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Mom Picks: 10 awesome road trip toys (that'll interest kids for more than five minutes), starting at $5

·11-min read

Yahoo Life is committed to finding you the best products at the best prices. We may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Pricing and availability are subject to change.

Nothing like a long drive to turn little treasures into little monsters — so be prepared. (Photo: Getty)
Nothing like a long drive to turn little treasures into little monsters — so be prepared. (Photo: Getty)

Summer's coming and that means it's time to plan a family road trip. It's also time to confront an ageless issue: A few hours in the car can feel like an eternity for our kids. And if they are grumpy about it, it’ll feel like an eternity for us. We parents want to drive in peace! What to do?

There are measures we can take to prevent sibling war and the dreaded refrain “Are we there yet?” I’ve heard a range of tactics from my fellow mamas:

One friend would hand her young children (they were around 2) a single Band-Aid for quiet investigation: “It took them long enough to figure out how to unwrap the ‘cool sticker’ and then place it on their body,” she told me. “That bought some good time and they worked on fine motor skills too!” Then there is my minimalist friend with the calm first-grader who stares dreamily out the window as trees pass by. Can you imagine?

Other harried friends simply toss electronic pacifiers (tablets, handheld game players) to the backseat when mayhem ensues. 

Most of us fall somewhere in between. Maybe you have a child (or three) who isn’t content to embrace the boredom or explore the Band-Aid. But with all too many kids spending all too much time staring at a screen nowadays, you might not want to lean on the iPad either.

Surely there've got to be more options at hand for parents trying to keep things copacetic in the family vehicle. Well, there are. 

Here’s a roundup of things you can feel good about giving children when they need engagement — and you need head space — on the road. Some tried-and-true, some new; they’re all available on Amazon. And they start at just $5.

If you have Amazon Prime, you’ll get free shipping, of course. Not yet a member? Don't stress; you can sign up for your free 30-day trial here. (By the way, those without Prime still get free shipping on orders of $25 or more.)

FOR THE YOUNGEST...

Melissa & Doug My First Activity Book

Once upon a time, you packed this into your car and lived happily ever after ... or at least until you reached your vacay destination. (Photo: Amazon)
Once upon a time, you packed this into your car and lived happily ever after ... or at least until you reached your vacay destination. (Photo: Amazon)

Snaps! Buttons! Removable butterflies! This sweet, soft (i.e., made of fabric), colorful activity book will fascinate your youngest travel companions.

Designed to promote sensory development and fine motor skills, it offers matching, buckling, counting, peek-a-boo and color-recognition challenges. It even has satchel handles so your child can proudly carry it when they get out of the car. If they drop it, no biggie. It's totally washable!

“My daughter is one year old and really enjoys flipping through the pages and fiddling with the tasks on each one," reported one five-star reviewer. He later checked in with an update: “Hi, I’m back. My daughter is two now and she is still enjoying the heck out of this book. The price is right and the quality is there, people. This is an excellent purchase. I’m thankful for the hours of entertainment it has provided my daughter.”

Ages: 0+

Shop it: Melissa & Doug My First Activity Book, $14, amazon.com

TODDLERS ONWARD...

Lusso Gear Kids Travel Tray

A tray-tray to keep you from going cray-cray. (Photo: Amazon)
A tray-tray to keep you from going cray-cray. (Photo: Amazon)

I wish I had this art/activity/food tray back when my seven-year-old was a tot. (Side note: As I was typing this, she walked up, peeked over my shoulder and begged me to buy it. Well, it is on sale...) This durable tray is designed to accompany kids for the long haul — that is, from toddlerhood all the way through elementary school. And it'll still have some life left in it. 

With over 4,000 five-star Amazon reviews, this convenient multitasker is adored by parents. “This was great for our 5-year-old son," one grateful road tripper wrote. "He could eat on it while we were driving, draw on the marker board part or use it to color in a coloring book.... [It has] pockets on both sides and it comes with little cushion divider things that you can bend and Velcro to the edges to create a holder for markers and/or a cup.”

It has ample storage for the art supplies of your choosing...and procuring those will be a fun parent-child activity! Bonus: It travels beyond the car to high-chairs and strollers and is collapsible for easy stowing. 

