Screen Free Road Trip Ideas for Toddlers & Children

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screen free roadtrip ideas

We recently went on a road trip to Florida from North Carolina with our four children ages 2-9 years old. It was the first long trip we have taken with all four kids, so I wanted to be as prepared as possible with lots of activities to have on hand in the van. The trip was about 12 hours each way.

Here is what kept everyone busy and (mostly) happy for the entire ride!

For the Big Kids (ages 7 & 9)

My focus was mostly on the younger two (ages 2 & 3) because my older children have gotten really good at entertaining themselves with very little on my part. The older kids definitely used most of what is also listed in the younger kids’ list because it was there, but they spent the majority of the time reading, listening to audiobooks, and drawing.

Books, Audiobooks, and Podcasts

A couple of days before the trip I went to the library for new-to-them books. My son (9) is currently into graphic novels so we loaded up on Cardboard Kingdom, Mighty Jack, and Little Robot. He also loves non-fiction facts books and spent a good while reading through 5000 Awesome Facts About Everything and sharing facts with us. Joke books were also a hit for my son. My daughter (7) is more into longer novels and spent the trip reading The Penderwicks, Trumpet of the Swan, and books from the American Girl Wellie Wishers collection. Along with physical books, they enjoyed some audiobooks by using our bluetooth speaker. I streamed the books using my phone and the Hoopla app. We love this app because it is connected to our library. You can check out 6 titles a month and download them for easier streaming on the go. They also listened to their favorite podcasts, Smash Boom Best and Kids Bible Stories through the app Stitcher.

Drawing and Activity Binders

I made each kid a binder for drawing and activities. In the binder, I included some blank white paper, crossword puzzles, hidden pictures, and word searches. I bought these books from the dollar store, ripped the pages out, and used a 3-hole punch to hole punch them. Then I inserted it all into their separate binders so that everything was in one place and already divided between kids (to reduce the chance of fighting). This worked really well. Each child also got a cup of markers, pencils, and thin sharpies to put in their cup holder for drawing and coloring.

Drawing Books and Tracing Paper

I grabbed a few how-to-draw books we had around the house and some tracing paper. The kids spent a lot of time tracing illustrations from books!

Here are some of our favorite how-to-draw books:

For the Little Kids (ages 2 & 3)

Here’s where the real fun comes in! I spent a few days gathering these items from around our house, the dollar store, or Target. I stored it all in a big crate between the two car seats on the floor. I sat in the passenger seat and made sure that the crate was easily accessible for me. I spent most of the trip assisting the little two by handing them things, reaching things they dropped and making sure my bin stayed organized. We did watch some Daniel Tiger and Sesame Street on the DVD player in the van, but even when it was on, they used these activities to keep their hands busy. Twelve hours is a long time for little ones!

Melissa and Doug Water Wow Activity Pads

These are huge in our house! My tip with these is not to use the included brush. It is a pain to refill in the car and doesn’t last very long. Instead, give your child a cup with a little bit of water and a long-handled paintbrush. This worked well for us because my kids have cupholders on their car seats. I just put the cup right into the cup holder. Doing it this way also requires more steps (ie- more time occupied).

Pipe Cleaner Lacing

They used pony beads for this activity and then another time, they used O-shaped cereal we had for a snack! I stored the beads and pipe cleaners in a big zipper bag in my crate. When they wanted to do it, I scooped out a small number of beads or cereal into a cup and again, put it in their cup holder. Then I made a small bend on one end of the pipe cleaner and gave it to them to start lacing. When they were finished, I formed them into bracelets by wrapping one end around the other. After making the cereal ones, they had fun eating it all off!

Books, CD Audiobooks, and Music

I also loaded up on library books for the little ones to thumb through on the drive before we went. I checked out some with included CDs to play while they looked at the books. I also picked up this Eric Carle Sounds book from Target, which was a big hit. Any books with buttons are always exciting for little ones. We also played the Spotify playlists from Treehouse Nature Study and the kids sang along. I led them in some of the familiar hand rhymes from the curriculum as well!

Drawing & Magnetic Boards

They spent lots of time doodling with these LCD tablets and this magnetic drawing board. They also loved using the magnetic tablet they got for Christmas last year. 

Stickers and Paper

I got a few pads of stickers from the dollar store and white blank paper. I gave them an old lunch tray with a paper on it (I got these at a thrift store and we use them constantly). My daughter decorated the papers, her arms, legs, and clothes time and time again. If the mess doesn’t bother you, this was a huge hit! A tip for really young ones: remove the outer part of the sticker paper to make it easier for little hands to grab the stickers.

Glue Stick and Construction Paper

I handed them a full sheet of white paper, some ripped-up paper in a cup, and the glue stick and let them go to town. They also used the lunch tray as their “table” for this activity.

Latch Puzzle Boards

Both of my younger kids love the house latch puzzle board that we own and it’s an easy one-piece activity to bring along.

Dry Erase Board and Markers

There is something about writing with a marker that kids love. This kept them busy for a long time. We got a cheap dry erase board from the dollar store like this one with low odor markers. They loved erasing with a little eraser too. I put the markers in a cup in their cupholder when they were drawing.

Sensory Toys

For a good bit of the time, the kids played with various sensory toys. They were appealing, especially since they were new to them and I pulled them out right when things were on the brink of getting chaotic. Here are the ones we used and they enjoyed:

Small Piece Toys

We brought three toys that have smaller pieces. I put the smaller pieces in a cup in their cupholder and handed them the larger element. This actually worked really well, but I could see how it could have backfired if they dropped the small pieces in a place I couldn’t reach. The toys we brought were Mr. Potato Head, Shapes Sorter, and a Wooden Puzzle.

Are you taking a road trip with kids this summer? I hope this list gives you some fresh ideas for keeping little hands and minds busy as you travel.