Road trip 101: Entertainment


As a mom of 4 kids who yearly subjects her family to multiple road trips, I have learned a few tips & tricks to make the experience less painful for all involved. 

Hopefully, one of these inspires you to make your next road trip just a little bit more pleasant.


Babies/Toddlers
Cute, loud, easily distracted.  Note the easily distracted part.  Helping children under the age of 3 is all about distraction. 
Shot at the doctor office… distraction. 
Dropped an ice cream cone… distraction. 
Bored… distraction. 
Food not quite ready yet…distraction. 
Still 25 miles to the next diaper changing location & a large smelly diaper has invaded the minivan…distraction. 
You get the idea.

Best practices… if possible have you or another adult (or kind older sibling) sit next to the baby.   Yes, it means sometimes leaving the driving adult to feel like a underpaid chauffeur, but really the important thing is keeping a calm, safe and quiet car for as long as possible. 

The “Magic bag of fun”.  Keep a paper or reusable grocery bag full of age appropriate toys (you probably already have tons of these at home.  Do not bring absolute favorites unless you have duplicates.  I am convinced truck stops have piles of left by the side of the gas pump toys they are using to fill sinkholes.) nearby.  When the baby gets fussy, try talking to them to first engage them in a conversation, then when they calm down even a little or try to talk with you, give the child a toy.  They will learn it is better to try to talk through their unhappiness first and then be rewarded with a nice distracting toy to play with… If you follow these steps, by the time they reach the next age group – preschool – they will have learned it is better to calmly ask for help, than throw a fit.  I am still working on this skill with my junior high child.  Will get back to you when it starts working… LOL.

Preschoolers
Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

Why, indeed, do children of this age ask so many questions?  At this point, sitting next to your child is somewhat optional depending on their age & needs, but still a really good idea. 

Best practices…. Since they are going to ask so many questions anyway, why not try to teach them something in the process?  I am a big fan of flashcards.  Every dollar store and mega mart across the country has a back to school plethora of cheap, colorful flashcard sets designed to teach your kids about everything from dinosaurs to presidents, colors (in Spanish too!) to shapes, letters and more!  There are even more advanced flashcards designed to guide kids of all ages through thinking games.  I am a big fan of Brain Quest, especially since the flashcards are attached to each other and less likely to clutter up the car. 

A second fun way to entertain your preschoolers is a preschool version of the “Magic Bag of fun”.  Start with a bunch of free or nearly free age appropriate toys, flashcard sets, books… (garage sales, dollar stores, cast offs from friends) and wrap each in tissue paper or old wrapping paper.  Takes a little bit of planning, but will when evenly spaced out over the trip get you through some tough spots.  Before giving the child a wrapped gift, let them know they will have to wait a little bit.  You know your child better than anyone so use a time that works for them. 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 seconds… up to you.  Or say they will get a gift when they find see a red truck.  Or a school bus.  Gamification at it’s best… AND you are teaching delayed gratification.  Something all the parenting books seem to mention as really important.

Don’t forget simpler versions of car games from your childhood.  They may not be able to recognize letters, but they do know a train, school bus, truck, cow or lake when they see it. 

Elementary school kids
They are getting smarter and more aware of you trying to trick them.  So this is when you really need to get creative.  Each child is unique and different.  So think about what your child loves and focus on that topic.  Car games become even more important.  The alphabet game where you look outside on signs and license plates to work your way through the alphabet one letter at a time works well into junior high.  Try also telling stories where each person gets to tell the story for a minute or sentence.  Or the one that begins, “I am going on a trip and I am packing an apple, baseball, card game, etc.” 

Mad libs (bought or homemade) are a great way to introduce types of words and sentence structure.  I am all about the sneaky education aspect of well just about everything.  Humans are meant to continuously improve through learning.  Again, Brain Quest or other flashcards are portable and entertaining.  Reading can work well: comics (ask for the bargain bin ones at your local comic book store), graphic novels, magazines (Big fan of highlights, Hi-Five, sports illustrated for kids, Ranger Rick, American girl magazine, and girlsworld) are easier to read in moving cars than thick novels.  Just be sure to remind them to look up once in a while to prevent car sickness.

Finally, for this age group, crafts are a life saver.  Yes,  you can do crafts in cars.  Avoid anything that involves glitter, glue, paint, permanent markers or easily melting crayons.  Color Wonder markers, washable markers and my absolute favorite – colored pencils are the best.  My favorite car crafts include chenille stick sculpture, post-it pad make your own books, stringing pony beads on chenille sticks, rainbow loom, loom crochet, origami & preprinted paper airplane templates.  

Top 10 Car Craft Items

  1. Sturdy clipboards for writing and folding paper
  2. Extra erasers, pencils & pencil sharpeners
  3. Gallon Ziploc to save masterpieces & not done yet masterpieces
  4. Plastic silverware drawer trays to separate beads or pencils for easy access
  5. Small pairs of scissors for the parents to use
  6. Plain white or pastel paper
  7. Stickers & Plain address labels
  8. Post-it notes (My future post on airplane travel with kids would not be complete without praising post-it notes.)
  9. Yarn
  10. Painter’s tape or masking tape for building paper structures.  Encourage architecture in older kids. 

Junior high kids 
Just leave them at home… no just kidding.  But think about it for moody teenagers… again, just kidding.  LOL.  Actually,  most of the elementary age ideas will work quite well for this age too.  They are beginning to understand nostalgia for being a carefree kid without homework and will probably enjoy having an excuse to act like one.  At this point adding in more age appropriate graphic novels, comics and magazine (love popular science! And any home or cooking magazine.)  The Uncle John’s Bathroom reader series is fantastic.  Seek & find, where’s waldo?  Series are great car friendly .  You can even download and print free car bingo sheets. 

Having some control over their own music helps too.  Invest in good ear buds and encourage correct volume levels to protect their hearing.  Audio books are great as it allows the kids to look out the window while “reading”.  Most public libraries even let you take out e-books or e-audio books for free. 

The “magic bag of fun” for this age group can include new graphic novel or craft kit

Encourage junior high age kids to pack their own entertainment.  But bring a few surprises just in case.  And definitely pack the u shaped travel pillows for this age group.  They need tons of sleep and are big enough to request to be comfortable. 

Wow!  I got to the end of my article and didn’t even get a chance to talk about my favorite animated films to listen to since I never get to see them on our trips… Who knows, with all these ideas maybe you can save that new DVD to actually watch together when you finally arrive?


Safe travels from 4chances2parent





Heather is a mom to 4 awesome kids.  She loves reading children’s books in silly voices, visiting museums & libraries, singing along with the car radio, seeing kid-placed glitter & stickers on other parents, & tiring out her kids by spending time with them outdoors. 

Please follow & tweet me at @4chances2parent

Look for more blogs to come at the blog 4chances2parent.

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