By Laurel Smith
Time flies when you’re having fun -- the miles fly by too! You can make a long family car trip seem a lot shorter if you have fun with your kids along the way. Plan ahead with a few car activities, and making the journey can be as much fun as the destination. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Make a Trip-Journal or Scrapbook
Give everyone a big spiral-bound sketch pad and a box of crayons or markers. Each day of the trip or for each event along the way, draw a picture of what you did that day, or draw a map of where you went, and write about it. You can also paste in souvenirs.
Get a Good Songbook With All the Lyrics
It's surprising how many songs you think you know, but you don't really know all the words. Have a singing marathon and learn the old classics by heart.
Give Your Kids an Allowance for the Day
Tell them that this money is for snacks, treats, souvenirs, etc. Help them learn to budget their money and make good choices.
Let Your Children Have a Map
Give your kids their own copy of a map of where you are going. Show them how far you have come and how much farther there is to go, and let them mark it with a crayon. Every time someone asks "How much further?" let them see for themselves. You might also like to get a compass and show them how it works along with the map.
Have Bubble-Gum Blowing Contests
The weirder the gum the better. Get it at the rest areas and try all the different flavors.
The License Plate Game
Print a U.S. map off the computer and color in the states as you see license plates from each one. See if you can get all 50 states between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You might even record the time and date and the state where you saw it. This can be a family project as you build your "collection" of license plates together.
Cats Cradle or String Loops
You just need a piece of string for this one. See if you can make "Jacob's ladder" or "kitty whiskers," or play Cats Cradle!
Magnetic Board Games
Do your children know how to play classic board games like chess, backgammon, checkers, or Chinese checkers? What better time to learn than in the car to pass the time! The magnetic, car versions of these games are nice because they are small and compact, and have easy ways to store the pieces so they don't get lost.
Count the cows you see on your side of the car. If you pass a cemetery on your side of the car, you lose all your cows. The one with the most cows wins.
Read Out Loud
This passes the time quickly in the car for the reader and for the family members who are listening.
Have a contest to see who can build the best item that relates to where you are going. Use a shoebox to store the Legos, or large ziplock bags.
Guess How Far Away That Is
Pick an object and have everyone guess how far away it is, then clock it on your odometer.
Have everyone think of different "favorite" questions for the group. What's your favorite... movie, flavor of ice cream, song, game, toy, place to visit, restaurant, book, animal, fish, etc. Be creative and don't forget to ask the driver too!
Give everyone a sheet of aluminum foil. Have them mold it into anything they want: animal shapes, Frisbees, balls, jewelry, crowns, headbands, necklaces, and masks. Be creative. It's inexpensive fun and easy to clean up. Toddlers love this one too.
Remember that it's sometimes nice to sit in the back of the van with your kids while Dad is doing the driving and play some games right alongside them. You might be surprised at how much fun you have too. Happy travels!
Laurel Smith is a former schoolteacher and mother of three who has logged thousands of road trip miles both as a kid and a mom. Visit her website for more than 101 travel games and activities for kids at momsminivan.com.