By: Kelly Allard

I normally like to write about teaching through games, and the various lessons that can be found in the games you can play with your child.  There are times, however, when games aren’t handy and you find yourself with a very bored child who is less than enthused to be “wasting their summer” on the world’s longest car-ride.

Especially in the summer, there are two things that come up a lot – car trips, and convincing your kids to go outside and play when they’re determined to stay inside.  So, how do you motivate a mini-gamer to do something other than game inside?


I’m sure we all remember the monotony of the dreaded car-trip when we were kids.  Long lengths of time in a car were spent looking for out of state plates and playing amazing games of “Road Bingo”.  These early attempts at mobile gaming were usually fun for a little while, but very quickly lost their novelty (unless you were a “plate collector” like me; I still get excited when I see a plate I don’t recognize!).

Later, we had the little travel games with the tiny pieces that we’d lose in the car seats. Nowadays, it probably seems silly to even think like this because of the WIDE array of mobile technology to save us from these situations.

But, what do you do when the LeapPad’s batteries die or you tire of the 5th run of the only Sponge Bob DVD you remembered to bring?  How can you make a game of it?

One of the things we like to do in our family is turn our trip into a racing game – we turn highway signs into “check points” and we count the distance to the next one (making the tell-tale “you have more time!” sound as we cross each threshold.)

Now, this works really well with a pre-schooler, but your older kids might not be as amused – especially if they really get into it and want you to actually start racing your fellow drivers.  So, in respect to traffic laws, you should probably not try this in your car.

Are your kids working on fractions in school, or percentages? Keep a notebook in your car (or at least some scrap-paper) and play the license plate game, but make them calculate the percentage (or fraction) of license plates for the current state you’re in, or even your home state.  It gets them thinking, and it will keep them quiet for a while – ESPECIALLY if they are competing with mom or dad in the passenger seat.

Another way to make the racing game work for older kids is to have them time the travel between each check point. As they get older, they can use your speed to calculate how far apart they are. For multiple kids, have them start at alternating “check points” and compete at timing between them.

Backyard games

I don’t know about you, but there are some days we can’t keep our kid inside, and others that we can’t seem to force her into the sunlight!  Getting kids the exercise they need can be a challenge when there are so many cool electronic distractions.  On the days that we struggle with, we have to come up with creative ways to get her away from Diego’s Dinosaur Adventure and into an adventure of her own.

On cooler days, we usually head in the direction of dress-up and an RPG style adventure in our backyard.  She’ll dress in her favorite costume of the day & pull out her NERF sword or her plastic bow or even a long length of ribbon and a plastic shield emblazoned with Captain America’s logo.  We start with some silly story about an ogre, or a pirate, or a super-villain, and send her off to fight one of us (the NPC, or Non-Player Character, basically the instrument of the plot) equipped with some other foam coated weapon or satin ribbon of magical energy and tell her the story.  She comes back to the “quest giver” and relays her adventure and we send her on another, keeping her, and even her older friends, busy for hours (or as long as the poor NPC parent can keep up!).

On hotter days, we go a very different route.  In our garage we have a collection of cheap water guns of all sizes – mini-pistols, long range single-shot “cannons”, even small super-soakers.  We have someone who isn’t interested in getting wet hide the guns (all only partially filled) and water balloons around the yard.  In the area near the hose there is a “Refilling station” set up, but it is in the easiest “Strike zone”.

The object of the game is really to cool off & have fun, but younger kids don’t seem to need that objective.  Basically, when your gun runs out of liquid ammo, you can either hit the refill station, and get soaked, or drop it in search of a new weapon around the yard.  Adults can play, kids can play – it’s like a free-for-all multi-player first-person-shooter for about $15 (and the cost of sunscreen).

As they get older, consider adding objectives like “flags” or hidden items.  You can even add in time-stops where everyone must freeze, and a special item (or items) that allows the bearer to move around freely (and shoot everyone else). Or, add in a “5 shots & you’re out” rule.  Young kids tend to enjoy the fun of the free-for-all and the lack of rules to remember, but older kids (and adults) tend to like more rule-based fun & the ability to win!

Simple things can become games – all it takes is imagination and a little of your time to keep them engaged!

So, how do you get your kids to stay entertained in the car or get them to play outside with you?

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By Kelly Allard

Associate Editor

I think one of the hardest things to write about is yourself! Either you sound absolutely insane or completely uninteresting… so, I’ll try to hit the middle ground.

I am a 30-something mom to very vibrant and very intelligent 4-year old daughter who is one of the biggest geeks I’ve ever known. She does come by it honestly, considering her father and I are both just a *little* geeky! Our little family hides in the middle of a city in upstate NY.

By day, I am embedded deep in the culture of corporate America building spreadsheets while I play the eternal game of trying to beat my last latest-and-greatest idea. By night, I’m the intrepid superhero “Gamer Mom” - you know, the one with as many faces as she has ways to beat you in Settlers of Catan?

My educational background is in Math and I love all things science-y, so I try to integrate those loves with my love of gaming! Mostly, I gravitate towards board games these days, as I have been an avid board gamer for as far as I can remember. That said, I also like to tabletop, LARP and have only recently come back to the obsessive hobby that is video games.

Gaming is something that I see as more than just a hobby, it’s a part of life that we only sometimes get to formalize in fun. We play games every day to be more productive, to get that promotion, to convince our kids to clean off the table. We thrive on achievement, on competition, and on cooperation. Whether you’re earning the “Explorer badge” in WoW, or the Longest Rail in Ticket to Ride, or your newest gold star on the Potty Chart, it’s all the same. Games are more than something we do to escape life, they are something we need to understand and master to be successful at life.

So that’s me. Hopefully I can help inspire you to find the fun in everyday life as well.

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