Written by: David Willis
Long-distance learning: making the most of those boring car trips
Oh no . . . it’s going to be one of those trips. The kids have taken an extra hour to get ready, the Friday traffic’s getting worse by the minute, Granny’ll be tapping her foot and burning the gravy and they’re pouting about missing their favourite program.You are racking your brain thinking of ways of making car trips fun! It’s all too tempting to shove a games console into their hands and get on with navigating the motorway, however, when you’re all strapped in is just the moment for some family time! Children have wonderful imaginations and once they learn to keep themselves busy, you won’t need to provide constant entertainment. Here are our top 5 ideas to keep children happy and educated in the back of the car:
Simple is beautiful: silly games like I-Spy never grow old. Even older children enjoy spotting unusual (or just-too-obvious-to-think-of) objects and sights, and younger ones will improve their spelling. My sister and I once ended up with “CIFOU” for “Car In Front Of Us” and were so proud of our mum for getting it immediately. You can make lists of animals or countries for each letter of the alphabet . . . and getting as ridiculous as possible is always a plus.
Have a special bag of fun goodies, perhaps with a surprise: You can keep an eye out for cheap items such as new colouring pencils in advance. They might have a sketchbook, puppets or stories they could take turns to read out – or invent. It might be worth investing in a camera, especially if they can make mini-films of each other or the passing scenery. Items we’ve seen recommended that help to avoid mess include sticky dots as a substitute for glue, stickers, special craft kits and “invisible ink books” whose pens reveal secret answers and do not splodge all over the car seat.
Best of all: let them choose something to bring. They know best what they like – you do not have to think for them.
The Rough Guide To . . . The Motorway
Spend some time with them before the trip making a “Spotter’s Guide”: Landmarks you expect to pass, wildlife, or their favourite vehicles. They could even make each other checklists. They might also use the journey to learn to read maps and estimate for themselves how much longer the journey will take: “We’re halfway there now!” has to be better than “Are we nearly there yet?”
What can the children learn about the where you’re going in advance? Will there be foreign road signs to read, either to giggle at the pronunciation or to try and translate? Signal permitting, they could look up the place on the Internet.
A good meal in advance will reduce children’s tempers and travel sickness, and letting them run around (in a safe place) when you stop will work off their pent-up energy. Children also find picnics exciting, plus these save money. If travel sickness is a real problem, reading can make it worse, so try audio books – you can get these from the Internet or your local library. (In fact, if you have a child as bad as I was, you may need to get your spouse to drive to the edge of your city while you and Little Miss or Master Sickly take the train – this may be a rare opportunity for some one-to-one time, or to meet a friendly fellow passenger, who are more common than we’re led to believe. But your doctor can probably help, too.)
Young people are fascinated by objects: One family we know always gives each child a large plastic jar and encourages them to pick up one item from each stop, be it a stone, a shell or a leaf. They write down each item’s name and where they found it – and keep their jars in their bedrooms as a pleasant reminder. The greatest scientific discoveries can come out of curiosity about often mundane things…
Finally . . .
. . . don’t have unrealistic expectations! There’s nothing wrong with them spending part of the time watching a film – after all, you need the peace and quiet too, or you’re more likely to have a road accident or be over stressed throughout your holiday. If your little one stares out of the window for an hour, they might well be having a healthy little doze, or be watching the world go by and thinking up a fairy tale. If all else fails, travel shops and bookshops sell boxes of activity cards specially designed to keep the young ones occupied.
But, as the car pulls out of the driveway, for pity’s sake don’t say “McDonald’s”.