5 Best (and Weirdest) Car Games I Ever Made Up

The following games were made up on the spot – usually to interrupt yet another argument in the back seat over whose stuff is on the wrong side.

Vacation with the young-ins takes a lot of pre-planning – for sure.

But in my experience, vacationing with my two boys mostly requires the ability to come up with new plans on the spot (because all the pre-planning didn’t go according to plan).

Luckily, I am a trained and practiced maker-upper, and I have a list of some real gems for both long and short car rides.   The following games were made up on the spot – usually to interrupt yet another argument in the back seat over whose stuff is on the wrong side.

1 | “Dumper, Camper, Flat-bed, Bus”

(Best for children 3 and up)

This game actually has a song for its title – it helps you remember the names of the vehicles. Here is how you play the game:

  • While one adult drives, the passengers look around for a dump truck, a camper or RV, a flat-bed truck, and a bus.  When all of the items are spotted by any passenger, the game is won.  That’s it.  And honestly it is pretty fun.
  •  If you want to make the game last longer, you can sing the second verse: “Tow-truck, Food-truck, Tanker, Rust.”  Then you look for a tow-truck, a truck with some kind of food marking on the outside, a milk or oil tanker, and then a rusty truck.  Boom.

2 | “Soggy Trip”

(Best for children 5 and up)

The goal is to work as a team to find cars or trucks or buses that are certain colors: the colors that are represented by the letters in the words SOGGY TRIP.

  • S is for Silver – so you would find a car that is silver in color. O is for orange, G or gold or green or grey, Y is for yellow, T is for Tan, R is for Red, I is for Indigo or dark blue, and then P is for Purple.
  • Silver, Orange, Grey, Green, Yellow, Tan, Red, Indigo, and Purple.

We don’t find them in order – just one car from each color to complete a full “set.” Our record is finding 6 complete sets during the 15 minutes it takes to get from our house to school.

3 | “One of a Kind”

(Best for children 6 and up)

This is a counting car game where all passengers count things that are together.  

I’ll explain:  

  •  As you all are driving along you’ll find something that is all alone – a crabapple tree or a cow or a gas station.  That counts as 1.
  •  Then you try to find 2 things together that are the same – like two headlights, two bicycle tires, two green tractors, two gas pumps.  They count as 2.
  • Then you continue onto three, and it gets harder now.  You need to find three of the same thing – like three motorcycles driving by or three goats in a pen or three lights in a traffic light.  That counts as 3.
  • Then onto 4 then 5 then 6.  We usually stop at 10 and then start over again but if you wanted to try to find 11 of something, then give it a try.  You might find 11 windows on a house or 11 geese flying by.  This game is a group game where everyone works together.

4 | “Car I Spy”

(Best for children 6 and up)  

This game is just like regular “I Spy” with the added complexity of movement.  So it requires some imagination and extra attention.

     As the car is moving down the road, the “Spy” spots something of a particular color (a flower, a mailbox, a garage door, a trash can) and says “I spy something yellow.”

      Then each passenger asks clarifying questions to narrow down what it could be: “Is it man-made?”  “Is it made of metal?”  “Is it attached to a barn?”

      It requires players to pay extra attention to what is outside – and it asks them to imagine what they could have passed by and thus can no longer see

5 | “Pay Schwindeman”

(Best for children 7 and up)

I know – crazy name.  But it is a crazy game!  It involves making up unique names and then describing the character based on the name.   

Here is how it works:

  •  One person comes up with a name – like “Rock Rolidex” or “Saraphath” or “Billy the Noodle.”
  •  Then each of the other people in the car have to make up a character that has that name.  One character is a superhero, one character is a mythological being, one character is a musician, and one character is a world leader (all depending on how many people are playing).
  • Next, it goes around the car and everyone has a chance to offer a character.  For instance, “Rock Rolidex is a superhero who can freeze time for as long as he wants in a given area.
  • The thing is, if one person has already used the superhero option, the next person has to do something else.  “Rock Rolidex is a Latvian hip hop artist who dresses like a 1950’s American film star.”
  • Once everyone has had a chance to offer a character, the person who came up with the name chooses which character he or she likes best.  Then the winner gets to choose a new name.  It is crazy fun.

