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The Best Car Activities for Toddlers: 30+ Fun Road Trip Ideas

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When you think of a long road trip with two or three year olds, what comes to mind? Whining, crying, temper tantrums? Trying to get out of their car seat? It doesn’t have to be that way, not if you have the right car activities for toddlers! If you’re taking a road trip with young children, it’s tempting to just stick them in front of a screen and call it a day. But as a mom of 4, I can tell you that if you plan a few activities to break up the screen time, everyone will be much happier!

And while a little bit of screen time isn’t bad, it really isn’t good for them for a 7, 8, 9, or however many hours-long car ride. When it comes down to it, you do what you gotta do to survive, but ideally, you can throw in some other activities with the screen time.

Fear not, because there are other ways to keep the kiddos occupied that don’t involve screens. Many of these activities are not only fun for toddlers, but also stimulate their brains and hone those fine motor skills, all while you’re on your way to grandmas!

Toddler car activities don’t have to be expensive, either. In fact, most of these things are free or inexpensive, the sort of things you can find at home or at the local dollar store.

activities for 5 year old in car

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links.

Family Road Trips With Toddlers: A Survival Guide

I have 4 kids right now, ages 10, 8, 8 (twins!), and 3. At one point, I had THREE TODDLERS and we have always traveled with them. My husband’s family lives 12 hours from us, and so it’s a long road trip that we have made every year, at least once.

I’ve picked up some tips and tricks along the way. I’m going to share a LOT of activities and ideas but please don’t try to cram in every activity on your road trip. Simply pick a few of your favorite ideas!

Traveling with tots is not the impossible feat you might think it is, but there are some very helpful ways to prepare! Having the right car activities for toddlers is a great thing, but there are some other tips and tricks to make it even easier.

I have a whole post on how to travel with kids overnight (and why I prefer it to traveling during the day!) but regardless of the time of day, here are several practical tips to keep in mind:

  • Pack a VARIETY of activities! That’s what this whole post is about, after all!
  • Pack snacks! Even a short road trip still needs some road trip food. Your toddler will look forward to it and it’s an effective way to break up the time and keep things from getting too boring!
  • Pack an emergency bag: this includes extra clothes in case of accidents, a first aid kit, and a PUKE BUCKET or BARF BAG . I’m serious. We made this mistake on a road trip last year and let me tell you, not pleasant! I highly recommend these portable barf bags . They are affordable and easy to pack!
  • Pack a travel potty if your toddlers are potty training or just recently became potty trained.
  • Plan some toddler-friendly stops: especially if you’re on a long road trip, it helps to have some fun, family-friendly pit stop locations planned! It takes the edge off the boredom and lets them get some energy out! Googling local parks or free attractions is great, but sometimes even an empty parking lot is good in a pinch!
  • Have a schedule : if your toddlers are used to a certain schedule during the day, try to stick to it on the road trip. Meal/snack time, nap time, quiet time, and playtime can all be incorporated during a long drive. Just don’t be surprised if the change in location throws things off a little bit! That’s okay!
  • Introduce new things as you go: start with one toy or activity, and if your toddler starts to look bored, give them something new to do, or surprise them with a special snack, or anything to make the trip seem less monotonous!
  • Break it up with screen time: of course it is okay to allow some screen time, in fact, it might be a good idea to let them take a break and watch a movie or an educational show, especially during a longer than 4-hour road trip!
  • Tip to limit screen time: During long car rides with younger children, I try to hold off on screen time until after they took a nap. I also plan it strategically around stops, so if there’s an hour-long movie for them to watch, I’ll put it on an hour before we have a stop planned. This way, they won’t be too upset when it’s time to turn it off, because we’re about to get out of the car.
  • Hotel Room Bag: If you’re stopping overnight, make sure to pack a hotel room back, with all of your overnight essentials! Don’t forget sound machines, night lights, and a few fidget toys or sensory toys to keep the kids entertained in the small room.