Age: 2+

Shop it: Lusso Gear Kids Travel Tray, $24 (was $30), amazon.com

PRE-K DAYS...

Gamenote Double-Sided Magnetic Board

Kid magnet. (Yeah, sometimes these just write themselves.) (Photo: Amazon)
Kid magnet. (Yeah, sometimes these just write themselves.) (Photo: Amazon)

Back when I was a preschool teacher-researcher, we loved having this Gamenote board in the classroom. It was very magnetic indeed, attracting children to settle into quiet, focused activity. 

The letters are formed with dots made of recessed metal beads and children use a magnetic stylus to draw the beads toward the surface, which gives a satisfying pop. A swipe of the finger “erases” the board. It provides great practice for pencil grip and letter formation, and it's an engaging activity for a car ride.

I'm not the only megafan — nearly 1,400 Amazon reviews have given it five stars! “I love the way this thing works, and even my toddler and 8-year-old enjoy the tapping of the magnets as they pull into place," one raved. "Has held up really well, and I love the design, which helps kids differentiate between consonants and vowels with a glance, and shows them how to write upper- and lowercase letters.... One of my favorite purchases for the kids ever."

Ages: 3+

Shop it: Gamenote Double-Sided Magnetic Board, $20, amazon.com

ELEMENTARY AND BEYOND...


Melissa & Doug Origami Animals Activity Set

How much is that paper doggie — and giraffe and kitty and crane — in the window? Just $8! (Photo: Amazon)
How much is that paper doggie — and giraffe and kitty and crane — in the window? Just $8! (Photo: Amazon)

Origami, the art of paper folding, is known to boost mindfulness. Made to travel, this animal origami starter kit neatly holds patterned papers, detail stickers and instructions together so papers don’t go flying all over your SUV's interior. The 40 animal shapes range from easy to advanced, and will prove preoccupying for a wide age range of kids.

 “I have a 15-year-old, a 12-year-old and a 7-year-old and they were all able to enjoy this and get their heads out of the electronics," one mom raved. "They were easy enough for my 7-year-old and advanced enough that my 15-year-old did not get bored right away. So awesome!

Ages: 6-12

Shop it: Melissa & Doug Origami Animals Activity Set, $8, amazon.com

Klutz Cat's Cradle: A Book of String Figures

Frankly, all of these suggestion are about stringing your kids along; this one's just a bit more literal about it. (Photo: Amazon)
Frankly, all of these suggestion are about stringing your kids along; this one's just a bit more literal about it. (Photo: Amazon)

Sometimes a simple loop of rainbow string is all it takes for hours of challenging (and distracting!) fun. Its accompanying 36-page spiral-bound instruction book provides all the guidance kids need to create five well-known string figures including old faves Cup and Saucer, Jacob's Ladder, and The Witch's Broom.

This concise beginner's kit has racked up over 2,700 five-star reviews on Amazon. "The strong included string is multicolored and does not have a knot in it, so it doesn't get stuck when playing," reported one happy shopper. "There are illustrations for each game on pages that are sturdy and slightly glossy. The spiral binding allows the book to lie flat. This game does not take up much space. No batteries required : ) Recommended."

Ages: 6+

Shop it: Klutz Cat's Cradle Book Kit, $9 (was $10), amazon.com


QuadPro Magnetic Travel Chess Set

You own personal queen's gambit: keeping your kids quiet and learning a time-honored game. (Photo: Amazon)
You own personal queen's gambit: keeping your kids quiet and learning a time-honored game. (Photo: Amazon)

I've long thought a quiet game of chess would be the perfect car game for siblings — you know, if it weren't for the utter impracticality of chess pieces + slippery board + moving vehicle. Then I discovered the wonderful world of magnetic sets. Of course! This popular QuadPro design, which has 3,000 glowing five-star reviews on Amazon, lets you bring the game to the backseat.

One fan was thrilled with the design: "The pieces are small without being too small that they're hard to handle. The magnet is sufficiently strong to keep pieces in place even if the board is inverted, but you can still easily place pieces. You'll almost forget that it's magnetized. The numbering and lettering [of the squares] on the side is a great touch for people learning the game."

