by David & Lisabeth Sewell McCann
Summertime! Adventures! Trips to the mountains. Trips to the lake. Trips to Uncle’s house, and Sister’s swim meet, and Brother’s summer camp. There are so many good things to do in the warmth and sunshine.
Summer adventures often mean car time. If your adventures are far flung, it can mean a lot of car time. And if your household is anything like our household, this can try the patience of any and all family members.
When we look at the reality of car time, it is no wonder that our children get antsy. They are strapped down to their seats, and in many cases, next to the one person who knows how to push all their buttons: their sister or brother. It is a recipe for conflict.
So we have a challenge: how to get to the beach, the waterpark, the county fair, Grandma’s house, the zoo – without driving ourselves crazy?
One solution is distraction. You can line up a string of children’s audio books, or an mp3 player full of music. You can pack the crayons, the drawing tablet, the etch-a-sketch, the picture books, and the modeling beeswax. These work beautifully, and keep kids in their own imaginative world for the duration of the trip.
There is also another option. Family car time. You can use the time in the car to connect and enjoy each other for an hour or two. But how?
In our household, we love games – particularly games that involve imagination. Imagination games can be funny, engaging, surprising and often insightful to the parents in the car. They are a fun way to share and get closer – no matter how old your passengers may be.
Here are a couple of our favorite imaginative car games. Both are simple, and both can be played by ages 4 and up.
Spot it Story
We all know the group story game where the story unfolds word-by-word, person after person. “Once” “Upon” “A” “Time” “There” “Was” “A” “Duck”. Many a winding and silly tale has been born from that game. The game “Spot it Story” follows that model, but is based on the changing scenery outside the car windows.
It works like this:
Someone starts the story by seeing something outside the car and incorporating it into the tale. “Once upon a time there were two crows sitting in a tree.”
Then the story passes on to the next person who continues the narrative but now weaves something into it that he or she sees. “The two crows were brother and sister, and they lived in the top of a big red barn.”
It then passes to the next person who continues in the same way. The story can spread out quickly, but with the artful crafting of the adults in the car, it can turn into a dreamlike fairytale involving mailboxes, red trucks, billboards, a field full of cows and whatever else inhabits the landscape.
If the game begins to feel unruly, you can either gently nudge it in the direction you’d like, or simply let go and allow it to get silly. Either way, invite yourself to revel in your children’s creativity. And laugh.
This is a searching game where everyone in the car chooses something they want to find.
For example, I might say, “I would like to see a man with a red hat.” And Big Brother might say, “I want to spy a hawk!” And Little Brother might say, “I want to find a purple flag.”
Now, here’s the trick: you don’t want to pick anything you are absolutely sure you will see – like a yellow bus as you pass an elementary school. The fun part is not knowing if you will see it or not. It needs to be something possible but perhaps not likely.
Then, once everyone has picked something they want to find – you all work together to find them. Everyone looks for the orange cat. Everyone looks for the green lawn mower. Everyone looks for the pointy church steeple.
This very simple game builds teamwork and can keep a car of children quite focused for some time. And the whole car wins the game when you find them all!
Happy summer travels!
David & Lisabeth Sewell McCann are the creators of Sparkle Stories, an online resource for high-quality audio stories for children and families. David is a storyteller, teacher and artist, Lisabeth is a playwright, and together they produce delightful weekly audio stories for subscribers around the world.