Related Content:

  • Traveling With Kids
  • Traveling With Kids Overnight
  • Flying With Twins

Car Storage and Organization

Before we get too far into the post, I’m going to tell you how I organize our car. In the past, I’ve let the kids each pack a backpack with their activities, but then their backpacks are on the floor and their stuff gets everywhere. For our last trip, I ordered these car organizers that hook onto the backseat and it was a game changer!

activities for 5 year old in car

They come in a 2-pack, so I had one in the back with Josie and Margo (8-year-old twins) and one in the 2nd row with Theo and Beckham (10 and 3). Theo is a huge help with Beckham, giving him the toys he requests, setting up his headphones, etc.

We also used this car seat organizer to keep our snacks in. Each kid had a ziplock bag with their snacks in it and we refilled it from this container.

activities for 5 year old in car

Foolproof Toddler Car Activities

I’m sure this goes without saying, but as always, use discretion with which of these are appropriate for your toddler (especially if they involve smaller pieces). Every toddler is a little different and depending on their age and development means that different toys and activities will be better for them.

These are all great travel toys that I’ve used for many years. As my kids get older, I’ve updated this post each year, so now this is really just a big post full not just the best travel toys for toddlers, but the best travel toys for all of my kids!

Travel Tray for Toddler Car Activities

activities for 5 year old in car

These travel trays look AMAZING. My kids are constantly dropping things in the car and asking for me to retrieve them for them. These trays would prevent things from falling to the floor!

If you don’t mind investing a little bit of money into your car activities for toddlers, a travel tray is a great way to pack everything in one place and let the little ones entertain themselves. There are compartments on the sides for books and snacks, and sometimes even a stand for a tablet.

I like this one a lot for a long car ride because it has a dry-erase board and activities!

We recently used this on a 22 hour road trip from Rhode Island to Florida and it was great. We used it for our 3-year-old, Beckham. It was the perfect tray to help him with his snacks, and he used the road tape and some toy cars to play with. It’s also perfect for coloring, but Beckham didn’t want to color.

activities for 5 year old in car

Encourage independent play with toys that are easy to play with and easy to clean!

Toy cars travel easily and don’t need a flat surface to be entertaining. However, you can enhance the play experience by creating a road on a travel tray or cookie sheet with this road tape . They are the perfect toy for little hands and the toy that Beckham prefers the most.

activities for 5 year old in car

Did you know young kids have better reading comprehension by listening to books than reading them? Obviously, most toddlers can’t read yet, but audio books are still a perfect way to stimulate their brains and their ears! 

You can get free audiobooks from the library or snag a free 30-day subscription to Audible and download new books right onto your phone! And if you already have Audible, then you’re ahead of the game.

Pro tip: If you have a DVD player in your car, play a DVD over the stereo without turning the screen on and BOOM: audiobook. We do this with Daniel Tiger DVDs all the time!

Yoto Player

Beckham got a Yoto Mini (currently out of stock everywhere so I am linking the full-sized one) for Christmas and it was such a good investment. Our older 3 kids love to read and they all have kindles, so they can read for hours in the car. When they are reading, we set Beckham up with his Yoto and headphones and he happily listened to books! They are the perfect screen-free activity for long trips.

Physical Books

car activities for toddlers

Space may be limited on a long car ride, but that doesn’t mean you can’t let them pack a few of their favorite books to flip through on the drive! It’s great if you have some interactive books they can engage with, too, or if your older kids are willing and able to read to them!

My 3 big kids (10, 8, 8) love to read and they all have the kids Kindles. The kids kindle is actually a regular, adult kindle, BUT it comes with a case, ad-free, and a year of kindle kids unlimited. Kindle kids unlimited is basically like Netflix, but for e-books. I had my kids download dozens of books before we left, and if they ran out, I simply connected their kindles to the hotspot on my phone so they could download more.

