Are We There Yet? Keeping Kids Entertained on the RoadJanuary 31, 2011 No Comments
Since the early days of road trips, kids have asked the same question. “Are we there yet?” Although road trips can be a lot of fun, being stuck in the seat of a car for hours on end can be boring and frustrating for adults and kids alike. Thankfully there are more options today than ever before for entertaining kids on the road.
Appealing to all ages, from young children to grandparents, old-fashioned car games can keep everyone in a good mood. The Alphabet Game, “I Am Going on a Picnic,” and License Plates are popular choices, although there are literally hundreds of possibilities. Search the internet for some new ideas before your trip.
The Alphabet Game is simple enough for any child that knows his letters, but requires enough attention to keep adults from getting bored. Just search for the letters of the alphabet in order on billboards, road signs and license plates. Those with younger kids may want to play as a group, while older kids often enjoy the thrill of competition. Be sure to set some ground rules to avoid arguments–do signs off in the distance count, or only those directly on the side of the road you are traveling? Is it okay to turn around and find letters on signs facing the opposite direction, or must the sign be facing the car in its current direction of travel? Get everyone on the same page before you begin.
“I Am Going on a Picnic” encourages creative thinking as well as practicing letters. The first person says “I am going on a picnic and I will take (any item beginning with the letter ‘A’).” The next person repeats the phrase, including the item selected by the first person, and adds something that begins with “B.” Keep this up through the entire alphabet. Again, to prevent arguments, set ground rules. Is a phrase okay, or must the item be described in one word? If someone forgets the chain, can others prompt him?
“License Plates” is a great game to get kids thinking about geography. Designate one person to keep a written list of all the different state license plates that you pass. Everyone is responsible for pointing out new state license plates as they see them. The family goal is to get as many different states as possible.
Some people are prone to motion sickness and should not read in the car. If this does not apply to your family, however, sharing books is an excellent way to bond while passing the time. My family always shared the reading responsibility, taking turns reading a chapter or two out loud. Choose books that are at a slightly higher reading level than your kids’ current comfort zone, since you are on hand to assist with difficult passages. This is also a great time to share books that are thought-provoking or bring up challenging issues, since those books can spark a family discussion.
If you have a permanently installed or portable DVD player, movies can be a great way to pass some time. Unless each child has his own player, though, be prepared for conflicts over what to watch. Let the kids take turns watching a movie or bring along only those films that everyone genuinely enjoys. Movies tend to distract kids from seeing what is around them, though, so try to limit the amount of time they spend with DVDs.
Handheld electronic games are extraordinarily popular, and are an excellent way for kids to stay occupied while in the car. To save your own sanity, consider investing in a good set of headphones or ear buds for each game system. Keep an eye on the amount of time your kids spend with the games, however, as they tend to cut off conversation with the family as well as sightseeing.
Sometimes the best way to distract a fussy child is to introduce something new. Before the trip, stock up on inexpensive toys at your local dollar store. You can either give each child a small bag of toys at the beginning of the trip or introduce new toys periodically throughout the day. Make sure that whatever you select is easy to use while strapped into a seat and is not messy or fragile.
In some parts of the country, there may be long distances between highway exits. Food costs tend to skyrocket when you are unprepared, as arriving at a fast food restaurant starving generally leads to irresponsible dining. Stave off both boredom and hunger by packing some fun but reasonably healthy snacks in the car. If you have a cooler, yogurt, string cheese, pudding and fruit cups are great choices. Crackers, dry cereal and fresh fruit work well in a shopping bag. Don’t forget about drinks, and consider throwing in some fun foods as well. Cookies, chips and candy are all available in individually packed containers, which can help prevent overeating.
With smaller bladders, lower frustration tolerance and more energy than most adults, kids need more frequent breaks. If you are having trouble distracting the kids and everyone is feeling cranky, pull off at the next rest area. Sometimes just getting out of the car and running around for 10 or 15 minutes can put everyone in a better frame of mind. Although you may need to adjust your schedule a bit, maintaining peace is ultimately the most important.
Traveling with kids requires patience and flexibility. Packing your family into a car for several hours or days will spark arguments and frustration. With advance planning and a willingness to go with the flow, however, you may find that getting there is truly half the fun.