Traveling with a toddler or preschooler can be challenging. Little ones aren’t used to sitting still for hours on end and the excitement of the journey can be almost overwhelming. That is, it’s overwhelming when the boredom of the journey isn’t driving everyone a bit crazy. When you take a preschooler on a trip, you need to be prepared with many forms of entertainment, especially if you are trying to avoid watching movies in the car.
The Essentials of Travel
The first items to pack in your travel bag are snacks and juice boxes. Nothing is worse than a whiny child except maybe a hungry whining child. Keep a stash of snacks ready at all times to keep hunger at bay and to give you a break from answering the constant barrage of questions. Just be sure you don’t fill your child up on juice and snacks right before a meal. A large meal might just help him fall asleep for a nice nap, and you don’t want anything to get in the way of quiet time.
Make a compilation CD or play list of your child’s favorite songs. Throw in a few new ones that are upbeat so that the whole family can sing along. If time is too limited to make a play list, buy a new album of his favorite characters or really anything new so long as it is upbeat. He won’t particularly care for your efforts with a baby lullaby CD, although soothing music may be perfect for after lunch.
Art projects are messy, but there are quite a few products on the market now that help to contain the mess. If traditional crayons scare you with their likelihood of melting into the upholstery, invest in some of the newer crayons that turn and emerge or just go with map pencils. Buy your child a brand new box of colors and a coloring book or sketch book. Throw in a few stickers and you should have a busy artist in the backseat.
There are certain games that are classics for car rides. “I Spy” and “Counting Cows” are both traditional games that older preschoolers will definitely enjoy. In “I Spy,” you take turns finding an object in the car or in the distance. You offer the other players a clue such as, “I spy something red.” They then take turns guessing what you “spy.” When a player guesses correctly, it is his turn to find an object.
“Counting Cows” is a game best played in the countryside where there is at least some likelihood of spotting a cow. Of course the game can be changed to “Counting Anything,” so location isn’t really an issue. In “Counting Cows” you simply count the number of white cows (or brown or black) that you see along the road. The first person to spot the cow gets the “point” and the first person with five or ten wins.
Another car game most suitable for school aged children is identifying license plates. Offer your child a list of possible plates they may see on the journey. As they spot one on the road or in a parking lot, they cross it off the list. You can also offer a prize for every ten or twenty different plates they find.
Another option of providing in-car entertainment is to bring along a collection of new toys. Granted the toys can be simple and inexpensive, but anything new is going to hold your child’s attention for a while at least. Buy a travel sized white board and marker, or a few new cars. A new set of dolls or a puzzle might keep them satisfied for long stretches of time.
A Play Area
Finally, be sure that you invest in a lap board or other form of portable play area. There is nothing more frustrating for a child than to not be able to hold onto and play with their new items. Many retailers sell colorful boards with a pillow on the bottom designed to sit in a child’s lap. Another option would be a craft table that has two deep pockets of plastic on either side of a large tray. If neither option works with your carseat or booster, you might consider simply sitting beside your child and helping provide support for his play.