My son loves baseball and my daughter loves ballet so what that means is that after you add in school, speech therapy, the gym, and errands some days we spend more time in the car than I ever dreamed I’d suffer through. Most days are not like this but when they are I don’t just want to grab the iPad and hand it back to my 4 year old. Sometimes she gets to use it in the car but it’s a rare treat. Instead I stick to these screen free activities and try to make being in the car on busy days low stress for everyone.
I know this will seem obvious to some but sometimes parents and other caregivers aren’t sure what to talk to their kids about. We like to play a few different conversation starter games to keep things going. My favorite is ” Top 5! ” I will ask my kids to name their top five colors, top five books, top five silly words… you can narrow it down to top 2 for younger kids too. My daughter’s favorite is a word association game we named This & That. It’s a game where I say one thing and she says the first thing that pops in her mind. It often ends with super silly words but it keeps us all giggling and I use it to slip in new vocabulary words. Remember children that have rich vocabularies often face fewer hurdles when it comes time to learn to read.
2. Tell A Story.
I go back and forth sometimes I am into telling stories and sometimes I just want to focus on the road and sort through my day. If you are going to tell stories only do it when you are really engaged. We have many on going stories about a Prince and Princess who are siblings and often go one grand adventures. Sometimes I tell stories about my own life and my children adore hearing stories about me when I was their age. Have fun with this and don’t worry about not being “good” at it. Whatever you share they will love.
Can you see how dog eared that book is? It’s time for me to get a few new books in the car. I try to keep 3 for each child in the car and switch them out rotating new more exciting ones in when the novelty of the previous titles have worn off. My favorite books for the car are ones that kids can really dive into and for pre readers books like In The Town All Year Round is perfect because there are no words and so so much to look at.
4. Mini Chalk Boards
My daughter loves this for the car and not only do we use it to color on the chalkboard we also use it as a clip board for coloring. We made ours for a few bucks. Here is the tutorial.
I love to sing but I am terrible. I love musicals and spent many summers at drama camp as a teen and have dozens of songs memorized. I sing like I am on stage with adoring fans. My son will normally ask me when I will be done but my daughter listens like I am Patty Lupone singing Evita on stage. Singing boosts your mood so even if you sound like a tone deaf mule ( and I do!) take some requests from your kids and belt it out! If they want to join in the fun more the merrier!
6. Coloring Sheets.
I have never been a huge fan of coloring sheets but after my daughter did some at the gym I printed some out for her. She loves them and unlike a plain piece of paper the novelty of the character she is coloring hooks her ! I have never used coloring sheets in a classroom and don’t imagine I ever would but for the car they are great tools!
7. Practice Letter sounds, spelling, math…
My daughter is just at the stage of literacy learning where she can segment and sound out simple words and is SUPER proud of herself when she does. So I will call out a word like cat or jar or fan and then together we try to figure out what sounds are in the word and what letters we will need to spell it. With my son I will call out math problems or words for him to spell.
8. Play 20 questions.
Do you remember this game? I love it and we play it all the time. With young children I have found that only using family members or good friends as the secret thing you are thinking about works great. So with my daughter we use family members and use yes or no questions to guess who she is thinking about or for her to guess who we are thinking about. Oh and even though the name of the game is 20 questions I don’t think I have ever bothered counting or restricting it to only 20.
9. Count Cars
Maybe my childhood was just a simple Canadian one or maybe I was a typical 2nd child dragged out in the car to go to all my older sister’s and my own activities. I used to count cars all the time. I’d make a bet with my mom or dad something like ” I bet I will see 4 yellow cars before we get to Main street!” after that was done I’d move on to another.
10. Have a compliment circle in the car.
This is something my son brought home from school this year. We all sit together and share the things we love and appreciate about each other. Each person says one thing about everyone else.This is a great way to re-group on a busy day. It’s much easier to crank up the music and ignore the whining than it is to reign it in and turn it into something positive but if you have the energy try this and don’t sweat the days when the best thing for everyone is to crank the music and rock out for some much needed sanity!
11. Get some fresh air between stops!
Is there a small park between preschool and the grocery store? Can you hang out at preschool on the playground before you hit the next stop on your to do list? Even 5 minutes of climbing and zooming down slides will make a huge difference in your child’s mood. I know that for my kids the more fresh air they get the easier bedtime is so even if it slows down your must do list it’s worth it. Above is my daughter balancing in the gym parking lot yesterday which was a busy day of must do things I wish I could have put off but couldn’t. Still taking an extra 2 minutes to let her show me how well she could balance and to challenge herself to go further than she ever had before helped the day feel less about being dragged around and more about play.
I use technology with my kids too. Just today my daughter played a Daniel Tiger App on the iPad while I had a conference call. My hope isn’t that posts like this make anyone feel guilty about using technology but that they remind parents ( and yes I am reminding myself too) that there are lots of low tech ways to engage your kids even on those high stress stuck in the car days. Hopefully this helps all of us find a balance that works for our kids.