My fancy schmancy new-to-me mommyvan has a very interesting secret compartment that comes down from the ceiling with the push of a button. Inside this very secret compartment is....a place to put a DVD player. I keep extra sunglasses in it instead.
Don't get me wrong. We have a portable DVD player. Also a Leapster, as well as an iPOD loaded with Yo Gabba Gabba episodes. We have a lot of electronics that can and do keep kids occupied in the car. I love these electronics! There have been times when I have believed with every fiber of my being that they are they greatest things ever invented. But most of the time this stuff lives in the back of my closet in the "Road Trip Bin". They come out when a trip is designated, by me, as a Road Trip.
My general rule of thumb is that a Road Trip is a trip longer than two hours. I figure that on a two hour trip we can talk, play some games, sing along to the radio, and then take a nap so the grown ups can talk. Does it always happen this way? Not a chance! Do I sometimes wish my children could be mindlessly entertained with the push of a button? Absolutely!
As difficult as it may be at times, there are a lot of reasons to ditch the DVD!
- Car rides are a great place for story-telling. My children love classic stories like Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood. We have listened to these stories together on audio book so many times that we know the stories by heart. Now we spend time reenacting the stories. We are each assigned parts and we then act out the story. At first I was the narrator as well as most of the characters, but we have gotten so good that the kids play most of the major roles and I stick to bit parts.
- Re-telling well known and loved stories is great fun, but I know that as a kindergartener, Zoe will also be expected to come up with her own stories. To help her develop this skill we have started to play "Pass the Story". I will start a story with a sentence or two, then she continues it by adding her own sentences. We keep taking turns adding pieces until we have finished. The stories always take a few unexpected twists and turns and it is really funny to listen to what others come up with.
- Road signs and passing scenery are great tools for a child to practice their emergent literacy and numeracy skills.
- Play the ABC Game. For pre-readers show them the letter they should look for and then find it as many times as you can. For more advanced kids, look for the letters of the alphabet in order form A to Z. See how far you can get before you reach your destination.
- Choose a type or color of vehicle to count.
- Play Color I Spy.
- Games such as these not only help your child practice basic skills necessary for school success, they help them to train their brain to recognize things rapidly which may help with future reading fluency.
- We practice our critical thinking skills as well as our natural science knowledge when we play "I'm Thinking of an Animal". We take turns giving clues about an animal so the others in the car can guess. Older children can play 20 Questions to practice the same set of skills at a more advanced level.
- Sometimes in the car, I don't interact with the kids. I turn on NPR and tell them that they are on their own. In life, kids are not always actively entertained. Staring out the window of a moving car is a great way to practice amusing oneself calmly and quietly. As a parent be prepared to weather some whining with this one. It's important, though, so take some deep breaths, find your zen, and let your children be bored.
- Finally, in the car, a child is truly a captive audience. When else is our child strapped down and facing forward? Car rides are a great time for proactive rather than reactive parenting. Is your child doing something that bothers or worries you? Create some scenarios that might happen and talk about possible choices that could be made. I often will create a story and pose a poor solution so that my daughter can tell me the right thing to do. She can use these practice situations to better know how to handle the real thing.
What are some other ways you keep your kids happy, amused and engaged in the car?