Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to Keep You and Your Children Entertained on Road Trips

The key to any successful car trip (where kids are concerned) is keeping your kids occupied so they don't get too bored while they're in the car. I just don't know how parents did it 30 years ago when there was very little that you could do in the car, especially if the kids were like me and had problems with motion sickness, which prevents being able to read and do other similar activities. In fact, I think that's one reason why I hate car trips—they were pretty miserable as a kid since my only option really was to sleep or fight with my brother about whether I was touching him or was on "his side."

But now there are a lot more options available then there was when I was a kid, and after taking a trip with my son to Washington, I'd like to share some ways I found to keep your children entertained:

  • Videos: I try not to let my son watch too much TV (esp. since he's under 2 years old), but on trips, videos can be a life saver. They're an easy way to capture your child's attention so he or she is happy. You can play videos on laptops or portable DVD players, but I highly recommend using a portable DVD player if possible. It's so much easier to just turn it on, pop in the disc, and push play then it is to load the laptop, open the player, and then play the disc. Also, we didn't have a way to charge our laptop in the car, and even though we only opened it for a short time (15 minutes or so) while in Washington, it was dead when we tried to use it on the way home, despite us shutting the laptop completely down (we didn't even leave it on hibernate), so we have no idea how it got its battery drained. 
  • Toys: Bring small toys that they can play with in their car seats. Try toys that don't require a lot of room. Toys that make sounds are a big hit, if you can handle the noises it makes. If you can, get toys that have volume control. Just remember, sounds from a toy is better than a screaming child.
  • Snacks: Snacks are a great way to keep your child distracted, at least for a little while. Try to keep all snacks to dry foods such as cereal, crackers, and chips. Avoids snacks that are sticky like fruit leather and lollipops, and avoid messy foods like yogurt. You might get food all over your car no matter what, but at least the dry foods will be easy to vacuum up.

    You also might want to consider giving your children food they usually don't get as a treat, such as doughnuts (though they can be messy), pop tarts, potato chips, etc. because the novelty of the food will make them excited and help put them in a good mood.
  • Audio books: This may only work if you have older children, but listening to a book is a great way to pass time, and unlike reading a book, you don't have to worry about motion sickness. In fact, if your child is a little nauseated, closing his or her eyes and listening to the book can help lessen the motion sickness (along with opening and window so that they have some fresh air coming in). It's also a great way to pass the time if you're driving because that and listening to music is about all you can do while driving, and when you're driving on a straight road with little scenery, driving will get boring fast (if only auto-drive systems were available on cars!).

    If you're short on funds, borrowing audio books from the library is a great way to save money, just make sure to plan a few weeks ahead of time because the popular books are usually checked out and if you plan early enough, you can make sure you have one reserved in time for the trip. If you don't have a CD player (like we don't because our car is that old), you can copy the book onto your MP3 player and get a device that allows you to play the music/audio files through your car's speakers using the radio.
  • Music: Listening to music can be a great way to pass time as well, but if you're trying to keep your kids entertained, you'll want to listen to music that they want to listen to. This might be difficult there is a gap in the ages of your children, but if they're close enough, you can choose music from their favorite TV programs or other children's music to help keep them entertained.
  • Activity books: If your children aren't like me and don't get motion sickness, then activity can help keep children entertained. These may include coloring, mazes, connect the dots, etc. Try to keep the mess to a minimum by only allowing two crayons per child.
  • Play car games: If your children are old enough, you can play car games with them, like trying to find all the letters to the alphabet in order using license plates, road signs, billboards, etc. Have them call out a letter when they see it, which prevents the other players from using the same letter. Whoever gets to the end of the alphabet first wins. There are other car games that you can find by searching the Internet.
I hope these ideas help for your next car trip. Of course, the easiest way to deal with car trips and children is to plan trips where the kids are sleeping. If you have a motor home and are able, one great way is to drive during the night so your kids are asleep the whole time, but don't attempt this unless you have someone who can help you drive—and be careful not to get drowsy! You can also do this with a car, but your children may have trouble getting good sleep, making them cranky the next day. Another option is to leave early in the morning or drive during your child's nap time.

When I was a kid, my mom would have me and my brother actually sleep in the van (one of us on one bench and one of us on the other). Then she would wake up really early in the morning and start the trip before we even woke up. By the time we were awake, we'd be halfway there (of course, we were only going to our grandparent's house, which was 4 hours away).

On the way home from Washington, Alex had gotten to bed late because of spending time with family (around 10 p.m.), and we had to wake him up the next morning at 6 a.m. to get ready to head home. Normally, he would've been cranky all day till nap time, but because we were driving, the motion lolled him to sleep and within an hour into the trip, he fell asleep and slept for 3 hours. Granted, this messed up his sleeping schedule, but on a trip like that, it's worth it to have 3 hours of peaceful driving, and it really didn't take much to get him back on schedule once we were home from the trip.

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