While this topic would probably have been more helpful earlier in the summer, I only just recently started blogging, so you are getting it now…right before school starts. However, if you are taking a last minute trip before the beginning of the school year OR if you are moving, I guess now is a good time. When we move, I put a good deal of time and effort into planning for our time in the car. On our most recent move I somehow tricked my husband into travelling to our new home with both of the kids, the dog, AND the cat in the car with him. I, on the other hand, drove blissfully by myself. (Please see earlier post entitled ALONE.) Because I love my husband and would like to stay married to him, I made plenty of preparations for the car. Fortunately, the kids (and animals) were well-behaved the entire trip. Unfortunately, what should have been a seven to eight hour trip turned into a twelve plus hour trip because of New England traffic jams and sneaky exits that don’t have re-entry ramps. At least the children weren’t the cause of his stress…this time.
Before I begin telling you how I plan for sanity while travelling in the car with small children, I must tell you that we are one of those “weird families” who actually chose not to have a DVD player in our new car. Despite one or two rough car trips, our kids are generally great travelers. When purchasing our new car we decided that the kids would see more and experience more without watching movies while we drive. That being said, I won’t judge you for having a DVD player in your car if you won’t judge me for not having one.
On to the entertainment!…for the kids, that is. The first time I prepared for a move with the kids was a doozy. We were driving 24 hours (not including the vast amount of time it takes for pit-stops) with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old. I started by searching the internet to find various ideas. The best site I have found is http://www.momsminivan.com. This is a very comprehensive site. Some of the other sites I found include http://www.activitiesforkids.com/travel/travel_hints.htm and http://travelwithkids.about.com/cs/carplanetips/a/amusekids.htm. There are more sites and ideas out there, but these are a good place to start. I had to search a few sites because planning for really small children is a lot different from planning for school-aged, who are easier to plan fun car activities for. (Let me tell you, trying to plan fun things for a one-year-old is really tricky. The one saving grace was that I knew I could count on car naps, so I didn’t have to plan as much for the one-year-old as I did for the 3-year-old.) I mostly stuck with easy crafts like crayons and paper, lacing beads, and pipe cleaners. My kids also enjoy sticker books, and, believe it or not, they still make Colorforms! My kids LOVE these. New books and small toys are a big hit as well. Also, my mother-in-law bought Taby Trays for the kids’ car seats, which makes coloring, activities, and snacking easier. (You can find them at http://www.onestepahead.com.) We try not to accumulate too much kid gear, but these have been great to have.
While activities to keep the kids entertained are important, good snacks are essential. Seriously. I spend almost as much time planning snacks as I do activities. Good car snacks are snacks that are not sticky and don’t stink or melt when your kids drop them in the cracks of the seats. Fruit snacks are great; fruit roll-ups are not so great…as is anything made with chocolate. Snack packs of crackers and cookies are also good. If you are hoping to give your kids fruits or veggies while driving, take my advice (based on experience), save these for when you are stopped and can wipe the kids down…or keep them from choking on the chunks of carrots they didn’t chew into small enough pieces.
Once I have bought or gathered all of the activities, toys, books, and crafts I am planning on bringing, I wrap them all up like presents with whatever spare wrapping paper I have lying around. I have some way of distinguishing which “presents” are for which child, such as different paper or writing an initial on the paper. I put them all together in a container in the front seat where I can reach them…right next to the snacks. Then, every so often throughout the trip they get to open up a new present. This keeps them from getting too bored and whining incessantly. Well, usually.
I hope some of these tips help. Let me know if you have any others!