We all know that I am not above iPads and lollipops and general bribery when it comes to distracting my kids during family travel. However, sometimes you need a good, old-fashioned conversation game. An activity that involves nothing more than questions and answers — no pencils or papers, no pieces to get lost, nothing that requires opening a backpack. These games can be played in the car, on the plane, in the airport security line, while waiting at customs, in an interrogation room…you get my drift.
These are oldies but goodies — some are made up, some are ones my parents told me they made up, but probably people have been playing them for centuries….who knows? Find one that your kids like and gear up to play it ad nauseam. For bonus points, bust out M&Ms for prizes.
I’m looking at you, toddler. I’m looking right at you.
Blank vs. Blank
I am forever grateful to the friend who taught me this while we spent interminable hours waiting in lines during a trip to Ghana together. These days, I bust it out in the school drop-off line to distract my kids, and it works great.
“Who would win? Darth Vader or Skeletor? Barbie or Jem? The Smurfs or the Trolls?”
You don’t have to specify HOW they would win, although my boys always imagine a fistfight. There are no winners in this game. You have to think fast on your feet, however, as the answers come quick, so be prepared with the next battle pair!
I’m Going On A Trip
We used to play this one with my grandma on road trips, and even young kids can participate in this alphabet and memory game with help. Going around in a (rough) circle, the first person says: “I’m going on a trip, and I’m going to take an Apple.” (Letter A.) The next person says, “I’m going on a trip, and I’m going to take an Apple, and a Baby.” The next person has to repeat the first two and add a third item that starts with the letter C, and so on. Whenever a person fails to remember everything, that round ends…and you start over. Can you make it to Z? If so, someone in your group is a super human and you should send them for Mensa testing.
The Learning Game
This was my dad’s specialty. Each child gets a turn, and you think of a question for them. You can give them categories, eg: “Would you like math, astronomy, or history?” And multiple choice: “Who was the first U.S. president? Hamilton, Washington or Nixon?”
You can make the questions horribly difficult and when they protest, inform them, “It’s called the LEARNING game, not the KNOWING game.”
You may need the M&Ms for prizes for this one; it’s always been necessary for me to avoid a revolution when they start to realize how much they don’t know about the world.
Guess That Tune
So far, I’m the only one in the family that can carry a tune well enough to be the singer, but some day the kids can probably take turns. On person hums the song, the others see who can guess it first.
Alternatively, you can just play snippets of songs from your phone and make the kids guess them. Thank you, twenty-first century.
The Name Game
Your kids will have to be old enough to know how to spell as well as know a few celebrities of some type for this one. The first person names a celebrity (e.g. Will Smith), and the next person has to name a celebrity whose first name starts with the last letter of the other person’s last name (in this case, S, e.g. Susan Sarandon). You keep going until you get to your destination, or somebody has to go to the bathroom.
Starting with A and proceeding through the alphabet, name countries that start with each letter, e.g. Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Croatia…you could do the same thing with cities, capitals, or states. It’s a great geography lesson.
Would You Rather…?
Based on the ages of your kids, you can come up with some crazy questions for everyone. Have kids take turns answering questions like: “Would you rather eat glue or change the toddler’s diaper? Would you rather have ice cream whenever you want, or never have to do dishes again? Would you rather….” Older kids can help make up questions, too.
“Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” We always start our 20 questions like this with the rule that you at least have to tell everyone if it was an animal, plant or inanimate object that you had in mind.
In this game, you think of something, anything, in your head, but you might have to give little kids some parameters, e.g. a living person or letting them know if the object is something in the car. They get to ask 20 yes or no questions to help them guess what you’re thinking. This is a good game that keeps the kids against the adult and avoids competition (aka fighting) among kids.
Have kids look for a set number of items of a certain color, such as 20 blue items, and the first person to find them all wins. This one works best on the road.
Two Truths and a Lie
Each person takes a turn saying two true things about themselves and one lie. This game is a good way to learn more about each other (mom once went skydiving!) but I avoid it at the moment because I have one kid who can’t lie to save his life and another who’s a pathological liar. I’ve decided not to teach either one how to lie any more proficiently. Consider yourself forewarned.
Bonus Game: G.H.O.S.T
This is a word game for teens/adults; older kids might be able to manage it, but it’s tough. It’s like HORSE in basketball, but you get a letter when you make a word (rather than when you miss a basket). You are trying NOT to finish a word. Each person takes turn saying a letter. You must say a letter that is leading to a word, but you are trying not to finish a word. Two letter words don’t count; some people play that three letter words don’t count, either.
The first person says B
The second person says L
The third person says A
The fourth person has a choice. If they say a letter like B, they would lose because BLAB is a word. Likewise, they would also lose if they say P because BLAP is not a word. The goal is to say a letter that will ultimately lead to a real word, but doesn’t complete the word. So a good choice here would be N.
The fifth person might have trouble coming up with a way to continue the word without completing it. If they say D because he can’t think of anything else, BLAND is a word. So the fifth person gets a G.
The first person to get G, H, O, S, and T loses the game.