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Kids & Cars: 20+ Boredom Busters for your Holiday Road Trips

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Family getaways into the mountains can be amazing and relaxing, at least once you arrive! Kids and car rides can lead to chaos or make wonderful family memories. The challenge of spending time in an enclosed car space with little physical movement can be difficult for even short rides. Any parent can have a panic attack if facing hours in a car with kids. Sure you could just pop in a DVD, but why not establish car time as a unique time to bond, learn to use car time creatively and quietly, or actually learn something.

Most importantly, remember to have fun!

Quiet Activities
1) Scavenger Hunt: Find a leftover jar ( clean empty plastic peanut butter jars are perfect), remove the label then fill with birdseed or sand. Find individual small object throughout the home and add to jar. Make a list of these objects and tape to the lid. Rubber bands, safety pin, thumbtacks, penny, and hair tie are some examples. Kids then shake the jar to find the listed object, just make sure you tape the top tightly when you are finished filling!
2) Individual Bags: Let each child fill a mutually agreed upon sized bag (lunch box, shoe box etc.) with whatever toys they want for the car.
3) Etch A Sketch: Endless fun, no mess and cheap to buy. This is a great toy to leave in the car at all times and provides fun for all ages.
4) White Board: Kids can draw, work on handwriting, mathematics or play Pictionary.
5) Coloring Books/Notebook: Keeping blank paper or a coloring book handy is always a lifesaver, especially in the car. I prefer colored pencils as they will not stain the seats or melt in the heat.

Cookie sheet with edges on road trips

Cookie sheet with edges on road trips

6) Audio Books: Visit your local library and check out an audiobook or two with your kids. It can be fun to stop every few chapters and talk about what is happening, or check in with your kids by asking questions to see if they are following along. Audiobooks are not just for long trips. Listen to a chapter together on the way to school; it’s a wonderful way to connect with your kids.
7) Cookie Sheet w/Edges: So many uses! A magnetic surface (magnets/letters) or as a playing surface for smaller items that are hard to keep from falling on the floor (Legos, cars etc..) Cookie sheet can also be painted with 2 coats of chalkboard paint for yet another fun writing surface.
8) Pipe Cleaners or WikkiStix: Awesome for bending, making shapes, practicing letters and creating stick people. You can also bring round cereal like Fruit Loops or Cheerios to make edible jewelry by stringing the cereal on the pipe cleaners.
9) Magazines: Grab a pen or marker and you have another version of I Spy. For older kids, make a list of things to find in the magazine (this can be a generic list you make two or three versions of and keep in the car), have them circle items once found. For example, find a one-letter word, find a ten-letter word, find all the colors of the rainbow etc. Younger kids, give them things to look for verbally. Maybe they are working on letters, numbers or colors. If that is too difficult, have them find a dog, a man, food etc. This is your chance to be creative with a child and adapt to your child’s skill level.

Group Activities
1) I Spy: This is an oldie but goodie! Keep this is your back pocket, it works anywhere and at anytime. Look for colors, shapes, objects, letters etc.
2) 20 Questions: Take turns with all the players in the car. Winner gets to think of next item! Another game that works anywhere. You might want to center on a topic-animals, sports, family, etc.
3) Would You Rather? Would you rather eat macaroni and cheese the rest of our life OR would you rather go to school all year around? It’s a fun way to be creative and learn more about each other. Disclaimer: can get pretty silly!
4) Finger Plays/Sing Songs: Younger kids enjoy picking and singing songs together. Teach them some new ones to keep them interested! This is a free website with over 200 songs if you need ideas: www.kididdles.com
5) Counting Game: Challenge kids to work on counting by asking them to find 3 red cars, find 3 white buildings etc.. As always, adapt to your child’s skill level.
6) Alphabet Game: We played this all the time when I was a kid and love it! Someone says “Go” and it’s a race to find letters A-Z visually written. Billboards, store signs, streets signs are often where you see them. To make it harder, don’t allow people to use letters found on license plates. Another version is to play where people must find A-Z with items that START with that letter- A: Apple, B: Basketball. People can’t use the same letter or item someone else has found.
7) Counting Game #2: Pick a sign or building far ahead, and estimate how many seconds it will take for the car to reach it. Count out loud or have child use a stopwatch.
8) License Plate Game: Challenge an older child to find all 50 states plates. Keep track on paper or white board.
9) Math License Plate Game: Practice those math skills by having kids add or multiply the three numbers on a license plate. Make it more fun by timing, who can get the most correct answers in 3 minutes.
Longer Drives: Things to Consider

1) Set Expectations: Be clear as possible when you describe how long they will be in the car. Depending on their ages, using hours may not mean much to them. Try and use something they can relate to. Length of their favorite movie, length of how long they are in preschool, until it gets dark etc. Check in and give them updates, before they can ask, “How much longer?”.

2) Let Them Move: Frequent pit stops at Waysides are a great opportunity to let them stretch. Pack a jump rope or soccer ball so they can burn some energy while stretching those legs!

3) Snacks: Stock the car with healthy snacks and space them out appropriately! Trail mix, cheese cubes, sliced fruit are great options that will keep both kids and adults satisfied.
4) Surprises: splurging on a few packets of stickers, new matchbox car or coloring book is often worth the $5.00! Save the surprises until needed : )

Elissa Sungar is the Co-Creator of If Not You, Who?  a free website that offers easy and fun in-home educational activities that help prepare children for kindergarten and life.  Her passion for early childhood education grew out of her experience as a pre-school teacher at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School. Elissa loves hiking, running, tennis, yoga, cute workout clothes, good cheese, great baked goods and exploring Denver!   Twitter: @ElissaINYW.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Amber Johnson November 21, 2013

    Great tips! I’ve traveled 40+ hours with my kids to Canada every summer. When traveling solo, I always have things very accessible for them. Separate snack/Ziploc containers (too much fighting otherwise) and a big laundry basket between their seats for easy access to toys and books.

  • comment avatar Judy Voigt November 21, 2013

    The best idea I was ever given about taking road trips with kids was from a seasoned mom traveler. She said to bring a soccer ball, stop at a rest stop, and instead of taking that time to eat, let the kids play soccer. They burn off some energy, get nice and tired, and then load them back up in the car. After you hit the road, break out the food which occupies them nicely for a good half hour or so. Works like a charm!

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