Here are some of our favorite books lists:

  • The Best Children’s Books For Twins (About Twins!)
  • The Best Spring Books for Toddlers
  • The Best Fall Books for Toddlers and Preschoolers
  • The Best Christmas Books for Toddlers and Preschoolers

I purchased these on one of our recent road trips and they were a huge hit with my kids! They made little people and my son even made glasses to match his sisters. I loved that they were using their imaginations to create things in a non-messy way. I made sure to pack them away in our box of travel items so that they are still fresh and exciting the next time we travel.

Buy them here: Wikki Stix

activities for 5 year old in car

Magnetic Cookie Sheet

car activities for toddlers

I’ve seen this idea before and it’s brilliant! Put some magnets on a cookie sheet and let them play with it like they would fridge magnets! I love using these vehicle magnets or gear magnets!

Play kid-friendly music

Entertain your toddlers with a little car-bound singing and dancing to their favorite tunes – children’s music, movie soundtracks, or light pop music are all good options.

Road Trip Games: Play “I Spy” 

This is probably easier for older toddlers and preschoolers but you can still call your toddler’s attention to neat things out the window, like big trucks or mountains! My toddlers were always upset when the big trucks left until we made a big deal out of waving “bye-bye” to it.

Road Trip Games: Play “Simon Says”

If “I Spy” is a little too advanced for your younger toddlers, then a fun game of “Simon Says” may be an easier way to keep them entertained.

Road Trip Games: Scavenger Hunts

My kids had so much fun with this scavenger hunt game on our most recent family vacation. Not only was it fun on the drive, but they enjoyed it while we were driving around Florida as well!

activities for 5 year old in car

No-Mess coloring books

activities for 5 year old in car

If your child loves to color but you love keeping your car marker-free, then no-mess coloring books are a real lifesaver on road trips! I absolutely LOVE THESE.

activities for 5 year old in car

Here’s another no-mess coloring book option that I’ve recommended before and have heard others recommend: Melissa and Doug’s Water Wow books, designed for on-the-go! Just fill the pen with water and let them go to town with no inky mess. These are hands down one of the best toddler travel toys out there.

Portable Travel Games

These are an absolutely perfect travel toy for older siblings and they’re also perfect to keep in your bag for a long wait at an appointment or a restaurant. It comes with hangman, connect5, tic-tac-toe, dots & boxes, and categories. My older kids loved playing this, and my husband and I were able to play hangman with them from the front seat.

activities for 5 year old in car

Magnetic Drawing Board

One of our favorite toys is another mess-free drawing option: magnetic drawing boards .

activities for 5 year old in car

Wooden Matching Game

This wooden matching game can be played with a single player, so it works for a kid sitting alone in a row, but can also be played with multiple players. It is for ages 3-6 and while this isn’t a toy that we have owned, it looks like a great road trip toy.

activities for 5 year old in car

Magnetic Dot Art

Let me tell you a funny story about this magnetic dot art toy . We traveled to Ohio in November, and my 3-year-old refused to play with ANYTHING. Everything bored him. Fast forward to our 23 hour road trip a short 3 months later, and I didn’t pack him many toys because I’d learned my lesson.

Guess who whined for something to play with the ENTIRE RIDE? You guessed it. While I had packed him a few things, it wasn’t nearly enough to keep him occupied for the ride there and back. So, I headed to Target and purchased like the only travel toy I could find. And this is it and it was a huge hit with all of my kids!

activities for 5 year old in car

Tetris Stax

This Tetris is a fun 1 player game that my oldest got in his stocking. It’s the perfect size for a stocking stuffer! It’s for ages 8+ but it’s pretty hard and my 8-year-olds have difficulty with it! Because of this, it does occupy my 10-year-old for quite some time!

OK, hear me out! The age on this is 4-9, but my kids ages 3-10 LOVED THIS!! It is so much fun, but it is a tiny bit messy for a car ride. If you’re like me, you’ll take a little bit of mess that can be easily cleaned up, if it means happy kids on along journeys.

