Enjoying Time in the Car with Children
All of the fun you hope to have on a family road trip is impossible if the kids do not enjoy the driving part, or at least tolerate it. While traveling on a road trip, we usually go about 200-300 miles a day. However, when we are really trying to get somewhere, we can travel up to about 800 miles in a day which is about our limit. That is a lot of time in the car for children.
We are getting pretty good at traveling in the car. I am not saying we are perfect. We get some moaning, groaning, and the occasional “How much longer?” question muttered in a distraught voice. However, we are at the point were our kids will admit that driving isn’t all that bad, in fact it can be fun.
Books on Tape: This is by far our family’s favorite way to keep ourselves entertained while traveling. There are several reasons why we like this better than watching movies. One is that you have to use your imagination. Also, listening to books in the car allows the family to see the scenery out the window which was one of the purposes of the trip. Unlike movies, the driver can be entertained as well. Public libraries usually have large selections of audio books which can typically be checked out for three weeks at a time or more. The books also give our family things to talk about, and allows us all to be exposed to some classic literature.
Movies: Kids love to watch movies in the car. Most of our family road trips have been made before we had a video entertainment system. We could still watch movies by propping a laptop on some pillows on the front seat, and using a cheap adapter to pipe the sound through the vehicle's audio system. We try to make movies a special event and typically have a limit of one per day unless we are traveling more than 8 hours that day.
Video Games: We don’t play too many video games in our house, but we often do on road trips. It is another way to make time in the car seem like a privilege rather than a chore. Like movies, we try to limit the amount of time on this activity since it is kind of anti-social and keeps them from enjoying the scenery passing by the window. For our younger children, a LeapPad learning system helps them feel like they are included in the game activity and hopefully they learn something also.
Other Stuff: Diversity is key to entertaining children in a car. A coloring book and crayons can do just as much as anything electronic to keep a young mind happy and productive. A new toy bought at a dollar store every once in a while does a lot to keep kids happy, as do the toys that come in fast food kid’s meals. Of course there are lots of car games that don’t require anything all. Some of our favorites include the classics 20 questions and finding license plates from different states.
Children need individual attention no matter where you are. If they don’t get it, they tend to behave in ways so that the attention of their parents is required. We made it a point to converse and interact with our kids as we are going along. When our attention slipped, or when we got too focused on the entertainment, the kids started to get restless.
When our family approached the “meltdown” phase, we call out our best and most effective technique to help the kids deal with the travels. It was called “parent in the back seat.” With mom or dad in the back seat, the kids get all of the attention they needed. Sometimes what kids really need is attention, and having a parent in the back seat satisfies that need.
Our kids will endure just about anything if there is enough anticipation and excitement. Our kids have literally never had a bad day in the car when a trip to the beach was included either at the end of the day or mixed into the middle of it. We try to keep talking about the significance of what we see along the way and really talk up the destination. We remind them that we are not just going for a drive, we are going on an adventure. It really works.
Making Smart Stops
Kids need to be comfortable while driving, and unfortunately that means you need to stop frequently. When stomachs are empty, when bladders are full, or when legs get achy, there is no recourse but to pull over and take care of those needs. My original tendency was to consider stops to be a necessary evil. However, when we started to think of the journey being part of the fun, we would try to make stops be a fun experience. We try to make opportunistic stops at scenic rest stops, interesting tourist attractions, or state parks when possible. Using the clickable map on the home-page of the website should help identify some good stops