More Math on the Go Road Trip Games

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

More Math on the Go Road Trip Games

August 27, 2014
By   |   Math Fun, Parent Blog

Summer is almost over, but there’s still time for one last day at the beach, one final evening barbecue or one more glorious getaway before school starts! If you’re planning a summer road trip, don’t forget to download our free Math on the Go Printable for some math games to keep the back seat quiet while you drive.

We like put our own spin on the games to keep things fresh and exciting. For example, we’ve embellished the In A Road Trip Moo’d game by assigning higher points for spotting rarer animals — two points for goats, five points for each sheep, and twenty points for a black sheep!

Or, instead of looking for license plates and adding up their numbers, as in the License to Thrill game, you could look for vehicle models (i.e. “Civic”), assign points to each letter (A=1, B=2, etc..), and add them up (for example, a CIVIC would be worth 3+9+22+9+3=46 points).

Below are two more fun road trip activities that we’ve played over the years (and miles). They’re a great way to practice some basic math skills, and they’re way more fun than singing Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer On The Wall.

How Many Trucks?

On our road trip to Scotland last month, we were amazed at the number of trucks (or “lorries,” as they are called in the UK!) we passed on the motorway. We decided to have each member of the family guess how many trucks we would pass during the entire trip. As the trip navigator, I helped everyone come up with an estimate by letting them know we still had about 200 miles to drive from Blackpool (our current location) to our Edinburgh (our destination) and that approximately 10 miles of that would be driven on city streets.

The kids began counting the number of trucks that we passed — a great way to keep track is to put a jelly bean into a Ziploc bag every time someone calls out a truck — and at each rest stop, we compared the actual number of trucks passed to our estimates.

At each rest stop, I would let everyone know how many miles we had left to drive, and each person was allowed to revise their estimate. At the end of the journey, the person whose final guess was closest to the actual number of trucks won the game. If you’re using jellybeans to count the trucks, the winner gets to keep the bag of jellybeans!

Learn a Secret Code

On our spring road trip a few years ago, my husband decided he wanted to teach our kids the NATO phonetic alphabet. This is the set of specific words used by all NATO militaries to send and receive verbal messages, and to name teams or territories.

The 26 code words in the NATO phonetic alphabet are assigned to the 26 letters of the English alphabet in alphabetical order as you’ll see below. Each of the code words was chosen because each one has a unique pronunciation, and each word can be easily understood when sent or received by radio or telephone, regardless of language. For example, the word ZOO is spelled Zulu-Oscar-Oscar, as opposed to picking a random combination such as Zoo-Order-Order, which could be misheard as Shoe-Arthur-Arthur.

Twenty-six words is a lot to memorize, but it takes at least 6 hours to drive from San Francisco to LA, so we had a lot of time. At the beginning of our journey, we handed the kids a sheet of paper with all the code words, written out beside their letter counterparts in a simple ordered list (also known as a key, in cryptography terms… or in everyday slang, a cheat sheet!):

A          Alpha       Al-fah

B          Bravo       Brah-voh

C          Charlie      Char-lee

D          Delta         Dell-tah

E          Echo           Eck-oh

F          Foxtrot       Foks-trot

G          Golf            Golf

H          Hotel          Hoh-tel

I           India           In-dee-ah

J          Juliet            Jew-lee-et

K          Kilo             Key-loh

L          Lima            Lee-mah

M         Mike            Mike

N          November  No-vem-ber

O          Oscar           Oss-car

P          Papa             Pah-pah

Q          Quebec        Keh-beck

R          Romeo          Row-me-oh

S          Sierra             See-air-rah

T          Tango            Tang-go

U          Uniform        Yoo-nih-form

V          Victor            Vik-tore

W         Whiskey        Wiss-key

X          Xray               Ecks-ray

Y          Yankee           Yang-key

Z          Zulu                Zoo-loo

We started out by having the kids repeat all the code words after us (“A is for Alpha, B is for Bravo, etc.”) so they learned how to pronounce each word correctly. Then we sang out the code words in alphabetical order, to the tune of the Alphabet Song. Then we started pointing out signs in the road and asked them to spell out the words using the phonetic alphabet; for example, if I pointed out an exit sign, the kids would spell it out as “Echo-Xray-India-Tango.”

In the beginning, the kids had to refer to their cheat sheet for each word. As the miles wore on, they gradually began remembering the words, until finally we asked them to put their cheat sheets away. As a final test, we asked each of our kids to spell out a secret word in phonetic letters, then ask everyone else to guess what they were spelling. If I said, “Echo-Delta-India-November-Bravo-Uniform-Romeo-Golf-Hotel” and the first person to figure out “Edinburgh” would get a point. My kids were able to work out the words in their head, but if your child is having difficulty, you could start by giving him or her a sheet of paper and a pen to write out the word letter by letter. By the time we reached Disneyland, the kids had learned the entire alphabet, and they were thrilled to be able to talk in their own “secret” code!

Image licensed by Ingram Publishing

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About the Author



Ana Picazo first fell in love with math (trigonometry, to be precise) in 10th grade and went on to earn undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees. She met her computer engineering husband at a financial software company and they have passed their love of math on to their three children. Ana blogs at Finding Bonggamom and The Savvy Source for Parents.

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