“When are we going to get there?” is a regular refrain from children to their parents on long road trips. Whether you are doing a short trip of 3 hours, a medium 6 hour journey or mammoth 13 carfam hours in the car, you need to be prepared to do what you need to do to keep your children going.

While technology has revolutionised travelling with children – many parents resort to letting their children watch endless DVD’s or play games on tablets or gaming consoles, time in the car can also be used constructively to:

  • Play games together as a family
  • Learn about places of interest en route
  • Listen to audio books
  • Sing songs together
  • Do the maths with kilometres, tanks of petrol, time etc

Playing games together

I am a huge fan of the power of play to keep children focused, interested and even distracted from their own discomfort at being strapped into a car seat when they would rather be running around. Keep in mind that children are born to move and it is unnatural for them to be remain sedentary for too long. This is why you need to be part of the distraction equation.  They also have a pretty short attention span and if you don’t put yourself in the play process they will start to whinge, whine and complain very quickly.

Word games cost nothing and are great fun

Here are some examples:

  • Junior “I Spy” (from 3 years). I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘t’ for ‘tree’.  Can you find it? Etc. What your child will learn: Phonics, Visual perception, Visual discrimination, Figure ground perception, Problem solving
  • Clue spy game (from 4/5 years depending on child’s vocabulary). I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘c’ that has fur and meows, or something black and white that gives us milk, for example.
  • “I spy with my little eye” (from 6/7 years and up). I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘c’ – they must also say whether it is inside or outside the car. First person to guess correctly has the next go at being spymaster.
  • I want a rhyme in double quick time and the word to rhyme is……  E.g. stop, rake, cat (6 years and up)
  • What your child will learn: Listening skills, Auditory discrimination, Matching sounds
  • Word Ball.  This is a word association game.  Let your imagination run wild, the kids do!  Call out a word e.g. kettle. The next player calls out whatever word comes to mind setting off a train of thought, e.g. tea, coffee, milk, sugar, steam, engine, railway, clickety-clack, etc.What your child will learn: Vocabulary, Imagination, Association skills, Free thought

Use real games for some fun

Pack a deck of Trivial Pursuit or 30 Seconds cards for general knowledge. STK135_SS Chocolate_Cupcakes_PACK_120511

Try out Listmania – an A to Z quick list card game, a Toy Talk 2016 recommendation

Make fun out of nothing

If your child is 9 or older you can give them a pen and paper with a word on it such as Johannesburg. Now get them to write down as many words as they can using the letters in Johannesburg. We came up with 48 words! eg. bug, rug, burn etc.

Teach your children how to do finger knitting with a ball of wool. See who can make the longest chain.

What to pack in your child’s activity bag

  • Something to eat and something to drink will probably be in a separate bag, but do think about fascinating treats like a Pez man or Chocolate or Cheese Dippers – anything to while a way a bit of time
  • Sticker books – get a new one or just a few sheets of new stickers for every trip
  • Something to read (board books for babies, sound books for toddlers and age appropriate books moving forward)
  • No Spill Bubbles – a real win no-spill-bubbles
  • Pipe cleaners for some creative and fascinating fun
  • Melissa & Doug Water WOW activity pads
  • Melissa & Doug Magicolour activity pads
  • Crayola Digitools for using on a tablet

Pack a suitcase (I use Croxley plastic suitcases) of Lego with a playing board or Zoob pieces. I have found taking construction toys in the car a real win. If you have a Barbie-mad daughter, you could just as easily pack Barbie and her wardrobe too.

Visit my website www.toytalk.co.za for more ideas for travel games.

Place of interest

En route there may be a place of interest or two to stop and visit. This gets the kids out of the car for a while and if they are in primary school or older they get to add to their general knowledge too: think waterfalls, museums, look out points etc

Older children can even do the research, planning the stops. This makes them more vested in the journey.

Do the maths

Primary school children can learn how many tanks of fuel are required to do the distance, how long it takes to do the mileage, how much it is going to cost etc. This is all maths literacy and good for life skills. So next time your ten year old says, “Are we there yet?” you can say, “There are 400km to go and we are travelling at 120km ph. What time do you think we are going to arrive at our destination?”

Fun and learning go hand in hand. You can make road tripping with your children memorable if you are prepared to be part of the equation. With really young children, if there are two adults in the car, one may need to hop into the back seat and play with the children for 20 minutes from time-to-time. It really does do the trick if you are part of the fun. It also puts a barrier up between warring siblings too.

Happy travels!

For more ideas on effectively travelling with children, do book me to present my Parenting on the Run workshop to your group.