There is a version of heaven that many parents have: Traveling alone.
Wishing you could be one of those business people in first class, nodding off in headphones with the white wine and reading material on your tray table? Or how about that glamorous couple racing by in a fancy car on their cross-country road trip? But that’s not our journey, is it, parents?
The secret to traveling with children: A captive audience. Trips offer the opportunity to try fun and educational games that could likely only happen when your kid is belted to the seat.
Memorizing is a great way to pass the time and have your kids exercise their ability to absorb information. Give your child one minute to study a magazine page, and then pull it away and ask five questions about what he or she saw. Go back and forth with this recall.
Real life trivia: A version of this is used to test memory aptitude in many police forces.
If you are ambitious, get your child to memorize important speeches or parts of plays, such as The Gettysburg Address or Shakespearean soliloquies. Award the person who gives the most dramatic and accurate delivery. Take breaks by talking about the texts’ importance and historical context.
Pick categories such as math, science, princesses, superheroes, movies, America, money, land animals, sea life, family trivia, and real life. Take turns coming up with questions and answering them, then assign points based on difficulty. Have children keep score and practice adding up the points.
The Alphabet Game
Look for all the letters of the alphabet as you drive along, and see who can get to Z the fastest. Because parents spot things faster, give directional hints, such as right or left, or hourly (“dead ahead at twelve o’clock”). We’ve played this game with a magazine as we waited for new car tires.
The Spelling Game
This is a good time to work on basic words that you often correct in your child’s spelling (your or you’re, which, friend, probably, etc.). Bring up a problematic word, and have your child spell it out for you. You can also try new words your child is unfamiliar with, and have him or her take a shot at spelling them. This is great practice in phonics and learning new vocabulary.
After spelling a few of the words out loud, challenge your child to use all of them in a story.
Give kids a map and have them chart out your path and figure out the mileage. Ask what towns are in a certain mile radius, what the scale of the map is, or whether they see any state parks, hospitals, or schools. Maps are a great way for kids to practice math and visual-spatial skills.
Reading aloud is something that busy parents struggle to find the time to do. So do it on your trip. Have your child read two pages and ask comprehension questions. Encourage any siblings to ask questions as well.
Field Books or Guides
Bird books, and other guides that reference geology, trees, plants, or the like, are great fun. Ask questions such as “What is the smallest woodpecker in North America?” “What snakes around here are dangerous?” “Give me three examples of deciduous trees.” Your kids will pick up new facts about nature, practice his or her research skills, and learn new vocabulary in the process.
Kids are so teachable. When you make travel games fun, they engage. But, of course, you have to commit to the games as well: if you seem bored, your kids will pick up on that and ask to watch movies. Finally, make sure you don’t let them win. The road is long.