Island residents in every coffee shop and every intersection are beginning to grumble (rightly so) about the bump in traffic at this time of year. Though hectic, the surge in cars can yield an opportunity to bring the family a bit closer, to keep the kids engaged, and to impart some important lessons about curiosity for our youth along the way.


“Land Rover!”


Such is the sound track of my seven-year-old son during his favorite activity, a game we have been playing for almost four years. The rules are simple: Anders announces three car brands, and whenever you see one, you call it. Loudly. Boisterous shouts soon fill our car, which can be particularly perilous as we play on the expressway. Suddenly, though, the ferry line, the crush of Circuit avenue, the sandy stretches along State Beach, and even the quotidian drudgery of parking lots become hot spots for learning.

This is the Car Game. Our silly and sometimes frustrating game exhibits concrete examples of ways we might inspire awareness and curiosity in our youth.

I am a teacher of Spanish, Latin and ancient history. I am not, was not, and will probably never be referred to as a car guy. Like my father before me, I consider it a great achievement to know the license plate number and make/model of my current car, or to be able to find it in a parking lot. The Car Game, however, forces me and my son to look at the road in a whole new light. The game offers a familiar routine with which to engage new faces and new spaces. I found delight watching Anders break the ice and invite our adult friends to play as we walked through Greenwich Village. When we were traveling in Spain,

he adjusted the game accordingly to include Seat and Opel. We pored over photos I took of all of the cars on the road in China to imagine what it might be like to play there.

Recently, our game has morphed slightly to include the license plate game: bright blue Connecticut plates, old white and green Massachusetts plates, the depiction of the Empire State on Buffalo Nonna’s car. And so many more on Island during these summer months. By focusing on details, we strengthen our capacity for recall, pattern recognition and reasoned expectations in varied contexts.

Why does any of this matter? We live in a world where Google can offer all the answers, and attention to grades, test scores and college admission has reached a fever pitch. Who cares if curiosity has plummeted? Students who only care about grades and excelling at standardized tests often fail to appreciate the rich details of the world around us. Small items of wonder escape notice. Connections and context are too often ignored. There is no time to smell the proverbial roses, or to look at license plates along the way.

And therein lies the allure of the Car Game. For years, I went around without noticing hood ornaments or license plates. Now I cannot help but see them, track them and discuss them with my son. We jump from these observations to greater discussions of design, geography, socioeconomics and identity. The game reminds us to take the minute and mundane and imbue it with new life.

Curiosity requires the iterative re-opening of the eyes. Our car game could be your shell game, bird game, plant game, lighthouse game — whatever elements you wish to see again in a new light.

Dave Ulrich lives in Dedham and Oak Bluffs.