Your family's planning to take a long road trip, and everyone is looking forward to it. You want the positive vibes to keep flowing once the car is rolling down the highway. Sure, kids are excited and easily amused at the onset. However, they aren’t crazy about idle time, and they’re not as easy to please a few hours into the journey.
Buy some inexpensive travel trays and plan ahead, and your games, activities and entertaining ideas will be the hit of the trip. Adapt them to suit your children’s ages. You might even avoid the whining and bickering that often puts a damper on a long, family trip. Instead of the kids asking the classic, "Are we there yet?" you just might hear them exclaim, “We’re there already?!” Music to any parent's ears.
Paper and Pencil
Take along some sharpened pencils and a stack of plain, white paper, and the possibilities are endless. Kids typically enjoy a challenging game of tic-tac-toe or hangman. Time them as they write as many words as they can think of that start with the letter B, T or F, suggests Christina Mullen, teacher and counseling intern at Lincoln-Edison Elementary School in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
Look out the window and choose three to five words from billboards or street signs. Ask each child to write a silly rhyme or poem, using one of the words in each line. Download some free activity sheets on your computer and print them ahead of time. You can find word scrambles, mazes and dot-to-dot pictures to fit most age groups.
Young and old alike enjoy classic card games such as Crazy Eights and Old Maid. Pack some yarn, hone your string-game techniques and teach your kids to play cat’s whiskers. Try games like “I Spy” (I spy something that is red) or “20 Questions” (Is it blue? Is it big?). The children can look out the window and find something that begins with an A, then a B, until they get to Z. Make up a story with each family member contributing one or two lines.
Add a little drama to the car action with sock puppet shows or familiar sound re-creations. For example, one child makes the sound of a squeaky wheel, and the others try to guess it.
The timeless car song, “100 bottles of beer on the wall...” has entertained generations. Change the word “beer” to “milk” or “slime” or whatever amuses your group. Pack some song books with lyrics for a rousing sing-along. Older children can take turns singing songs that start with letters of the alphabet. For example, “All around the Mulberry Bush” followed by “Bingo was his name-oh.” Hum a tune and see who can guess it.
Make an activity board from felt material, suggests Mullen. Since felt sticks to felt, kids won’t drop or break materials. If your child is learning to add, ask her to combine felt apples and oranges to make a group of seven. Magnetic boards work well on trips also. Electronic doodle boards or sewing cards are easy to pack and offer your children plenty of variety.
Many of the games and applications for smart phones and electronic pads offer educational benefits, says Mullen. Download them ahead of time. If your trip takes several days, surprise the children with a new selection each day. Play a read-along story on CD, and your child can look at the accompanying book or pack a humorous movie on DVD to keep the mood light.
Artistic interests tap creative juices and have a calming effect. A pack of new and different crayons and drawing paper is all you need to grab a child’s attention. Ask your little one to make pictures related to the trip, suggests Mullen. He could draw a beach ball, a boat or a sand castle. Sticker books and tracing paper will amp up the fun.
Books and Magazines
You have books in every room of the house to encourage reading. This might be a good time to add to your collection. A new book holds a child’s attention. Little ones particularly like interactive books with pop-ups, flaps and sounds. Your tweens might not get the chance to read many teen magazines, so they consider it a treat to read up on the latest fashions and celebrity happenings.
When you finally pull into a rest stop, the kids are anxious to stretch their legs and flex their muscles. “As teachers, we know how important it is for kids to take a break and run around before they come back to class,” says Mullen. Keep a couple balls and a Frisbee in your trunk. Play a quick game of tag or flag football or blow some bubbles that the kids can chase and break. Once they let off steam, they’ll be ready to get back into the car to relax and enjoy quieter games.