Apple pie. The American flag. The family road trip.
All long-standing American traditions, and this summer the Paranoid Dad and I decided to maintain the tradition of the road trip. It was our turn to pack up the kids and head east to a family wedding in Texas. We would be driving some 2,400 miles, round trip, with a 7 year old and a 10 year old and two 40-somethings whose first question upon arriving at a hotel is, “Are the beds any good?” If we planned well enough and were organized enough, what could possibly go wrong?
In order to save money, we decided to eat out only once a day, if that. I did some research on the internet and came up with a list of foods that travel well. You can read about those here.
My main concern wasn’t food, though. It was the sanity of my two kids. Their sanity directly impacts my own, and I searched for ways to keep them busy during the 32 hour round trip. Here is what helped keep the kids occupied and happy:
The Tahoe became a veritable Las Vegas for kids, and I’m only slightly joking.
The most popular idea I came up with was four large envelopes marked, “Surprise!” I planned on two of them being opened on the trip to Texas and the other two on the way home. I hadn’t put anything fancy in the envelopes. It wasn’t like a rabbit was going to pop out and perform a magic show for the kids, but they loved it anyway. I’m willing to share these top secret ideas with you, but you have to promise to let me know what worked for you and what didn’t!
Surprise Envelope #1:
Remember back in elementary school when you learned how to make all sorts of designs using just your fingers and a loop of string? Well, directions for making all sorts of String Figures can be found on the web. I printed directions for several different designs and put them in this first envelope, along with two loops of yarn. Each loop was about 28″ long. The kids LOVED this! Although they had some difficulty following the directions, they ended up inventing their own designs off and on through the entire trip.
Surprise Envelope #2:
My kids only knew two card games prior to this road trip: Go Fish and War. I figured that another simple game or two might keep them busy for a while, and I was right. I tracked down written directions for Crazy Eights and Old Maid and put them in the second envelope, along with a new deck of cards. Ha! I hit a second home run with this one! My son kept whipping out the deck of cards at the hotel, the rehearsal dinner, just about anywhere and asking, “Ya wanna play Crazy Eights??”
Surprise Envelope #3:
By this time, the kids couldn’t wait for their third surprise. This time it was Cootie Catchers! They had seen these before but had never made their own. I printed out a template, along with a list of suggested “fortunes”, and they got busy. The only tools they needed were a pair of children’s scissors, which I had packed, and a pencil. They had a lot of fun creating their Catchers and playing with them. By this time, I felt like I had hit three home runs! I was nearly SuperMom!
Surprise Envelope #4:
A few months ago, out of the desperate need to keep my kids from arguing in the car, I started a “Family Favorites” game. I began asking about their favorite board game, their favorite color, and their favorite pizza restaurant. For this trip, I formalized the game a bit by creating a list of Family Favorites questions. This list was their Surprise #4. It took about an hour for us to get through all the questions, but it was time well spent. Everyone has the chance to voice their opinion, and it opened up some fun discussions. If you’d like to make your own Family Favorites, here are a few of the categories on my list to get you started.
What is your favorite…
Movie? Superhero? Book? Water park? Flower? Season? Pizza place? Sports mascot?
Dessert? Color? Website? Holiday? Vacation? Mammal? Vegetable? Wii game? Sport to watch?
Sport? Bird? Soda? School subject? Home we’ve lived in? Field trip? Cartoon character?
In addition to these Surprise Envelopes, I created Activity Binders for each kid. The binder contained coloring pages I printed from the internet, word searches and other puzzles, travel games, a map of our route, blank paper for drawing, notebook paper for journaling, math fact quizzes, workbook pages from various school workbooks, and a checklist in the front of, “Things To Do.”
The checklist included the game, “Is there a town in Texas?” Yet another invented game, it’s one of my kids’ favorites, and they beg to play it. Did you know there are towns in Texas with names like Joy, Lawn, Earth, and Melissa? Neither did my kids, and that’s how the game began. Using the list of towns on a state road map, I find unusual town names and ask, “Is there a town in Texas named _____?” Each person votes either ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and a point is given for each correct guess. Every so often I make up a town name of my own to really keep them guessing. This time around I had glo-sticks for the first and second place winners, and coincidentally, that’s exactly what we ended up with! This game requires only a road map of any state and paper for keeping score. Cheap, fun, and easy. Just like their mother!
To fill in any possible empty hours, I checked out an audiobook from the library, and each kid brought two or three books to read. Having a DVD system in the car also helped, although surprisingly, they watched only a total of five videos. All of this, combined with their favorite pillow and blanket, made for a couple of happy and content kids.
The best thing about these car activities? Everything was virtually free. I used three-ring binders we already had around the house, loops of yarn from my knitting stash, and purchased only the deck of cards. Six hours of my time prior to the trip bought over thirty hours with happy kids. I’d say that’s a bargain, any way you look at it!