When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Old-school road trip


Because many of our loved ones live in cities far from where we do, our little family has long been very familiar with lengthy car trips. Vacations are a time we look forward to every summer, when we load up the car and hit the road to see familiar, smiling faces and places that hold fond memories for all of us. The end reward helps to make the eight or nine hours in the car seem very worthwhile.

Anyone who hears about how we trek that far every summer automatically assumes that we have a DVD player in the car (because what nut in his or her right mind would travel all that way without one, right?!). I decided a long time ago, though, that I didn't want the boys to become dependent on a screen anytime they were contained somewhere for lengthy periods, and to this day, we still don't own one for our vehicles. I've found there are many ways to keep kids of all ages happy and engaged in the car, so that their travelling is an active experience. I thought I'd share some of our favourite car pastimes over the years with you -- maybe some of you might find them useful when you hit the road this summer.

Notebooks, puzzle books, sticker books, activity books plus markers, pencils and crayons. This simple collection of materials is likely standard fare in every family's car, but its usefulness shouldn't be underestimated. Little kids can create some big ideas on paper when they have lots of uninterrupted time to do it in.

Small metal baking tray plus a container of assorted foam shapes with magnetic backings. These materials are available at dollar stores and are a great, resuable art project -- there's no end of possibilities for pictures that can be made on a metal canvas with different combinations of shapes.


Toy figures. A collection of small dinosaurs, cars, animals, monsters, fairies, insects, or whatever kind of critters your kids are into provides good opportunities for imaginative play on the road.

Container of Lego. If your children are Lego-crazy like mine are, then this will keep them occupied for hours. Beware the spilled tub of Lego all over the backseat, though -- that's no fun for anyone. (When the boys were younger I would give them a small container each that could easily fit between their legs on their booster seats, and I'd add more pieces once they ran out.)

Mini Etch-a-Sketch or MagnaDoodle. The beauty of these toys is that they can be used over and over again to make new creations throughout the trip.

Travel Bingo. We have this set by eeBoo. Each boy gets a Bingo sheet and a pencil and they're both usually quite happy for awhile looking for objects out their windows as we head along the road. They often challenge themselves to fill the whole card rather than just a single line.


Puzzles or thinking games. We especially like Cosmic Creature and Rush Hour, both games that the boys can play individually and that have challenges of varying degrees of difficulty.


Make-a-Face drawing game. One person starts with a blank piece of paper and draws a person's hair at the top, then folds the paper back so the hair can't be seen. The paper is passed to the next person in the car, who then draws some eyebrows and folds the paper back once again. The next person draws eyes, and the paper keeps being folded back and passed on until a full face has been drawn. The last person opens up the paper to reveal a funny face in its entirety. Good, silly fun!

Road games. I fondly remember some of these from the times I travelled with my grandparents and my aunt Christina when we were little. There's the alphabet game, which involves finding every letter of the alphabet, in order, on signs or licence plates along the road, and the car colour game, in which every person in the vehicle chooses a different colour of car and scores a point each time a car of that colour drives past. You can use your imagination to make up your own similar kinds of car games, too.

Maps. When we're going on a long car trip with the boys, we often order a Trip Tick from CAA for each of them ahead of time. The boys can then follow the route on the map as we go, and watch for interesting places along the way.

Travel journals. Both of our boys like to write down their favourite stories from our travels as they unfold. While en route to your first destination, kids can write about what they're looking forward to most on their trip. Children who are too young to write can draw picture stories instead.

Novels, comic books, magazines. Assuming your children don't get motion sickness from reading in the car like I do, a long car trip provides an excellent opportunity for kids to discover new worlds and characters between the pages of their favourite reading materials.

Ask interesting questions. Our boys absolutely love answering thought-provoking questions like "What would you do if you found one hundred dollars?", "Is it better to be a kid or an adult? Why?", "What would you like to invent?", or "If time travel was an option, would you rather visit the past or the future? Why?". These kinds of questions are great conversation starters and allow you to learn some pretty cool things about your kids.

Music. Nothing calms a savage travel beast like the sound of his or her favourite tunes coming through the car stereo system. Be sure to try and find music the whole family can enjoy (for years we've loved The Barenaked Ladies' Snacktime and all of the kids' music by They Might Be Giants), because listening to canned children's songs for hours might make Mom or Dad want to jump out the car window.


Before we leave on our trip, I gather up all of the supplies I need for the boys' travel activities and put them in a bin in the backseat between them so they both have easy access to it. I also keep a few new small collectibles or toys (packages of hockey cards, mini Lego figures, etc.) in the front seat with me, so that if the boys get bored and ornery (especially in the last stretches of the trip), I can hand out a little surprise and put a smile on their faces.

I think giving kids the chance to use their imaginations in the car rather than staring at a screen for hours on end makes travel a much more meaningful experience for them. With some creative materials and ideas, the journey can be almost as much fun as the destination. (Almost. It's pretty hard to beat seeing your extended family after a long time apart, though!) Happy and safe travels to all of you who are going places this summer!

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