In our last post we talked road trip tips – ways to help keep road trips fun for the whole family. To expand on that theme, we’ve compiled a fantastic list of road trip activities to help keep the little ones happy for the whole ride. We’ve chosen tried and true car-friendly activities that are sure to make your road trip fly by!
Babes On The Move
Most people I know recall the days when they would drive the baby around in the car to get him or her to sleep. Hah! I have three precious children and not one of them wanted anything to do with the car or car seat as an infant. Babies present the biggest road trip challenge. They’re unpredictable, have limited communication and motor skills, and are essentially trapped in a tiny cocoon facing away from the action for the duration of the ride. Having lots of family who don’t live nearby has resulted in many a road trip with the cute new baby who everyone is dying to meet. The easiest way to keep a baby happy is to have a fellow traveler sit in the back fully prepared with an arsenal of activities to keep him occupied during his waking hours. We’ve tried to list activities that work as well when you’re traveling alone with baby.
Mirror: Essential for you, great for baby. There are a great number of infant view mirrors available in all shapes and sizes. The best one is whichever fits just so in your car so that you can see baby and baby can see baby. Babies love to look at themselves so mirrors provide a traveling companion. We found that the contoured mirrors that attach to the head rest of the back seat tend to be the most functional.
Bubbles: This is another good one for an older sibling and baby. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love bubbles? You may need to wipe the upholstery down when you get to your destination but that’s better than not getting to your destination at all, right?
Car Seat Activity Center: If your baby is riding in an infant carrier seat this type of toy bar will attach to the child’s car seat just within arms reach so your baby can bat at and pull on the activities to light them up and/or make sounds.
Peek-A-Boo: So simple yet so effective. I have never met a baby who isn’t mesmerized by the magic of peek-a-boo. This one does require someone other than the driver be in the car but it works so well and can be a great game for an older sibling to play with baby. Hide behind a blanket or a book, pop out and wait for the giggles!
Toy Links: These simple links are great multipurpose tools that we keep on hand all the time. You can use them to tether toys to the car seat (or stroller) so they don’t disappear into the black hole that is the floor in the backseat. They’re great for gnawing on and their thin small size makes them easy for even little babies to hang on to. You can create your own car seat activity center by stringing them across the car seat and attaching some toys.
Picture Books & Photos: Even very little babies like to be read to and will often be completely captivated by a simple picture book. You can even make your own with family photos and bold images.
Sing: Babies love music, especially voices they recognize. Singing songs to your baby is a great way to pass the time and promote language, communication, and music.
New Toys: These don’t have to be extravagant. Heck, they don’t even have to be new new… when I know we’re going on a road trip with a baby I stash away a few toys a couple of weeks before the trip and voila! new and exciting toys to roll out while we roll on. Babies as young as 3 months are really interested in things they haven’t seen before. Keep a stash of ‘new’ toys and share them sparingly and one at a time when baby starts getting tired of the ride.
Classical Music: Classical music is a great way to wind down and get ready to sleep. Babies seem to naturally calm when classical music is played and it can be a good cue for older children that it’s time to chill out and nod off.
Toddlers are the single most messiest creatures on the planet and that mess doesn’t care that cars are particularly difficult to clean. My current toddler reminds me of Linus from Peanuts… this cloud of perpetual mess just seems to follow her wherever she goes and she truly cannot help it. Car travel with toddlers is a balancing act because the more messy the activity, the more mileage you get out of it. But in the car, of course, you want to limit the mess – ever cleaned melted crayons off the car seats? So what do you do? Here’s what:
Painters Tape: Yup, that colourful, sticky but not too sticky tape you use to protect your baseboards and ceiling when you paint. Painters tape is a great car craft for toddlers. It feels messy but it’s a breeze to clean up… doesn’t even really stick in the hair, well, not like real tape anyway.
Pipe Cleaners or Wikki Stix: Pipe cleaners will do in a pinch and they’re less expensive, but Wikki Stix don’t have those sharp wires inside so they’re safer for little kids. These provide hours of fun and are great for taking into restaurants along the way. Try asking the kids to make a certain shape or simple item like a cup.
Aluminum Foil: Do I sound crazy yet? We discovered this one by accident at home when my daughter got into the roll of aluminum foil in the kitchen. She spent at least 30 minutes folding, rolling, and shaping jewelry. We’ve had mini improvised basketball tournaments with tin foil balls and an empty snack container too!
Magnet Boards: You can purchase really great magnet boards like these for older toddlers but you can also make your own with a baking sheet and a set of letters or shapes magnets. We took a page with the coconut tree out of a duplicate Chicka Chicka Boom Boom book and used it as the background for letter magnets. The baking sheets can double as colouring surfaces too since the lip will keep things from rolling off.
Chalk & Black Paper: Another not-so-messy car craft. Chalk and black construction paper is fun and easy to clean up. Markers are a definite no-no for young toddlers (the temptation to tattoo is just too great) and crayons while safer than markers can melt all over the car on a hot day.
Special Travel Treasures: All the toys and activities we pack for a long car ride get special treatment. Wrap each new toy or activity so your kids can choose them at random during the trip. The wrapping not only gives them something else to do but it adds that element of surprise that kids love! To cut down on waste you can use fabric or even reusable snack bags for smaller items.
Bubbles: Bubbles are always a winner and you can justify the little mess with the fact that open car windows and bubbles can qualify as a science lesson.
Young’uns In Tow
I find the 4 and ups to be the easiest in the car. My almost 5 year old’s questions alone could occupy a 10 hour ride. At this age they are a little more self-sufficient and pretty helpful in the backseat if you have younger kids back there too. Many of the above activities are also good for this age and there are some staples like colouring books and stickers. But here are some car-friendly activities you may not have thought of:
Medic Kit: A small box (like a lunchbox) packed with simple first aid kit supplies and a trusty stuffed animal or baby doll can be hours (ok, minutes) of role playing fun in the back seat. We pack band-aids, ace bandage, gauze, paper tape, cotton balls, and q-tips and then facilitate the triage.
Custom Road Trip BINGO: Create your own BINGO cards using pictures of things you’re likely to see on the road (traffic signs, stop lights, etc) or colours or shapes. Staple a sheet of stickers to each card and have your child try to spot the items on his or her card and mark them off with stickers. There are a million of these available for printout online but we just made our own with more creative and trip specific spaces.
Maps: Give your kid(s) a map with your route highlighted. Talk about where you are and where you’re headed and mark the places where you stop to eat or get gas along the way and interesting things you pass by. Mailing label stickers are a really easy way for your child to make custom stickers to mark places along the route. We coloured the labels with markers then used a hole punch to make little rounds.
Storytelling: Start a story (“Once upon a time there was a boy with a magical apple…”). Tell just a sentence or two and then let the next person continue it with another sentence or two. We get a lot of chuckles out of this game.
Travel Log: Give your older child a camera (we have a kids digital camera by VTech) and a notebook and invite them to document the trip. Not only will they have fun doing it, but you’ll enjoy seeing the trip from their perspective later.
Do you have creative ideas for getting car crafty? Please share! Try out some of our tips on your next road trip and come back to let us know how they worked for you!