The combination of antsy children and excessive travel can be pure torture for the unprepared mommy. After a few horrendous car trips, I finally decided we needed a plan in place to keep everyone happy in the car, from jaunts around town to day-long road trips. Below are a few of my personal tips in how to keep kids entertained in the car.
? Create a mini traveling library. Keep a small portable crate of children’s books in the car to entertain kids during long trips or even when zipping around town completing errands. Another great thing to keep in a traveling library is mail order catalogs for toys, birthday supplies or kid’s costumes. Kids love looking at these and they can easily be tossed once they become worn.
? Play I-Spy. I-Spy is a game that even young children can join in on the fun. Consider playing it with themes, such as looking for things of only a certain color or size.
? Play Counting Games. Have children keep tally of specific items passed, such as school buses, color of cars, animals, and restaurants. To keep this game exciting and to teach a basic skill, have children keep a graph of the information selected. To do this, keep a heavy duty piece of laminated cardstock in the car along with a dry erase marker and wet wipes. Children can graph the number of red cars passed verses the number of black cars passed or graph the number of cows seen verses the number of horses seen.
? Have a kids’ meal grab-bag. Stash away those neglected toys from kids’ meals and keep them in a small bag. When children become antsy riding in a car, have them choose a small toy from the bag. Suddenly the forgotten kid’s meal prize from two months ago becomes a loved toy for the car. When traveling with more than one child, consider having a time limit per toy to prevent fighting over who gets what prize.
? Partake in progressive storytelling. Bring back the art of storytelling by having everyone in the car contribute two or three sentences to a story. Start off a tale with the standard “Once upon a time…” or something a bit more eclectic such as, “Deep in the dark waters of the ocean….” Have children finish the story.
? Deliver the mail. Sitting still in a car for an extended period of time can be difficult for adults. Imagine how challenging it can be for children who have the need to move. Have a “mailbox” (created out of an empty cereal box covered in scrapbook paper) to reward children for being a good rider in the car. Every 30 minutes in a trip, “deliver the mail” and let kids choose a small prize from the mail box. Prizes might be a small toy, activity or snack.
? Host “Highway Karaoke”. Find a family friendly radio station or plug in the iPod and let family members take turns belting out their favorite tunes. Does your car have XM (the Chevy Malibu does)? If so, there are several stations that serve up fun songs the entire family can sing along with, such as Broadway show tunes or Radio Disney.
? Assign a mission. Kids love to help mom and dad, even when traveling in the car. Give kids a mission such as being on the lookout for construction signs or drawing a “Thank You” card for someone. Find little ways they can help out when in the car and praise them for a job well done.
? Play 20 questions. Road trips are a great way to get to know someone…even if that someone happens to come from the same immediate family. Let each family member take turns being in the “spotlight” and ask them a variety of questions, ranging from “What is your favorite color?” to “When was a time you felt scared?”
Riding in the car with children does not have to be a torturous event. Before crawling in the vehicle and buckling up, make an entertainment plan of attack to ensure a good trip for the entire family.