How to entertain a toddler in the car – 4 proven methods!

Entertain a toddler in the car

We’ve all been there.

The long car journeys with little scenery to keep us entertained, the open road, and a long wait for our destination.

Throw in a toddler, who feels these frustrations without the words to describe them or the sense of time to know what only a few more hours mean.

Their innate need to fidget and explore frustrated, it’s up to the parents to plan how to make the best of a difficult situation.

But never fear! There are lots of ways to entertain a toddler without solely relying on your phone or tablet (although a few handy downloads of their favorite shows won’t go amiss in an emergency!).

Doodle boards

Doodle boards are a classic and mess-free to keep their creativity at the fore and their minds concentrated for part of the journey at least. With the ability to keep their car seat area slate clean even while creating their masterpieces and no water or messy pens to cause spills and upset, it’s the perfect way to create an artistic experience in an enclosed space.

They can be picked up for low prices in toy shops and supermarkets, although make sure you attach the pen firmly to the board so it’s not getting constantly lost and makes a potentially pleasant experience a frustrating one!


Similarly, mess-free, stocking up on stickers is always a popular choice for toddlers, in-car or out. Providing a wide variety of their favorite animals, transport, objects, dinosaurs, princesses…the choices really are endless and they can be an inexpensive option. Just make sure you have somewhere to suck them (a jotter pad or some paper) – otherwise, you may be finding stickers on your car seats for quite some time!


You can create a sense of wonder in the car by packing a bag of treats and toys for the journey. Depending on the age of the child, you could put a selection of their favorite action figures, mini dolls, Lego men, stickers, and treats to keep them going.

For younger toddlers creating a sensory experience through scarves, feathers and other exciting (but dry and tidy!) objects can help create mental stimulation and excitement without needing a lot of space. Small books and things they can explore in a mess-free way will keep them exploring and excited while in the car seat.

Classic games

Of course, nothing beats a bit of interaction with their parents, so if you can, one of you can sit in the back with them and engage in a few classic games. Spotting cars of different colors (perhaps hey choose their favorite to find, so long as it’s not too outlandish to be found on the road!) can provide excitement and improve their observation and communication skills.

Reading stories and singing songs can also be a pleasant way to engage and a really good opportunity o bond and make the most of being in enclosed space with minimal distractions. Songs and stories are also great to boost language skills and development so you can be happy in the knowledge that you’re providing development and growth for them too.

If sitting beside them isn’t possible, you can still engage with these games and if you have more than one child, a bit of fun competition with these can help lighten the journey for everyone. If you fancied switching off for a bit in the journey, or you’re the sole adult who needs to concentrate behind the steering wheel, audiobooks can help with storytime while you focus on the road, or a compilation of classic nursery rhymes or songs can help with the in-car singalong.


Of course, planning is a key part of any road trip, and making sure your breaks are well-timed is the best option for avoiding tantrums and in-car drama. Make sure you take a look at your route beforehand to understand where the best stops are for timing with naps and feeding times. This may be obvious, but also consider where you stop. Do you go to a service station and let them explore there, or are there any towns on your route with play facilities that might allow your little one’s space and fresh air to roam and let off some steam? For younger children, this is particularly important as they may feel especially frustrated at the lack of roaming and exploration opportunities onboard.


For snacks, consider the best ones to pack which leave minimal mess but can also be eaten easily by your toddlers. Simple finger foods that they can help themselves to will not only save your cleaning efforts later but also can provide some entertainment for children who are seeking independence at every turn. Mess-free sandwiches (i,e. not full of sloppy fillings – think simple cheese, ham, and so on) can fill this role. Or classic breadsticks, crackers, cheese, and fruit can all help satisfy a toddler’s appetite and attention until you’re that bit closer to either the next stop or the end of the road. Try and avoid sweet treats and sugar so you aren’t throwing a sugar crash into an already risky situation for a young child’s mood and attention span!

Car naps

Probably the best advice is to optimize naps. For children who are still taking significant naps during the day, timing your journey to coincide with these if your child is a willing car napper) will save a lot of planning and entertaining skills from you, frustration for them and also give a bit of respite in a long journey for parents. Also, consider traveling at night when your child is likely to sleep for longer and the roads will be quieter, a bonus all round as your destination is reached faster with minimal toddler fuss.

Final thoughts

So good luck with your journey, but remember to be kind to yourself. It’s a frustrating position for a toddler to be in, their natural curiosity frustrated. So if you find yourself restoring to a Disney classic or seemingly endless episodes of Peppa Pig, that’s fine too.

Just ensure some balance in either your travel breaks or a few of the craft activities suggested above, and think of all the fun you’re going to have when you arrive. They may say it’s a journey, not a destination (loosely paraphrased…) but when you’re traveling with a toddler it’s easier said than done!

About the author