When the game is finished, the pieces go inside a drawstring bag and the board folds up neatly and snaps shut. Catch this clever set while it's on sale! 

Ages: 6+

Shop it: QuadProMagnetic Travel Case, $14 (was $22), amazon.com


Brain Quest for the Car: 1,100 Questions and Answers

Ain't that America? Well, you won't know until you and the fam make your way through these Qs. (Photo: Amazon)
Ain't that America? Well, you won't know until you and the fam make your way through these Qs. (Photo: Amazon)

This road-ready deck of cards will keep brain cells activated with over a thousand challenging questions about the U.S. of A. Children can play with a sibling, challenge a parent or (the quietest option of all) simply quiz themselves!

In many of the Amazon five-star reviews, parents reported that they were delighted to play along. "You can only listen to your kids play video games for so long before you crack," one appreciative mom wrote. "To save your sanity and make your kids interact with living, breathing humans, this is a must-have for a road trip." She continued, "My family had a great time learning new things and testing our knowledge on our annual long road trip."

I personally know several teachers/moms who have Brain Quest decks living in their cars. Catch this fourth edition while it's on sale!

Ages: 7-12

Shop it: Brain Quest for the Car: 1,100 Questions and Answers, $7 (was $12), amazon.com


Rubik's Cube 3x3 Puzzle

By the time they're done with this, they'll be old enough to understand Cubism. (Photo: Amazon)
By the time they're done with this, they'll be old enough to understand Cubism. (Photo: Amazon)

Our old familiar friend, the Rubik's Cube. Yes, the iconic puzzle of '80s fame is still going strong, as evidenced by over 10,000 five-star reviewers on Amazon. Challenge your child to solve this colorful brain teaser and watch their determination kick into gear. And no, you don't need to mention that it'll be nearly impossible — relax and treasure the hours it'll take till they realize that. 

Customers dig the quality too! One impressed shopper wrote, “This newer model Rubiks cube has a colored plastic insert which is much more durable and has a nice look.… Has the same feel as the broken-in silky-smooth models from the ‘80s.”

At $10, the price is, like, totally awesome!

Ages: 8+

Shop it: Rubik’s Cube 3x3 Puzzle, $10, amazon.com

642 Things to Draw: Young Artist's Edition

The 643rd thing to draw: The conclusion is that this is the kid-occupying treat you need. (Photo: Amazon)
The 643rd thing to draw: The conclusion is that this is the kid-occupying treat you need. (Photo: Amazon)

Here's a fun book for setting young minds afire, even in the confines of the car. Filled with very short, whimsical prompts and lots of blank space, 642 Things to Draw delights budding artists and unleashes creativity in those who are less drawn to drawing. 

 “A great outlet for kids to express their creativity," one artist parent raved. "Even ones who may be shy about it, as it gives enough direction to spark the imagination but makes many of the projects super interesting, silly, and/or fun.... The paper is nice, smooth and thick.”

This paperback edition is now on sale for $15. It’s marketed to ages 8-12, but my own 7-year-old is crazy about the 642 series, as is everyone we’ve gifted them to.

Ages: 8-12

Shop it: 642 Things to Draw: Young Artist's Edition, $15 (was $17), amazon.com


Blank Comic Book

This book of comic templates will be a marvel for the aspiring Stan Lee in your brood. (Photo: Amazon)
This book of comic templates will be a marvel for the aspiring Stan Lee in your brood. (Photo: Amazon)

If comics are more your kid's speed, he or she will be thrilled about this 108-page book of templates! The 8.5 x 11 format leaves plenty of space for creative storytelling. The text boxes and word bubbles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and are sure to spur fresh ideas.

Popular on Amazon, this book has nearly 4,500 five-star reviews, and customers are loving the $5 tag: "A great price," raved one buyer. "My 11-year-old daughter loves it, and her creations are fantastic. If you are considering this...go for it."

Note: This is the least expensive item on my list and a fave in my family. Aspiring storytellers will have a field day with this.

Ages: All

Shop it: Blank Comic Book, $5, amazon.com

The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.

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