Making the most of car time with kids

It’s no secret that car rides and young children don’t exactly mix well. Parents of young children know the infamous ‘Are We There Yet Syndrome’ like the back of their hands. It begins with basic squirming and restlessness, but in no time can evolve into full-on tears. But when driving is a must, how do we make an enclosed space a more engaging experience for children?

While it may be tempting to reach for an electronic device, a video game or a movie, these aren’t always the most productive tools in the wheelhouse. Instead, make a plan and transform your car into a moving classroom. Before hitting the road, having a set of educational activities at your disposal can make all the difference.

Dr. Wendy Matthews, a clinical psychologist at Mindprint, explains executive function as the mental processes that everyone, young and old, uses to focus their attention, plan what they are going to do, juggle the many tasks that will be needed to carry out the plan, and adapt to any obstacles or changes that might come up along the way.


For children, executive function essentially means learning working memory, mental flexibility and self-control — all crucial skills needed to navigate everyday life. She suggests playing games that practice and reinforce this executive function in young children.

For many parents, time spent with children in the car can actually be some of the best one-on-one time they’ll get all day. With this list of in car activities, you’re now the teacher and your vehicle is your mobile classroom command center. These great activities will help promote and reinforce executive function capacities and rid your car of all boredom.


What’s the Difference?

Observing and analyzing similarities and differences between objects can give students important practice in flexible thinking. The process exercises a student’s ability to consider varying characteristics and adjust thinking as necessary based on the information that is being considered. Help students practice these skills explicitly by having them observe a group of people, objects, or ideas that are categorized by a shared characteristic.

Then pick out and create a list of something within that group that is unique or different. For example, name five objects: pear, apple, orange, carrot, blueberry. Which one does not fit and tell me why? Depending on the students’ ages and ability levels, the anomaly can become increasingly subtle, such as picking out fictional characters from real people, athletes from musicians, reptiles from mammals.


Listen to Audiobooks

Audiobooks can be a great opportunity to develop a student’s reading comprehension skills without actually needing to read. Audiobooks can be a particularly good option for children who struggle to read on their own for longer periods of time. As children listen enraptured in a book’s story, they benefit from the opportunity to listen and comprehend without the other challenges.

Listening together gives the opportunity to pause the audio and discuss what you have heard and ensure and/or deepen a child’s level of understanding. Reading comprehension is fundamental to all academic subjects and improvements in reading comprehension will benefit students in innumerable ways.



Re-naming Game

Being able to listen and then memorize things is an important skill during a person’s childhood. The best way to improve that skill is to create a game out of it. What you’ll want to do is recite a list of objects and see how many they can recite back to you in the correct order. You can also do this with numbers by reciting numbers in multiples. Start with a small number, perhaps three, and work up to large numbers or more difficult objects. Parents can use this game to build a child’s vocabulary or to help them learn math.  


Rhyming games

This game is about as straightforward as they come. Children not only love it, but it helps them with memory and creativity. All you, as a parent or guardian have to do is come up with a word, that the child will then have to rhyme another word with. You can either go back and forth with words, or for older kids, you can rhyme sentences back and forth with each other. Because it doesn’t take the driver’s eyes off the road, it’s a great game to play when picking the kids up from school or taking them to soccer practice.  


Working memory game

The “I am going on a picnic” is a great game for children to work on their memory skills. Each kid has to name 5 things that they are going to bring to the picnic. On the car ride over, you can ask them to recite back to you, what it was that they wanted to bring to the picnic. A good way to go about it is to have them right down what they are bringing, but then recite back to them their list with one item missing. You can then ask them what item is missing.