12 tips for road trips with children

Before cell phones, ipads, or DVD players, there were road trips. Seriously. Road trips can be fun for kids, and even for you.

Here are 12 things that might help make driving hours easier.

1. Create scavenger hunts. Don’t just hand children a list, but play along with them. Occasionally ask, “What are we still looking for?” or say something like, “I wonder if we’ll see a … when we come to the next town.”

For prereaders you can make your own scavenger hunt with stickers or images and put it on a clipboard so they can mark off each item as they find it. As children get older, add words and make the objects more difficult to spot. Adjust your list to include things you will find in your area. How about a row of mailboxes, a white picket fence, or a boat on a trailer?

This list can even help you remember that God is with you on vacation!

2. Calm a fussy baby with music. Ever since she was an infant, my oldest child has been soothed by music. If she was fussy in the car, she became calm when I sang to her. I even improvised with all the animals I could think of and sang “Old MacDonald Had a Zoo.” On road trips that lasted past bedtime, I put a lullaby tape in the car’s cassette player (yes, it was a long time ago) and sang along softly as she drifted to sleep. Not every child will respond the same way to music, but it’s worth a try. Why not create your own playlist of lullabies? Coincidentally, that daughter is now a professional musician.

3. Record yourself reading stories or check out prerecorded books. When our daughters were little, I recorded myself reading some of their favorite storybooks and played them on road trips after dark. Maybe it was the comfort of my voice or the words of a familiar story, but it was an effective way to entertain little ones, especially since they were used to having books read aloud at bedtime.
On long stretches of road when the girls were older, we played recordings of books that we borrowed from the public library. Chapter books that have character development and more complicated plots keep children interested in listening for what’s next. The Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park were some of their favorites.

4. Put children in charge of a recording device. A cassette recorder/player was without a doubt our best tool to pass the time in the car with school-agers. Our daughters had control of the portable tape recorder and they told jokes and stories, made up commercials, pretended they were news reporters, spoke with funny accents… and then played back the tape to listen to themselves. Because the three girls were close in age, their creativity multiplied. With one child, you will need to play an active part in the recording to make it fun. We had hours of tape after a road trip, filled with some hilarious memories. Although cassette recorders are pretty much obsolete, you probably have a device that will work even better.

5. Make copies of maps. Before a long trip, I’d make enlarged copies of pages from a road atlas and mark the route we planned to take with a bright highlighter. You can have maps for each state plus one large map that will show your entire trip. Give the copies to children, and let them look for mile markers or road signs to see where you are along the route. One summer as we approached “where 69 meets 40,” we belted out Carrie Underwood’s popular song, “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore.”

6. Play license plate games. The easiest version of a license plate game is to keep a list of all the states or provinces and check off each one as you find it. We bought a magnetic travel version that we kept in a seat back pocket.
Use license plates to find the letters of the alphabet in order. (You can look for letters of the alphabet on billboards, too, but license plates work better for remote stretches of highway.)
Or call out the letters you see on a license plate and everyone try to think of words that use those letters. (This game develops great Wheel of Fortune and Scrabble players.)

7. Create Silly Stories. Fill in words to create your own outrageous stories. You can download templates and instructions on a previous blog, “Teaching and living literacy.” Here’s one sample. https://msmarciacom.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/silly-story-road-trip-1.pdf.

8. Have a convenient place for trash. If you keep your car clean inside it will be much more comfortable on long trips. You can turn a large plastic cereal storage container into a convenient trash can for small items. Line the container with a small plastic bag, and pop the lid closed. A plastic bucket works well for bigger things and doesn’t tip over easily.

9. Use seat back or console organizers. Keep frequently used items within reach when traveling. I sewed organizers with pockets that we hung on each seat back, holding things like books, glasses cases, maps, and snacks. You can remodel an over-the-door shoe holder or buy one of many car organizers available. Attach a seat back organizer at the bottom so it doesn’t swing out and get in your way.

10. Keep buckets handy. Be prepared by keeping a couple of plastic buckets with lids handy. They can be used in case of motion sickness, then covered and disposed of at the next stop. For preschoolers, a bucket on the side of the road can even be a portable toilet in an emergency!

11. If you are making a long trip with infants or small children, it helps to travel as far as you can while they are asleep in their car seats.

12. Enjoy special snacks. I’m not sure how the tradition started, but if we began a vacation early in the morning we’d eat blueberry mini-muffins as the sun came up. I still think about road trips whenever I smell blueberry muffins.

Approach your time in the car together with expectation and playfulness, and have a great trip!

For you shall go out in joy,
    and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall burst into song,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Isaiah 55:12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Ehron says:

    Mikey calms down as soon as I begin singing songs from his music together class. And he has a drum, and shaker egg within easy reach of his car seat. He is also starting to look at his storybooks on his own. I have most of them memorized and read along after I see which book he has selected in the mirror. He always looks up with a huge smile. His favorite car book is You are my Sunshine. Probably because I sing read it. It’s nice to think that these early loves will stick with him for a lifetime.


    1. I love Mikey… and you. ❤️


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