Road Trip Literacy (When You Can’t Read in the Car)

vacation reading

Once upon a time, when our family hit the road for vacation, my only entertainment was the radio (if Mom and Dad could grab a station), a portable cassette player (until the batteries died), and whatever else I could think of to avoid (and ignore) my brothers. 

But Terry, you didn’t mention reading!
That’s a great choice. 

“I know,” she says with great enthusiasm! I am so jealous of those who can while away the miles with a book in hand. But, I am not one of them. If I try reading in the car (and I have many, many times) I get nauseous. Enough about me.

Let’s talk about fun things to do in the car that minimize reading and maximize fun. Yes, screens are an option, but this is a family vacation, right? If you have any great car games, add them in the comments. 

Literacy Elements

  • Comprehension – Using observation to identify letters/colors/objects/etc.
  • Vocabulary – Practicing word recognition, learning new words
  • Abstract Thinking – Using pictures and words (vs. handling actual objects) 


For: Ages 4 and Up. 
Players: Individual, Team or Family
Game Pieces:

  • Page with Alphabet Letters + pencils; OR
  • Deck of Alphabet Cards

Prep Time: Approximately 1 hour to print Page(s) with letters or letter flash cards. Package with pencil. Link to: The Spruce Crafts’ 11 sets of letter flashcard printables.

Objective: Find words with each letter of the alphabet. 

How to Play: Work the alphabet from A to Z or collect words that match the letters as you see them. How you play the game is up to you. Finding the letters on signs is traditional, but you might consider pictures of words that start with (or contain) that letter. “Hey, there is a sign with a strawberry on it. That’s my ‘S’.”

To make it a cooperative game (no winners or losers) everyone gets a letter “point” no matter who spotted it first.

If using paper, you can “X” out the letter or write the word (older kids). If using cards, players can “build” a hand to see how many cards they gain; or they can “lose a card” and see who has the fewest left.

50 States

For: Ages 8 and Up
Players: individual, family
Game Pieces: One “cheat sheet” with a fact about each state. Option: US Map + Pencils/coloring utensils.
Prep Time: Approximately 15 minutes for research to create the fact sheet. Or go here for a ready-made list. [Link to: Reader’s Digest 50 Facts about the 50 States]
Objective: Learn more about our country with interesting facts about each state. 

How to Play: Check out the license plates of other cars. With each new state that is spotted, read a fact about it. If kids are using a map, they can color that state

Variation on I Spy: Color Search

For: Ages 3 and Up.
Players: Individual
Game Pieces: None.
Prep Time: None.
Objective: Be the first to find the designated color.

How to Play: One person names a color. All other players try to be the first person to find that color. They name the object that has/is that color. Then they get to pick the color.

Variation on I Spy: Shape Search

For: Ages 3 and Up.
Players: Individual
Game Pieces: Varies. (See below).
Prep Time: None, unless you want to have shape samples.
Objective: Be the first to find the designated shape.

How to Play: This is similar to the color game above. The first person names a shape. All other players try to be the first person to find that shape. They name the object that has/is that color. Now they get to name the shape.

There are not as many shapes as colors, so this game doesn’t last too long. To make it last longer, you might consider combining color and shape: “green triangle” for example.

We’ve got more family literacy ideas in our #NoSummerSlide series, too. Road Trip Ideas, Part 1 (of 3).