Family car journeys can be torture if you've got bored children in the back.
Sure, you could give them games to play on a tablet or phone, but you can have much more fun (and learn a thing or two) from family-friendly word games. Here are five with simple rules, ideal for any long journey.
1. The Alphabet Game
Age 4, upwards.
A simple game to start, but one that really gets the thinking juices flowing. First, think of a topic that has lots of potential answers. Some examples might be "Names of Marvel characters" or "Toys in our house". The occupants of the car then take it in turns to provide an answer, but it must begin with the next letter of the alphabet from the previous answer. So, a round about Disney films might go something like this: "Aladdin", "Beauty and the Beast", "Cinderella", "Dumbo"... etc. Every player gets three lives. If a player can't think of an answer within 5 minutes, they lose a life, and the game moves on to the next player and letter (although other players can show off if they did manage to think of an answer for the tricky letter).
You can tailor the game to fit the destination. For example, if you're on the way to the coast, the topic could be "Things you might find on a beach" ("Armbands", "Barnacles", "Crab"...). With older children, you can also twist the game to set it up for amusing answers like, say, "Things you wouldn't want to encounter in the New Forest" ("Alligators", "Boris Johnson", "coursework"...).
2. Motorway Bingo
Age 4, upwards.
A cross between I Spy and Bingo. Before the journey begins, one person prepares a 'bingo card', which lists objects that might reasonably be seen from the window on long car journeys. Here are 20 to get you started:
Billboard, bird of prey, breakdown truck, brown sign for a heritage attraction, car with headlights on, cooling towers, cows discarded tire, Eddie Stobart lorry, electricity pylon, farm vehicle, football pitch, helicopter, lake, motorbike with two riders, pink vehicle, radio mast, royal mail vehicle, sheep, traffic cones, wind turbine.
During the road trip, passengers should look out the windows in search of the objects on their list. Whoever spots one should shout it out, then cross the word off their list. Other passengers must find another example of that object (and shout it out) to tick it off their own list. The winner is the person who crosses off all items first, or the person with the most ticks at the end of the trip.
3. Carriageway Countdown
Age 10, upwards
This one needs a pen and paper, plus children who are confident with mental arithmetic. It's based on the numbers game from the long-running quiz show Countdown. One of the family first sets a target score. It should be a number less than 1,000. Players write the target at the top of their paper. The adult then reads out the next five numbers encountered by looking out of the window. These could be, for example, mileages on road signs, or numbers included inside number plates. The players note down these numbers, too.
As soon as the fifth number is called, the challenge begins. Players must add, subtract, multiply or divide the five numbers to get as close as possible to the target score. For example, if the five discovered numbers are as follows:
Target: 500. Five numbers: 25, 26, 7, 101, 2
Player 1 solution: 7-2 = 5. Then take that 5 and multiply by 101, gives 505, which is five away from the target.
Player 2 solution: 26-7 = 19. Multiply the 19 by the 25 to get 475. Add the 2 to get 477, which is 23 from the target, and Player 1 wins.
You can set any time limit you like. If the children are really good at maths, then you can copy the TV series and give just 30 seconds (and perhaps hum the famous theme tune, too). Otherwise, 2-3 minutes is usually about right.
4. Number Plate Game
Age 4, upwards.
There are many variations on the number plate game. The basic idea is to spot certain letters or make words from a license plate. For example, the kids could try to spot every letter of the alphabet in order, across many number plates. To make it more competitive, one child should run through the alphabet A to Z, and the other Z to A, and the first to spy all 26 letters wins.
A more creative take on the idea has the kids forming short sentences and even stories based on license plate numbers. The focus should be on three random letters that appear at the end of most UK registration plates. Now, take each letter in that sequence and fit them to a three-word phrase. For example, the letters "MDC" might stand for "My dad's car". For an advanced game, each player should note down 10 sets of three letters and make up a phrase for each, and then combine the phrases into some kind of semi-coherent story. (Phrases can be altered as many times as you like, so long as they always follow the three-letter codes that have been written down.)
5. Citation Needed
Age 10, upwards.
This game is a great way to reward both general knowledge and creative thinking and works best in unfamiliar parts of the country. Each round is triggered when one of the adults spots the name of a town -- it could be on a mileage sign or you could be passing through the town. Each person in the car then takes a turn at revealing some information about the place. If they know a genuine piece of trivia, they should say this first. If they know absolutely nothing about the town, they could take a guess or make something up. So, the name of Doncaster might trigger the following replies:
"It's named after the River Don, which passes through the town." (Player already knew this)
"It has a football team called Doncaster Rovers." (Player already knew this)
"It was founded by the Romans." (Player didn't really know this, but has learnt at school that Roman towns often end in '-caster' or '-chester'.)
"The town was named after its first mayor, Mr Donald Caster." (Player totally made this up, knowing nothing else about the town.)
You can continue like this as long as you like, with each successive answer getting ever-more silly as everyone runs out of proper facts. To increase the challenge, players can shout "Citation needed!" if they think another player has just made something up. A quick Google search should reveal whether it's a genuine fact or a bluff, and forfeits awarded accordingly.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.