Whether they're four or fourteen, Are we there yet? is an inevitable question that pops up when traveling with kids. The destination may be a soccer game across town or a vacation spot across the country, but our little travel timers are always checking in for an arrival update. Finding ways for kids to pass the time ensures that everyone exits the plane, train, or automobile with their sanity intact. Popping in a DVD or turning on an electronic device can be an easy way to tick off the miles, but as we shared with Pulling the Plug on Pre-K Screen Time1, sometimes the easy way out can do more harm than good. Activities that support learning on the go keep the kids happy and leave parents feeling good about the positive use of travel time.
Long before we had built-in entertainment systems or iAnything, we all somehow survived the family road trip. When I was a kid, there was always lots of singing and rounds of the Alphabet Game where everyone would take turns spotting a letter as we worked through all twenty-six in order. No Time for Flashcards devised an easily crafted game card for Letters on the Go2, which lets kids keep track of found letters and complete the alphabet in any order and on their own. A marker and scissors turn a paper plate into an alphabet wheel where kids fold down letters as they spot them on the trip. This could also be used for numbers, shapes, or even landmarks on a specific route that would help kids process how much time is left in the journey.
The Mess-Free Road Trip Activities for Preschoolers3 compiled by Kids Activities Blog has another great idea for helping with the countdown on an extended flight or road trip. Putting together a paper chain with a new activity or game idea on each link lets kids shorten the chain and begin a new activity at selected time increments, mile markers, or landmarks. Lots of short math problems can also be discussed as links are removed and subtracted, and the chain gets shorter. I'm sure everyone will be ecstatic when the last link is pulled and the end is in sight!
I give huge kudos to my friend's husband that created road trip maps for his three kids under seven as they made the eight hour car trip with their mom to pay me a visit. Each of the kids had an individual map with landmarks, state lines, and planned rest stops. The maps had words and/or pictures, so the kids could follow along even if they were non-readers. It definitely helped them pass the time and understand the concept of distance while giving them a little reminder of their dad as they made the trek. You could create this type of visual as an early introduction to map reading skills or put all travelers on the lookout for a state line or specific landmark that would signal when it's time to break out a new activity bag to try.
Having learning-on-the-go activity bags is perfect for long road trips or as a stash for trips across town when a sing-along just isn't enough. These bags can be filled with anything and everything to make travel time both educational and entertaining. Some great fine motor bags would include lacing cards, button snakes (found in Mess-Free Road Trip Activities), or repurposed coffee creamer bottles and pompoms. You can also craft DIY dry-erase boards with sheet protectors and attach some dry-erase markers to a clipboard with yarn for lots of artistic fun.
Finally, a great learning-on-the-go activity that requires little to no prep is good old-fashioned reading and time spent looking through books. If you're anything like me, the fear of losing track of library books was one I wanted to knock off the list of things that keep me up at night. When the kids are little and easily misplacing picture books, we keep our library tote bag in the car. This makes the new books a fun treat to discover as we shuttle our older kids to games and tournaments all over the place. Now we don't have to worry about mixing up our little one's library items with our books at home.
When singing and the Alphabet Game just aren't enough to keep the kids occupied, it's time to pack a bag for learning on the go. There's so much to discover outside the realm of iEverything. Help your kids unplug and turn on the learning whenever you're on the go!
Backpack Bonus: Ideas to tuck away for another day.
Hands on As We Grow shares some retro science fun with this cool twist on a lava lamp!
Additional Resources & Works Cited
1. Pulling the Plug on Pre-K Screen Time
2. Letters on the Go
3. Mess-Free Road Trip Activities for Preschoolers