Whether you’re taking a long drive to visit grandma or a short jaunt around town, car rides can make little ones get squirrelly in their car seats. Can you blame them? Staring at your feet or the back of a seat would be boring for anyone. So read on for baby-tested, parent-approved toys, games and tips that are sure to get their motors running.

photo: Sean Freese via Flickr

Sing It, Sister
Driving is the perfect time for a family sing-along. Think kid classics like “Wheels on the Bus” or tunes you make up yourself. Even if little ones don’t know the words yet, they love hearing your voice. Bonus: This kind of interaction boosts your wee one’s literacy and pre-literacy skills. If you’re looking for new songs to add to your repertoire, check out Story Blocks, a project of Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy, where you’ll find 30- to 60-second videos of songs and rhymes.

Busy Bee Box
Put a sturdy cardboard box or plastic bin on the seat next to your baby and fill it with a rotating mix of fun distractions, like board books, a soft teething toy, and a clutching toy like the Manhattan Toy Zoo Winkel Elephant. Older babies and toddlers will love fishing things out of the box during drives, and you’ll always have a few extra items to bring in to restaurants or on play dates.

Arch Over Baby
For little ones who can’t grasp toys out of a box quite yet, an activity arch packed full of fun, like this one from Oball, will keep kids busy while you focus on the road. There’s a sweet lion to clutch, a soft ball to kick or swat, and a rattling blue elephant. It also comes with loops you can use to attach different toys. Bonus: Once you’re out of the car, it attaches to your stroller.

Available at Toysrus.com, $19.99.

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Peek-a-Boo
If you or a big sibling are sitting next to your baby, play a few rounds of peek-a-boo. Play this perennial baby favorite with a favorite toy (Where’s Teddy?), or make it super silly by throwing a receiving blanket over your own head and disappearing. Prepare yourself for a flood of sweet baby giggles.

A Box of Band-Aids
Seriously. In an emergency, hand over a tin of bandages and let your toddler cover imaginary boo-boos. It sounds crazy, but it works. Plus, this trick costs less than $3 per box. Bonus tip: This works equally well on an airplane!

Who’s the Fairest of Them All?
It’s you, baby! A mirror that safely affixes to the headrest — and stays out of your wee one’s reach  gives your child a chance to admire that adorable mug and make faces at themselves. And, even better, it lets you see them from the driver’s seat. We like this Taf Toys Tropical Car Mirror, which adds a cute monkey to keep your baby’s attention.

Available at amazon.com, $14.99.

Vroom Vroom
Create a sound journey for your little one by making noises that match what you see outside: a rumble for trash trucks, vroom for cars, woof for dogs. This tip comes from Vroom’s science-based tips that boost early learning, anywhere, anytime. When children search for new objects and listen for the sounds they make, they’re making a connection and building their ability to carefully observe the world around them. For more (free!) ideas that are super-easy to incorporate in any busy day, in or out of the car, check out the Vroom website or download their app (iOS or Android).

 

Put on a Show
A puppet show, that is, with finger puppets like these soft, sweet monkeys. Older babies can play with them on their own, or a fellow passenger can use them to entertain little ones during a long car ride. Five little puppets, jumping on the bed!

Available at amazon.com, $16.46.

Make or Buy a Quiet Book
Pick up a soft activity book, like Melissa and Doug’s find-the-puppy option ($9.89), with flaps to lift and paper to crinkle, to pull out as soon as that last car seat buckle is snapped. Crafty parents can whip up their own version by following one of the dozens of patterns on the Quiet Book Blog. You’ll find step-by-step how-tos to create pages with buttons and zips, ladybugs and dinosaurs, or almost any other fabric creation that strikes your fancy.

Attach a Mobile Mobile
A sweet animal trio dances around overhead on Skip Hop’s musical mobile. You can attach it to car seats, travel cribs and strollers, making it a great option for longer road trips that involve nights away from home. With up to twenty minutes of music, it’ll last until naptime.

Available at toysrus.com, $29.99.

Wooden Wonder
Teethers keep the hands and mouth occupied on quick trips, like to the grocery story. A pretty bird tops off this organic teething ring of beech wood, handmade by Etsy seller Noni Design. It also features crocheted cotton and wood beads for baby to explore and comes in other colors and animal designs.

Available at Etsy store Noni Design, $19.63.

In and Out
Get a small container, like the Ubbi Tweat, and let your child practice putting a teeny, tiny Cheerio in, then taking it out. Babies’ little fingers get practice with fine motor skills, and they’ll be so distracted that minutes in the car will fly by. Note: This one, and any other on-the-go snack, is best if someone is stationed next to new eaters to avoid any possibility of choking.

Available at amazon.com, $9.99.

Tell us below: What’s your favorite car toy or game for little ones?

— Oz Spies