  

An alternate way to play this game: This way is a bit more competitive. The leader or person who starts the game picks one word from a song and says only that word.  The others in the car have to come up with a song with that word in it, and they have to sing it!  They don’t have to sing the song the leader was thinking of.  The person who sings a song with that word now becomes the leader. Once a song has been sung, it can’t be used again. 

If no one can guess the song, the leader has to sing his song for the family.  You could keep points or just play for fun.

Vacation should be a special time for you and your family! Keep the fun going with these games and others. In the meantime, we'll make sure our cute and durable animal backpacks keep fitting all the good times.