If you need more explanation or an example, here’s a video  we made of me and my wife playing these games.  

Even More Games

In this blog post, we have three games (plus video) you can play in the airport when your flight is delayed and the children are going bonkers.  

Pop these games into your back pocket when the cell service, app, directions and anything else that was a part of your original plan breaks down – or when you simply want a little family connect time.  Happy Travels!


Is your kid Pokémon obsessed? 7 things you should know.

Most of us can’t seem to figure out what Pokémon is all about. Looking for answers, I keep asking questions. I’m on to this game, kid. Sorta. Not at all.

Pokémon preoccupies my seven-year-old. Specifically, I’m talking about the old-school trading cards (based on the older-school video game series). He’s obsessed. And he’s not the only one. Last night, my younger guy’s T-ball game stalled when the opposing team’s next three batters-up stood huddled over a Pokémon pile. This prompted another mom to reveal that a neighbor boy had stopped by their house that morning before school to present her first-grader with his first set of cards. Pokémon passion is downright contagious.

As parents, we get the excitement of the trading trend. But most of us can’t seem to figure out what Pokémon itself is all about. Looking for answers, I keep asking questions. I’m making slow progress but, to-date, here’s what I can tell you:

It’s not pronounced Pokey Man. Or Poke-EE-mon. It is Poke-uh-mon. Say it. Do you feel sorta Jamaican? Good. You’ve got it. Keep it up so you don’t embarrass your kid.

There’s a real game associated with these cards. Accordingly to my son, the Pokémon Trading Game, as it’s officially called, is all about “these weird animals that battle against each other and, if one of them wins, the trainer that owns them gets that Pokémon.” Wikipedia mostly confirms this.

But kids don’t actually play the game. At least in first grade. They just trade the cards to “get the strongest Pokémon.” And they talk about the game a lot. With each other.

Pokémon encourages math practice. What’s 140 plus 20? You tell me. What’s 10 plus 20? I think you know. 30? Yes. For weeks, my kid’s been calling out equations he creates from numbers on the cards. When I push the questions back to him, he works out the answers. I call this math practice. For real. On the homework chart he turns in weekly to his teacher.

The math-practice numbers are “damages.” From what I can gather, these numbers reflect how much attack damage one Pokémon can do to another. They are always in units of ten. Sometimes there are two numbers on a card—which is good only for math practice. According to J, “You can only use one attack. There are usually two attacks. You want to use the higher attack.” Note: This information has not been verified. Please crowdsource fact-check it for me.

EX cards are really good. I don’t know why. Do you? Help a mother out.

Clandestine card-trading favors cargo pants. “I’m going to need to wear pants with big pockets tomorrow,” J told me last evening, sorting through his stash. “So you can sneak your Pokémon cards out to recess and trade?” I asked. “We’re allowed to do that,” he responded, with a flushed, smirky face that suggested this was not true, and then: “Wait! How did you know?”

Because I’m on to this Pokémon game, kid. Sorta not at all.

Review of UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone is more than an awesome activity book. It’s also a guidebook to creativity, adventure, and learning. It’s one of my very favorite books for kids and families.

One of the persistent (and often annoying) questions parents hear from our kids is “What should I do?” This book amply answers that question.

UNBORED Games is the second book in a series that began with UNBORED: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun (reviewed here). It’s described as the “best games book” ever, and I have to agree. There are more than seventy games featured in the book (including 50 new ones). 

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Read the UNBORED Games Manifesto

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Games are divided into four sections, each featuring a mix of high and low tech games, as well as active and sedentary games. The sections are:

PWNAGE, with clapping games, Highland games, Secret rules games, more.

Home Games, with game night games, board game hacks, apps to play with grownups, backyard games and more.

Game Changers, which encourage cooperation, team building and even activism.

Adventure Games, based around exploration, role-playing, and experimentation.

UNBORED Games has three levels of utility: it curates the best games around, it presents brand-new games, and it’s guided by an ethos.

