Sometimes on those long car rides, coloring doesn't cut it for a kid when parents are trying to avoid screen time. What are some good crafts that a kiddo can do in the car without making an overly difficult to clean mess? For example, slime is out, and so is anything with runny glue. I won't leave out glue sticks, however!
Kits in general are good because they tend to be self-contained with all the materials, and tell you what else to bring - forgetting a key item is frustrating for everyone.
There are various sewing craft kits, often using a plastic needle and pre-punched holes at least for younger ones.
Faux stained glass kits are tidy but might need too much of a steady hand for road trips, depending on your roads.
I don't think of them as craft but books with reusable stickers and background scenes are good, and can include a story-telling aspect if you like.
These kits can get repetitive or expensive if you travel a lot, so some alternatives:
Anything with stickers should work - perhaps sticker mosaics.
For an (almost) free option, collage using glue sticks and pictures from old magazines. You may want to pre-cut the magazines, or have an adult cut them, as depending on the age of the kids and the state of the roads scissors may not be a good idea for children. When using a glue sticks, a plastic lap tray with edges.
This will depend on how messily your children use them, but rubber stamps and ink pads can be quite fun (I've seen children playing together, one with clean hands, another using the ink pad for hand-prints - and it wasn't washable ink)
Activity books that mix colouring/drawing activities with non-craft activities such as puzzles will give some variety.
Definitely not craft, but games involving looking out of the window are always a good bet: who can spot something first (horse/emergency service vehicle/purple car etc.); guess how many of a particular object you'll see by the time you reach some defined point (about 10 minutes works) - who gets closest. This works from surprisingly young as they just need to be able to count; you can also bring in basic arithmetic ("you guessed 8, we've seen 7, so one more and you win").
For children in the range of 10 years old, Macrame can make a good time-killer in the car. I like it because:
- Supplies are generally cheap and not messy
- Crafts can take a long time, so a single craft can make time fly
- There are very basic knots to very complicated knots, so kids can grow at a skill
For children as young as 4, you can try out origami. Origami is great because:
- There are tons of designs to exercise the imagination
- After the folding is done, you've got a new paper toy to play with
- No glue or cutting necessary
Depending on what your kids are interested in, an electronics or robotics kit might be in order. I had one as a kid that kept me busy and interested during a 2 day drive from Iowa to Colorado, through Nebraska. These may not technically be "arts & crafts", but they should be effective and many of them were created as "arts & crafts".
Here's a brief list of ideas:
(Might want to stay away from the Gauss rifle in the car.)
(R2D2 is cool (I have it), but kind of large. The Arduino needs a computer and internet to program.)
There are many other options available, but many require programming, soldering, or assembly of lots of tiny, easy to lose pieces.
You can also get logic puzzles or brain teasers:
And some oldies, but goodies (and also actual "arts & crafts"):
Paint by sticker? Who knew?
FYI, I'm not affiliated in any way with any of these sites or products.
And I'm not going to admit how many I'm going to get for myself. ;-)