While toddlers cannot do this alone, they can do it if they have an older sibling to help. Theo was able to help Beckham with this activity and it was a huge hit for everyone!

activities for 5 year old in car

Super Sliding Puzzle

This is one we don’t own, but I’ve been eying it for a little bit. I especially think my 10-year-old would like it! He loves puzzles and this looks really fun, although it is a bit on the pricey side.

activities for 5 year old in car

3D Mind Puzzle

This 3D puzzle is for ages 3-8 and it looks like a blast! I know that my big kids would love this as much as my 3-year-old, and it’s on my list to purchase as a surprise for our next road trip.

activities for 5 year old in car

Light Up Pop It Game

What kid doesn’t love pop its? And a pop it game that lights up is an amazing idea. This if or ages 5+ and is one of the best toys for older kids.

activities for 5 year old in car

Sticky notes

activities for 5 year old in car

Another creative idea that’s cheap if not free if you have lots of these lying around: sticky notes! Toddlers can go to town sticking them all over the car without consequence… I mean, you do have to clean up a bunch of sticky notes eventually, but it’s a small price to pay.

Rainbow Scratch Pads

There are many different sets of these rainbow scratch pads, and they are one of my kids all-time favorite activities and are perfect for long trips. They do leave a bit of a mess because of the scratch aspect, but nothing a little wet wipe or vacuum can’t take care of.

activities for 5 year old in car

Magnetic puzzles

This is similar to the magnetic cookie sheet idea above, except that you stick magnets onto the back of puzzle pieces instead. These are a wonderful option for a long car trip.

activities for 5 year old in car

Here are two options: magnetic farm puzzle or these magnetic animal puzzles .

Magnetic Play Scene

I just purchased this magnetic play scene as a Valentine’s Day present for our toddler, knowing that we have 2 trips coming up (both by air and by car!) and this looks like fun activity for a long trip.

It comes with a magnetic puzzle, a play scene, and a dry-erase pad with some markers.

I’m super excited about it, AND the fact that it is all self-contained!

activities for 5 year old in car

Here are some other adorable options for magnetic play scenes. These are truly some of the best road trip activities for toddlers!

Here are a few more really fun ones that I found. Please note that some of these are for a three year old and up due to choking hazards. And, depending on your kids ages, some of these magnetic play scenes can be something that the whole family can enjoy.

Magnetic Dress Up Studio

Dress up the girl with magnetic clothes, jewerly, and accessories!

activities for 5 year old in car

Magnetic Funny Faces

This is like a magnetic Mr. Potato Head. I am tempted to grab this for our next trip because it looks so fun!

activities for 5 year old in car

Busy bags and busy boxes

car activities for toddlers

A “busy bag” or “busy box” refers to pre-packed activities designed to keep kids’ hands and brains busy, but that leaves it pretty open-ended, right? Check out this post to learn more about how to put a good busy bag together!

However, I do like the idea of using a metal lunch box because you can stick magnets to it, maximizing the number of activities available!

activities for 5 year old in car

Much like the sticky notes mentioned above, stickers are a great option for toddler entertainment.

A big sticker book with lots of different animals and shapes is always a win!

This obviously depends on the toddler and whether or not they can handle the temptation of plastering the car window with stickers.

Out of my 4 kids, I would trust 2 of them with stickers in the car at this age.

Reusable Sticker Books

activities for 5 year old in car

Another option if your toddler loves stickers, and you can’t quite trust them with real stickers, is to invest in some reusable stickers like these ones here.

And when I say reusable, I mean, you can wash them and reuse them! They don’t actually have a sticky back and come with a scene to place them on.

I seriously LOVE these sticker pads and they entertain my toddler at home for quite a bit of time. They are a really good option for both younger and older children.

This sticker pad with the roads and rails is also super cute! I am leaning towards the vehicles because my toddlers have always loved vehicles, but they are also availabe in dinosaur , animal , around the town , and fairy tale themes.

activities for 5 year old in car

And finally, I haven’t tried these, but I have heard great things about these puffy stickers ! There are so many options for reusable sticker pads, and I promise you, they are such an easy way to get hours of entertainment.

car activities for toddlers

Many of these portable ideas benefit from a plastic tupperware container of some sort for easy travel and storage – a mini art kit of crayons and colored pencils is no exception!

