Keep your kids from driving you crazy on a road trip.
By Sudha Chandrasekaran
Family vacations can create long-lasting memories and fun learning experiences for parents and children alike. But travelling with children can sometimes be daunting and a test of patience. Kids are the original outside-the-box thinkers. Just try stopping them from exploring, experimenting, testing the rules or asking questions and soon you will find your parenting skills put to severe test during long drives. “Are we there yet?” is a question every adult who steps into a car with a child should be prepared to hear ad nauseam. Before climbing in for a long haul, take a look at these boredom busters to keep the kids stimulated, entertained or occupied while keeping the adults sane.
Share each day’s agenda with the children and explain the rules. You can tell them that you will be driving from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and stopping for a picnic lunch around noon. The kids will be expected to bring two of their favorite toys. Each person can choose music for an hour and cannot complain about someone else’s choice. This way is helpful, as expectations are clearly laid out.
Reward good behavior
No complaining for the next hour yields a stop at an ice-cream shop; not irritating your sibling gets you a book of your choice; a whine-free morning means selecting a restaurant for lunch or choosing an attraction of your choice that day. Use this strategy in reverse, too!
Stop and enjoy
If you have to drive for long stretches it is critical to schedule in some fun. While driving if the kids see a cool neighbourhood park, stop, so that they can play; or if they see a billboard advertising an intriguing attraction, consider hunting it down if it is not too far. Unplanned stops make the drive much more exciting and rewarding. Not only will it burn off some energy they have been accumulating in their seats, but it might tire them out enough to take a short nap while on the road.
Snacks are essential to make any car journey pass with the minimum amount of fuss, but avoid junk food. Choose nutritious foods that take a while to eat and keep bellies full for a long time. Resist the temptation to give them sweetmeats, so as to avoid arriving in a strange city with children in the middle of sugar rush.
Giving children their own camera encourages them to observe their surroundings and focus on what interests them. You might be surprised at the results from their knee-high views. Amongst pictures of feet and wheels, my daughter has shot pictures of flowers, animals, airplanes etc!
There are several games and activities that are great to entertain kids during long car trips. All you need is to prepare a variety of games well in advance.
Bring plenty of toys
We all like toys, whether they are traditional ones like puzzles or dolls, or favourite books and electronic gadgets. Stock as many toys as you can in your car. Handheld games, tiny colouring books, stickers, word searches and even tiny packs of plasticine are a great way to keep kids occupied while you are driving. A frisbee or a ball works wonders during wayside stops and gives the kids a fun activity to anticipate.
Create a vacation scrapbook as you go
Give your children a journal before you leave home so that they can record their favourite activities while they are still fresh in their memories. Everyone likes to reminisce about past trips. One person can be in charge of taking photos; another of recording what was done each day in a journal; a third can collect mementos like souvenirs from various attractions seen, coasters from restaurants, a feather found on the ground of a wildlife sanctuary etc.
Pack paper, markers and crayons, glue sticks and tape. For older children, pop a stack of books next to them on the back seat. It is sweet listening to toddlers tell themselves their own versions of the story from looking at the pictures. But reading books may affect children’s travel if they spend too long with their noses in books, in which case audio books would be useful.
A few travel games include
I spy with my little eye is a guessing game where the players have to guess the object the Spy sees. If you are really creative, you could even put a new spin on an old favourite – I Don’t Spy or Opposite Words, for example.
Name that tune
Do you have a children’s CD of their favourite songs? Instead of letting it play on a loop for four hours, play the first few lines of each song at random, and see if they can name that tune.
I am thinking of
Pick a topic. One person thinks of an animal, and then the others take their turns to ask– for example, ‘does it have fur?’ After each question is answered, the person who asked has a chance to guess what the animal is.
Where Are We?
This activity lets kids answer “Are we almost there?” Armed with a road map of the road they are traversing, their skills to observe the city names on highway exit signs and perhaps a peek at the GPS navigation system, the little ones can know at all times how much more there is to go.
Involve everybody in telling or inventing the story. Start a story and when it reaches a dramatic point, have someone else continue.
Have a list of things that need to be found during the trip and have children look for them. With a bit of imagination you can adapt this game to your travelling style.
Mark the miles
Hang little numbered tickets above each child’s car seat, one for every hour of the trip. This way they will be able to understand the concept of time and avoid questions like “Are we there yet?” They will love to pull down the ticket when you’ll ask ‘Tickets, please!’ You can reward their patience with some treats!
Ask Who am I
This is a great travel activity for kids. Think of a simple category of animate or inanimate objects, like fruits, animals, family, furniture etc. Offer three clues to your identity. For instance, “I’m orange, I’m hard, and rabbits love me. Who am I?” A carrot!
Hold spelling bee competitions
In-car talent show. Children having weird skills get a chance to display their skills. Examples include weird tongue tricks, imitation etc.
Paper Clip is yet another favourite object that kids would love to play with. They can make chains, necklaces, or open them up to make more structures. They can make a paper clips chain from one side of the car to the other and then hang their toys from it.
Fortunately and Unfortunately. One person makes a statement, and the next person has to counter. Mona says, “Fortunately, we have lots of snacks in the car” and Vinod replies, Unfortunately, they are all covered with fungus!”
Connections. Take turns naming two people or places or things and see who can come up with a connection between the two. Whoever names the two things has to be able to think of a connection when challenged by another player, or else he or she loses.
The tried, tested and never-out-of-fashion Antakshari can be enjoyed on such trips.
Have every traveller share a fact no one else knows. Example: Did you know Amaxophobia is the fear of being in or riding in a vehicle? Interesting and informative!
Two truths and a lie. Each person shares three statements, two of which are true and one of which is false. Everyone else has to guess which is the lie.
Pick random words from billboards and signs. See who can come up with the best short story or poem using all of them.
Fill in the blank “Sitting in this car is better than _______.” Example: Sitting in this car is better than being locked in a gas station bathroom stall. The above creative games are just a few but imagination can spur on limitless number of games while on the road. The following technology related games also can keep the kids engaged:
Cartoons and movies
It is good to bring along a supply of kid-tested and approved television shows and movies. Better not forget the audio headphones for the kids if you are really searching for complete silence up front.
You have handheld electronic games and games that can be played on cell phones. While video games may not be the most creative thing children can be doing, they are at least interactive. Kids love to sing, and if you give them a smart phone or mike, they will love to record their songs and play them back. You will have some great music for your family travel! Watching DVDs or listening to audio books can make time fly! So next time you have to drive a great distance, do not panic. Just remember that with a little creativity, you can make getting there almost as great an experience as the destination itself!