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Entertaining Children On The Road

Entertaining Children During a Lengthy Road Trip

With a little planning, imagination, and a parent's best friend - patience - traveling with children can be a wonderful experience.

Planning is Half the Fun.
Good planning can mean the difference between a fun, relaxing vacation and a stressful ordeal. What does your family like to do? Sit down together and talk about what you want to see and where you want to go. Contact the local tourist bureaus for brochures on local points of interest; check out a stack of books about your destination, and sites on the route along the way.

The ages and temperaments of your children are the first things to consider when planning a trip. Young children need more frequent stops involving physical activity than older children and teenagers. Tap into your children's passions and interests along the way — everybody will learn a lot and have more fun in the process. An animal lover will want to go to every zoo and llama ranch in your path; rock collectors brake for gem shops. Build time into the itinerary for that all-important stop at Max's Snake Farm!

Avoid trying to pack in too many activities: build flexibility into your itinerary. When you approach your family trip with a relaxed attitude and plan it well for your family's needs, you will all have a more enjoyable vacation together. No matter how you travel or where you stay, you will need to take along some games, books, toys, and other possibilities for keeping children entertained.

Keeping Kids Happy While Driving
Infants and smaller children get bored and frustrated in very short order when strapped into a car seat or belt.

Keeping the Kids Happy = Keeping Them Busy.
Infants and smaller children get bored and frustrated in very short order when strapped into a car seat or belt. They can't bend over to retrieve dropped items, they can't twist and look around as much as they'd like, and they're boiling over with childhood energy. As a parent, you can help by bringing along a variety of interesting objects and toys which can keep your infant or toddler entertained for long stretches of time in the car, and by initiating imaginative play when your child needs some inspiration.

Making Tracks Without Making a Mess.
To minimize chaos, consider tying small, soft toys onto your child's car seat. (Make sure the string is shorter than six inches so she can't wrap it around her neck.) Toys that don't get lost or drop to the floor can avoid a small crying bout and will save you from twisting your body into impossible configurations to pick them up!

Buy or make a pocketed slipcover to hang over the back of the front seat. This will save space in the car and keep toys, games, and books in one easily accessible place.

Leave Your Worries at Home, But Don't Forget the Crayons:

Have Toys, Will Travel.

Pack a few toys and books in a shoebox or an old lunch box for the child to keep close at hand. An old briefcase makes a handy container and writing surface — kids can store crayons and coloring books and other mess-free art materials inside, and use the case for a tabletop to write and draw on. Cookie sheets work well for puzzles and other games requiring a flat, smooth surface. Keep extra toys and activities in the trunk and trade them only when the kids show waning interest in the toys they have.

Don't be bored, play board games! Magnetic or peg board games can be found in many varieties like chess, checkers, or Scrabble. There are many other board games that are suitable for traveling. Find what suits your family best. We love dominoes, because they take up very little space and can be played many different ways.

Old Maids, Go Fish.
Cards are compact, easy to carry in a pocket, handbag or backpack, and are incredibly versatile. An only child can keep busy for hours with variations on the game of solitaire, while siblings are unlimited in the games at their disposal. Stash a book or card games, pencil-and-paper games and word games in your glove box.

Scrapbooks Preserve Memories.
Take an empty scrapbook and build a memory for the whole family! Create a vacation scrapbook to keep the kids entertained, and to serve as a keepsake. Compiling and organizing post cards, brochures and news clippings in the scrapbook will keep kids involved in the trip, while it teaches them about where they're going and where they've been along the way. Encourage them to be creative, and write stories and descriptions of their experiences and of the things they see in the scrapbook.

Fun Games With Maps
Talk about the time it takes to travel certain distances at certain speeds, and let your navigator calculate the ETA to your various destinations.

Pilot to Navigator.
Designate a navigator each day. Another way to keep kids interested and involved in the journey, and to teach them map-reading skills at the same time, is to let them help to plan the route. Even the youngest can follow a major highway route with a little help. Older children can track distance driven and gas mileage, and mark the family's route with a highlighter on the map as you complete each segment of road. (This can go into the scrapbook later!) Talk about the time it takes to travel certain distances at certain speeds, and let your navigator calculate the ETA to your various destinations.

Counting Games.
Make a list of different states or countries seen on other motorists' license plates. Make it a game with a prize or incentive for who spotted the most states at the end of the day.

Mobile Phones.
Toy telephones are great for the younger kids. If you have an only child, bring along a toy telephone to use with the child. Some toy phones contain tape recorders, which can be fun for recording messages, which your child can play back and 'talk' to.

These are great take-along items that can be good for hours of entertainment. They're also good tools for dealing with a child who is having a difficult time. Using the puppet to talk to the child can make it easier to calm them down by talking to you via the puppet.

The Family That Reads Together...
Audio books and stories are an excellent way to keep children entertained. They can bring the family together, or, just as importantly; give Mom and Dad a much-needed break. Reading aloud to each other in the car is a great way for the family to connect and share an experience, and it can facilitate some interesting and educational discussions. Pick books related to your trip, your destination or the history of areas you are traveling through or visiting. Skip the dry history lessons: well-written biographies and historical fiction are better bets. Pick out books that tell stories and involve characters. Younger kids will be much more interested if the protagonist is a child.

Sing a Song.
Kids love to sing, and face it, sometimes it's easier to join them than listen to them. Children's songbooks often come with accompanying audio, and tips for parents on playing finger and movement games to accompany the songs. These activities can help release some of that pent up energy in a positive way. Join in with your children and have a great time!

A CD player/radio with headphones is almost a necessity for the older kids. They can listen to their favorite music or tune into the local radio station, while you get a little 'quiet' time.

Just Use Your Imagination.
A little imagination goes a long way with kids. En route or after you have arrived at your destination, imagination games are probably the best entertainment (and definitely the easiest to pack). Children will utilize anything to become a part of their game. An old soda cap can become a serving bowl, a stick can become a playmate and a small stone or pebble is suddenly a magic crystal. Let your child lead the way in imagination games. If they have a little trouble getting started sometimes, give them a subtle coax by planting an idea in their head and let them make it grow. Children can learn a lot about life from role-playing games where they interact with a partner. These games can be played anywhere and they stimulate the intellect and the ability to create. Props can be found anywhere for imagination games.

Keep in mind that what you may view as trash to be disposed of could be a precious plaything to your child. Your children may insist on lugging around (or making you lug around) a bag of scraps of paper, bottle caps, aluminum cans, etc., which they feel are essential to their play or which they have become attached to. Eventually, they will tire of these 'treasures' and discard them (some may take longer than others to disappear). Treating their desire to keep the items as valid will help foster self-esteem and make the trip go easier as well. A small price to pay for healthy child development and peace of mind.

Have a great journey!