Glow Sticks or Glow Bracelets

activities for 5 year old in car

If you know you’ll be driving as it gets dark, glow sticks are a fun way to shake things up and give them something exciting to play with!

activities for 5 year old in car

I’ve seen travel kits on Pinterest with normal-sized legos, but personally, I think that’s a little risky… maybe it could work for older toddlers and preschoolers, but for younger kids, I’d use big legos like these!

Edible necklaces and bracelets

String cheerios, Fruit Loops, or another ring-shaped snack food into necklaces and bracelets for a fun snack that keeps their hands busy… and might just minimize the number of cheerios that get all over the backseat!

“Presents”

Break up the monotony of a long car ride with unplanned snacks and activities, given as “presents.” You can even wrap them up for even more fun! Even if it’s a little toy or trinket they already have, the thrill of the unexpected is sure to delight them!

activities for 5 year old in car

No, seriously: plain old masking or washi tape (so it’s easy to get off of surfaces) works wonders as a car activity for toddlers. They have a ball tearing off pieces and sticking them to things. You may not need to spend a dime on this, but here’s a pack of colored masking tape just in case!

Popsicle stick velcro puzzle

Stick pieces of velcro to the ends of colored popsicle sticks for a simple DIY activity that toddlers can use to make shapes. Alternatively, stick magnets to the ends and use on the cookie sheet from above!

Easter eggs

Whether it’s spring time or not, you can make an easy game out of empty Easter Eggs: fill them with trinkets or snacks, or draw dots on one half with the corresponding number on the other so toddlers can practice number matching!

activities for 5 year old in car

Another craft supply you might just have on hand that toddlers love: pom poms! Much like pipe cleaners, you can cut holes out of a cardboard box or container and let them have fun poking them through. Just make sure they don’t decide to put them in their mouth.

Matching card games

activities for 5 year old in car

Practice numbers, letters, pattern recognition, and more with some simple matching card games designed with toddlers in mind!

Pool noodle stacking

Here’s another busy bag idea that could translate well to a road trip, especially if you have a travel tray: cut a pool noodle or two into disks and create a stacking game. This can be color matching, number matching, or just for the fun of stacking something and knocking it over.

Stuffed animals

A favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or lovey is always a good call when it comes to keeping toddlers occupied on long road trips. They can provide some entertainment as well as comfort from home.

Travel Felt Board

activities for 5 year old in car

Felt boards like this travel set are a great activity for road trips because they’re quiet, reusable, and fun. They are similar to reusable sticker pads and magnetic boards, where the felt will stick to the board and not fall to the ground.

Toddlers can let their imaginations run free and you don’t have to worry about messy clean-up.

Calculators or Old Cell Phones

Seriously, something with buttons that your toddler can press and play with will keep them entertained for hours. Pick up a cheap calculator from the local dollar store or donate an old flip phone and you will not be disappointed with the result!

Car Activities for Toddlers: Final Thoughts

I hope this has given you some fun ideas to entertain your toddler on your next family road trip.

Don’t forget some healthy snacks (and some fun treats!), some good entertainment, and of course, a little bit of screen time.

It is absolutely possible to have a fun, relatively stress-free travel experience with little kids along for the ride. The key is to keep them entertained because if they’re bored, you WILL hear about it.

However, there are definitely more car activities for toddlers out there than the ones I’ve suggested here. If there are any not on this list that you think are also foolproof, feel free to let me know in the comments! Until then, happy travels!

activities for 5 year old in car

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COMMENTS

  1. The Best Car Activities for Toddlers: 30+ Fun Road Trip Ideas

    Magnetic puzzles. This is similar to the magnetic cookie sheet idea above, except that you stick magnets onto the back of puzzle pieces instead. These are a wonderful option for a long car trip. Here are two options: magnetic farm puzzle or these magnetic animal puzzles.