When I was little, my family would drive from southern Michigan to a cabin in the Upper Peninsula every summer. My parents would fold down the back seats of the station wagon, put down a pile of blankets, and the three of us kids would sleep and slide around back there all night long as my Dad drove through the darkness.
In 4 weeks, my family is driving from NJ to NC for my brother’s wedding. That’s 8 hours with three energetic little girls in a minivan. Later this summer, we’ll make our annual Midwest tour, driving to see family in both Michigan and Iowa. Grand total for that one: 4 days on the road.
While I’m certain it’s much safer to have the kids in their car seats, buckled up tight, there are moments on those car trips where I ache to just toss some sleepy, pajama-wearing bodies into a warm dog pile and let them snooze the drive away. Technology has definitely made entertaining kids in the car easier than it used to be. But I hate just plugging them in for so many hours straight. I can feel their little brains turning to mush and their eyeballs glazing over.
In honor of all of you who remember family road trips before the invention of DVDs, iPads, and NintendoDS, I bring you the Reading Road Trip. Field tested ideas for bringing a little literacy to your ride (with minimal whining).
1. Back of the Seat Selection:
The world is full of fabulous organizers that hang on the back of the car seat. I love this one from 31 gifts: Hang Up Activity Organizer. The catalog/website One Step Ahead also carries great car organizers.
Fill it up with a variety of age-appropriate books, activity books, colored pencils (so much safer than melt-in-hot-car crayons or hey-mom-I-wrote-all-over-my-body markers) and a notebook for writing and drawing. My kids love Usborne’s Sticker Dolly Dressing books and the scratch art books made by Peter Pauper Press (available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon). Both combine simple text with fun activities. Crosswords and word searches can be found cheaply at a dollar store or drugstore.
For older kids, I like to find some non-fiction or realistic fiction that relates to the places we are traveling. For example, my eldest read an easy reader called Thomas Jefferson’s Feast on the way to Monticello, and we read If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon before heading to Oregon. Your librarian or bookseller can help you with this, or check out the advanced search options on Amazon. You can search books by keywords, age range, and more.
2. Listen Up!
Reading aloud on a long ride is a great way to pass the time – and to show kids how much you value reading together. Pick a book with lots of funny words and rhymes for kids 4 and under, action-packed books with cliffhanger chapter endings for K-3rd grade, and classics you’ve always wanted to share (A Wrinkle in Time is one of my favorites) for older kids. If you have kids who can read aloud themselves, try passing around a book of funny poetry, like Shel Silverstein’s Runny Babbit. The tongue-twisting words will keep you all laughing.
Need something to really grab their attention? National Geographic Kids has great selections like That’s Gross and 5000 Awesome Facts (about everything) that are fun to share.
Voice tired? There are countless options of audio books for all ages. Your local library probably has a good selection, or check out Audible – with over 10,000 children’s audio books ready to download for a monthly subscription price. eMusic.com and Audiobooks.com have similar programs. Looking to download free audiobooks? Try LibriVox.com. It’s a smaller selection with slightly uneven quality – but it’s free!
How about some music that helps with learning and literacy? My kids adore They Might Be Giants: Here Come the ABC’s. Here’s a peek at one of the fun songs on YouTube. E Eats Everything.
3. Two Words: Mad Libs
Reinforce knowledge of parts of speech and keep everyone happy with Mad Libs in every imaginable theme and style! Buy them at the bookstore or print free options from multiple sites online. Can you believe my 4-year-old knows what an adjective is already? (Poor thing, she never had a chance.)
4. Word Games
- Bingo: Download an awesome DIY travel Bingo game at SayYes.com or make your own cards with age-appropriate letters, words, or pictures. You can level the cards to each child’s reading level and make it fun for everyone.
- Name a book: I name a book I like, say Little House on The Prairie. Next player has to name a book that starts with the last letter of my book’s title. So for E, my daughter might say Ender’s Game. Continue ad infinitum.
- Hink Pink: By far my favorite word game, I learned this from my husband and his mother. We’ll even play without the kids (we’re cool like that.) Think of 2 words that rhyme. 1 syllable rhyming words like Fat Cat are called a “Hink Pink.” 2 Syllable words like Pretty Kitty are a “Hinky Pinky.” 3 syllables and you’ve got a “Hinkity Pinkity” like Remember December. Now, give the players a clue and let the guessing begin. For example, I might say, “Hinky Pinky. When the climate is just right for wearing cowhide.” The answer? “Leather Weather.” Sounds complicated at first, but any kid who can rhyme can play.
- Pass a story: Take turns each saying one sentence at a time to build a story. For example, Mom starts with “I went down to the river last night.” Brother chimes in with “While I was there, I saw the strangest thing in the water.” Sister says ” It was green and blue and glowed in the dark.” Just keep passing it around and see what happens! If you want, one player can write it down and the kids can illustrate it later.
I’m sure you have great ideas, too. Why not share them here in the comments section?
Happy Reading – and remember, March is Read Aloud Month! Do you read aloud with your child 15 minutes a day? Check out more resources and info at ReadAloud.org.