By The Parents Perspective
June 09, 2015
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kids on a road trip

Many of us will take to the road this summer for family vacations. And even when we're not on vacation, we'll spend a lot of time in the car with our kids getting them to and from summer activities. Have you done the math on how many hours, days, weeks, and months of your kids' childhoods you spend driving them places? Of course you've thought about it, and probably complained about it, but here are the hard numbers: if you're in the car with your kids 45 minutes each day, that's the equivalent of 3 full 8-hour workdays every month! These are precious family hours with your captive little audiences, strapped into their car seats and seat belts, with no escape. Don't waste that time by plugging your kids into ear buds or having them watch "Frozen" for the 200th time. Use your car hours creatively with activities everyone can participate in together so that getting there is, as they say, half the fun.

Of the games we played in the car with our kids, I like the "License Plate Game" the best. Here are a few variations on the theme:

License plate scavenger hunt - Give your kids a notepad and pen, and have them hunt for different types of plates. The goal during each trip may be to find the highest number (SJR 516 beats ERR 123) or the lowest number (MVR 221 beats SLS 7657), the earliest letter sequence in the alphabet (ABD 335 beats DAB 2392) or the latest letter sequence, the most characters (numbers and letters combined) or the fewest. Your kids read the license plates of passing cars and call out their best finds. If they're having fun, you can extend the game beyond each separate commute by carrying over the best license plate from this trip to the next, trying to get ever closer to the elusive goal you set. For pre-readers, hunt for different color license plates; hunting for different color cars works nicely if your kids aren't big enough yet to see the plates from their seats.

License plate geography – How many different state plates can you find on each drive? Carry this game over from drive to drive until someone collects all 50 states (very difficult) or, more realistically, 25 states. This also makes for a nice team sport, combining each person's state finds for a family grand total. Hint: parking lots at highway rest stops are a rich source of state plates.

License plate birthdays – find the numeric combination, in the right sequence, for your own birthdays or those of people you know. The numbers 223 appearing on a plate would be February 23. Who do you know that was born on February 23?

License plate monograms – Find the initials of people you know or of celebrities. TS is Taylor Swift. Bonus points if your kids know that TAS includes her middle name (Alison).

License plate poker – For older kids, collect (or compete for) "best hands" for each trip. AJP 224 would be a pair of 2s an ace and a jack. PAE 6978 would be an ace and a 4 card straight (or you can be a stickler and require a straight to appear in proper sequence).

License plate chess – Also for older kids, find plates with the most number of chess pieces (P=pawn, R=rook, B=bishop, K=king or knight, Q=Queen; you can also give credit for C=castle, or call the knight a horse and give credit for an H).

The time you spend with the kids in the car can be memorable minutes and hours of joking, learning, and gentle competing. Might as well enjoy all the chauffeuring you'll be doing this summer.

Safe travels!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

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