Hitting the road with small children this summer? Here are some of my favorite strategies for keeping everyone happy when there are little ones in the backseat.
What are yours?
1. Breakfast on the go.
If we need to get out the door right away, I like to prep a grab-and-go option the night before. These berry muffins are hearty and satisfying. I make mini-ones and toss a few in a ziplock for the ride.
Freeze things like yogurt sticks (or even a banana on a stick!) the night before—they’re like a sweet treat, and they take a while to finish.
2. Snacks for the road.
The best are things that can be easily consumed (and dispensed) with minimal reaching back to help. (In other words, items that avoid the frantic, blind arm-waving to grab a knocked-over-cup-of-yogurt disaster that is bound to otherwise happen.)
For a longer trip, I like to have a couple of no-spill thermoses that keep drinks cool (these are my tried-and-true favorite), and some snack cups (like these) that can be filled with finger foods (think grapes, pretzels, raisins, banana chips, dry cereal, baked veggie chips, dried apricots, etcetera.) Divided trays are great for sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, carrots and hummus, and the like. Everything goes into an insulated bag, and I take along a catch-all, roll-up bib for Skyler.
Oh! And I always bring along a few lollipops! They can be a special treat after a restaurant-stop, or a way to encourage a bit of quiet (while they see how long they can make it last without biting it). Lollipops can also help with queasy tummies.
3. An arsenal of classic car activities.
Scratching your head? Try…
- Sing sing-a-long songs like “Down by the Bay” or “Old MacDonald.” (You can print out lyrics or take along a song book like this one.)
- Glove-Box or Arm-Rest Memory game. (Everyone looks inside and then you close it up. Can you name everything? For young kids, try 5 items at a time to start).
- Pick a color. How many cars in that color? What can you find in that color?
- I spy. (Or any variety of 20 questions.)
- Rock, Paper, Scissors
- What if? (If you were superhero, what power would you have?)
- Family Trivia—which for our preschooler often becomes fairly imaginative. (How old is mommy? What do you think Uncle Joe does at work?)
4. A bag they packed.
I like to have Hudson pack a small backpack with a few books, something snuggly to fall asleep against, a pair of headphones (for when the time comes to hand over the iPad—with the screen lock on), and a few favorite activities of his choosing.
They make so many great options now—Crayola has markers that only write on special paper (and not your leather); you can pick up some search-and-find books (just be sure they’re using pictures and not words you need to read) or mazes; and we love these reusable sticker pads and these felt boards. (Here’s how to make your own felt board.)
Hopefully these are all things you can use at your destination, too.
—including at least one multi-use, lap-activity board.
An easy DIY is to get a magnetic white board or magnetic chalkboard (I picked up this one), and then tote along little sacks of magnetic toys. Alphabet letters and Magna-tiles are super choices. You can also make your own: look for magnetic strip tape in any craft store and add it to plastic animals, train sets, or even just cut-out shapes (you may need to use additional super glue or a hot-glue gun). You can even make the board yourself—they sell magnetic paint primer.
The best part? The toys stay put—meaning you’re spared from being asked to reach back and retrieve every fallen toy.
I use baggu zipper bags to keep things separate, but I plan to pick up some see-through cases from the drugstore one day to keep things visible.
5. Audio Books
Listening to an engaging story keeps everyone’s eyes up and looking out the window. (I’ve always been prone to feeling queasy if I look down too long—a common problem for kids.)
For me, the key is managing expectations—for everybody. How long will you be in the car? What breaks will you be taking and what will you be seeing along the way? And how much ground can you happily cover in a day without feeling exhausted at the other end? We usually try to read a few books before setting out about the things we will see on the road.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring along some great distractions.
What are your favorite strategies?
P.S. Here’s how to make your own window clings for decorating the car windows.