If you are one of the 93 million Americans predicted to travel during the holidays, get ready. Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the busiest travel times of the entire year, and most travel is done by car. (Can you already hear the sound of bickering from a thousand backseats?) Although you probably know some good general advice—like avoid traveling on Wednesday and Sunday if at all possible—you might be ready for some fresh tips for the little people. While we can’t sit in the back with them and play magnetic checkers for two hours (sorry!), we can offer some helpful ideas that go beyond screen time. Good luck and bon voyage!
- Empower kids to pack their own car kit. Have them fill their own backpack with books, toys, paper and pens, etc. They get what they want, and you avoid any complaints about what you forgot to bring.
- Squirrel away a few simple surprises, like new spiral notebooks, brand-new pens or pencils, activity books, fresh library books, or stickers. Dole these out when you need them.
- Offer up a phone or digital camera for kids to document your journey. They can take pictures of each other or the scenery, and can entertain themselves making mini-videos of life in the backseat.
- Introduce your child to the joys of looking out the car window by playing I-Spy or license plate bingo. Depending on age or interests, challenge kids to count buses or trucks, find things that are a certain color or start with a certain letter, or to shout out when he spots a special letter or number on a billboard or sign (perhaps his age and first letter of his name). You can even keep score and offer a reward when you get there.
- Rather than disappearing into individual screens or headphones, check out classic audio books on CD that the whole family can enjoy. Try Little House on the Prairie, Harry Potter, Pippi Longstocking, or anything by Roald Dahl, all available at your local library. (Your librarian will have good recommendations for all ages, too.)
- Excellent car toys to stock in a shared box include: a kaleidoscope or toy telescope, threading toys, finger puppets, Magna Doodles or Etch-a-Sketch, magnetic games (checkers, chess, bingo), action figures or small dolls, pipe cleaners or Wiki Stix. Colorforms are great for decorating the windows (as are Post-it notes or masking tape!) .
- Let older kids help navigate, whether with your GPS or an old-fashioned paper map. This is a great time to teach map-reading skills or practice road-based math.
- As you get close to your destination, offer up fresh paper and pens for children to write or draw what they are most thankful for. Bonus points if you pre-printed sheets with ideas! (For more ideas on expressing gratitude, see 5 Fun Ways to Give Thanks.)
- Of course, a few small treats—lollipops, gum, or leftover Halloween candy—are always good to have on hand for that unexpected traffic jam or detour. (Don’t forget to pack some for yourself!)