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Car Games

Midway through a seemingly endless five-hour car trip from New York to Maine, I wondered why I'd ever thought a family vacation seemed like a good idea. My four kids, ages 1 to 7, were arguing over who had the most space in the backseats, how far down the windows should be rolled, and whether the radio should be on or off. My husband had long ago stopped talking to any of us and was keeping his (glazed) eyes fixed on the road.

So I made up a silly game for us to play. I hummed a few bars from a popular song, and whichever child guessed it first got to choose and hum the next one. This little exercise kept everyone distracted until lunchtime, when we could pile out of the car for sandwiches and a good stretch.

I've had two more children since that trip, and we still take a weeklong vacation together every summer. My secret: I've learned to plan enough games and activities to keep the kids busy en route. Here, 18 ideas for making your own family's travel time speed by:

Toddlers

Simple Simon says
Play an easy version of Simon Says: Ask your child to touch his nose, kick up his leg, put his hands in the air, and so on.

Sort and drop Pull out your snack bag, hand your child a cup, and encourage her to put, say, cereal or small crackers into it, one by one. (Then dump them back into the bag and start all over again.)

Sound charades Bark like a dog, wail like a police siren, or moo like a cow and see whether your child can tell you what makes that sound. Let him try to stump you, too.

Look for... Challenge your kids to find (with a little help from you) something in the car or outside the window that's in the shape of a square. Then try a circle, a triangle, and so forth. Look for colors next, then sizes.

Tune in Don't forget classic songs like "Eensy Weensy Spider," "Wheels on the Bus," and "If You're Happy and You Know It." Your toddler will love joining in on all the fun hand motions with you.

Blowing in the wind Pack a pinwheel. Let her hold it in the breeze of an open window. A napkin works well too.

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