That ethos is: “gaming is a whole culture for kids to explore.” To that end, UNBORED Games explains how kids can hack, extend and reinvent games for themselves. Fun, yes, but also increasingly critical skills in our culture and economy. It’s the only games book I know of with this point of view.

A bit of a confession: I’m never excited about family game night until we’re actually playing a game together. Then, of course, I love it. So, even though I love this book,  I’m not naturally a huge “games book” person. When I confessed this to authors Joshua and Elizabeth,  Josh had a brilliant suggestion: get snacks. Go for the snacks, stay for the game. It totally works.

This book is written for kids to read. In fact it has sections telling kids how to involve their parents and grandparents in games. But parents will really want to read it, too.



Joshua Glenn is cofounder of the influential web sites Significant Objects, Hilobrow, and Semionaut. He has authored and edited a number of books. He lives in Boston and has two sons. Follow Joshua on Twitter (as Hilobrow).

Elizabeth Foy Larsen was a member of the team that launched the awesome magazine Sassy.  Her writing on families has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, Daily Beast, and elsewhere. She lives in Minneapolis with two sons and a daughter.  Follow Elizabeth on Twitter.


For more information on UNBORED Games as well as the original UNBORED Book, visit Unbored.netConnect on Facebook at Facebook.com/unboredguide.

Look inside the book on Amazon.com. Get it there or direct from Bloomsbury Publishing.


Football, Sportsmanship & Learning What You Teach

No one in our house is fanatical about pro football (we’ve never prayed for our team, for example.) However, hanging out with a game on TV is relaxing part of our winter weekends.

I (mostly) enjoy answering my six-year-old girl’s millions of questions about the game. “Why did he do that? What does that mean? What do you think they’ll do next?”

We’ve had many, many conversations about where the teams are from, their players, where they stand in the rankings, how many Super bowls they’ve won, and what their team emblems mean.

I grew up cheering for the Patriots. I was born in Boston. They’ll always going be my team. At first, our kid also loved the Pats, even though her mother is a 49ers fan.

However, this winter I noticed a dark trend: increasing chatter about the Green Bay Packers. Then, one day in December, she confessed. Green Bay is officially her favorite team. Why? Because green is her favorite color and because for some reason she’s obsessed with Wisconsin.

We joke about how we all follow different teams. We also talked about how important it is to enjoy the excitement of competition while also being a good sport. I’ve seen my friend’s kids cry, weep and fight over professional sports affiliations.  Unfortunately, many people fail to grow out of that behavior.

Six year olds are pretty much sore winners and losers by default. It’s kinda cute when they’re young, but quickly becomes obnoxious. Fortunately, watching sports together provides hundreds of teachable moments about sportsmanship. (Actually playing sports provides vastly more, of course.)

I’m not going to lie – as a Red Sox fan, I’ve yelled “Yankees Suck” at many games at Fenway Park. But around the kid, I consciously try to model good sportsmanship in five ways:

  1. Explain and discuss the concept of “sportsmanship” – don’t take it for granted they understand what it is.
  2. Recognize good efforts and good plays by both teams.
  3. Don’t put individual players down.
  4. Discuss controversial plays, but respect the ref when he makes the call (easier said than done)
  5. Cheer, clap, hoot and have fun when your team makes a good play or wins, but remember respect the fans of the other team. Don’t be rude.

As in many areas of modern parenting, I’m learning what I’m actually teaching as I go. Exemplifying good sportsmanship for my daughter has helped me become a better sport. I’ve supported my kids choice of football teams, and even cheered for Green Bay once or twice.

Totally different matter if she ever supports Yankees, of course.


Dads have the overwhelming influence  for how kids choose their sports teams.[stag_icon icon=”external-link-square” url=”http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/10/24/141649929/how-we-become-sports-fans-the-tyranny-of-fathers” size=”16px” new_window=”no”]

Some further tips on sportsmanship from PBS Parents [stag_icon icon=”external-link-square” url=”http://www.pbs.org/parents/food-and-fitness/sport-and-fitness/raise-a-good-sport/” size=”16px” new_window=”no”]