Planning a road trip with your little ones in tow this long weekend? There may be nothing better than a family vacation … and nothing worse than getting there. With the “are we there yet?” and “she’s kicking me!” and epic toddler meltdowns, car trips, especially, can try even the most laid-back parent’s patience.
What does every parent of young children need for smooth sailing on road trips with the kids? Distraction, distraction, distraction! (And a well-spaced potty breaks.)
Here are more than twenty ways to keep young kids—toddlers to 8 or 9 years old—from losing their cool in the car and save your sanity in the process.
Toddlers (1 to 2 1/2 years)
1. Re-stickable sticker books. No mess and lots of sticking fun.
2. Coloured pipe cleaners and a container to put the into. Seriously. It’s that easy.
3. Bag of tricks. Fill a paper bag or a tin with random small toys, like animal figurines, a noisemaker, a flashlight, a folded piece of aluminum foil (try it!), a mini Slinky, a small container of play-dough, playing cards—whatever you think of. If you’re crafty, we suggest making a href=”http://www.etsy.com/listing/92689817/wee-mouse-tin-house-pdf-pattern”>these wee mice in Altoid tins. Cute!
4. Board books. We’ve found sound-effect books like Noisy Zoo to be effective peacekeepers.
5. Musical instruments, as in small instruments like harmonicas, maracas, and kazoos. This is debatable, depending on your tolerance for noise, but not bad to have on hand when all else fails.
Preschool (2 ½ to 4 years)
6. Colouring books and crayons. Simple, elegant, effective.
7. Magnetic maze, like this wooden maze from Melissa & Doug.
8. I-Spy Jars. This is a great idea that we can’t take credit for. Many a mom blogger has come up with awesome versions of these; see one cool example here.
9. Mini white board and washable dry-erase markers. (Emphasis on washable.)
10. Scarf (or scarves) stuffed inside a small container. It’s fun to pull out—magician-style—and fun to make into a tent, curtain, etc.
School-age (4 to 8 years)
11. Magnetic paper dolls. You can find them in toy stores, or make your own with printable magnetic paper and downloadable templates, and pack a cookie sheet for sticking.
12. Travel board games. Hit the local Toys R Us for travel versions of games like Connect Four, Guess Who, and bingo. Or take a game from home that can work on the road, like Apples to Apples.
13. Doodlers. Three great products: pocket-size Etch-a-Sketch and Magna Doodle, and travel AquaDoodle.
14. Maps. Train your mini navigators by helping you find your way, and let them mark up a map with highlighters or stickers as you pass landmarks.
15. The “car game” (and more). Compete to see who gets 10 cars of a certain colour first, or play other games like “I spy,” twenty questions, or a scavenger hunt.
16. Audiobooks. Just download and go. This list of notable children’s audiobooks from the American Library Association is a good place to start. Or go old-school and just read aloud.
17. Electronic devices. You probably don’t need us to tell you that no matter how much you hate them at the dinner table, game systems and tablets loaded with age-appropriate apps are life-savers on trips.
18. Travel art kit. Pack it full of anything that won’t make a mess and works for your child’s age: tape, coloured paper, stencils, washable markers, crayons, etc. You can buy ready-made kits as well as travel lap desks.
19. Sing-alongs. Make a playlist for the car of your kids’ favourite songs, and some of yours—even Mom and Dad get a turn sometimes
20. Mad Libs. Okay, these aren’t for toddlers, but your slightly bigger kids will love getting silly with this classic car game.
21. Surprises. Keep a few of these up your sleeve, whether it’s a special snack your kids love, a little wrapped gift, a special notebook and pen. You never know when you’ll need it.