Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Activities for travel and road trips with toddlers and advice!

Because our friends and family are a bit spread out across thus US of A, we take at least one loooong roadtrip a year.  Usually more than one.  By long I mean more than 8 hours in the car in one setting.  I have spent lots of time planning our roadtrip time to make it as joyful as possible with two little ones....initially with infants and toddlers, then preschoolers, and now with a kindergartener!  I thought since the busy season for holiday travel is coming up, I'd share a few tips that work well for us across the ages.  Also, these are great to bring in restaurants, hotels, etc. as you are on your trip and find yourselves having to wait and fill the time!!  

First off, we are a mostly screen-free family.  My kiddos don't do digital games/tv/movies during the week and very little on the weekends.  As a result, neither of them has had much of an attention span for watching movies, so that has never been a huge option for road trips.  In the past couple of years since Quinn has been 5 and 6 we have started letting her have a new movie to watch on Daddy's tablet each time we take a big trip--oldies like Mary Poppins and Sound of Music, of course!  Beck (3 years) will still not watch more than 15 minutes or so before he gets bored.  Because of this, and the fact I don't love my kids movie-ing-out the whole roadtrip, I've worked hard to use the materials we have on hand to make some fun play kits for the car.  Also, I feel like when my kids spend a lot of the roadtrip time in front of a screen, they arrive at our destination cranky and bored.  We've had much better success giving them some hands-on activities to use during the trip!  Plus they are learning and being creative, which is a great use of 8 hours, if you ask me!!

Of course all of these ideas won't fit your family and you won't have all the same materials, but I encourage you to be creative and think outside the box and maybe find ways to adapt some of the ideas for your kids and your materials available.  Think of it as a challenge!  A fun one!

Also, don't go out and buy all these things!!  Shop your house--what do you already have that you can adapt to work out for your kids?  Be creative!!  

My kids are barely entering the age where they can work independently on craft projects or listen to audio stories for extended periods of time, so that makes roadtrips easier.  However, there were many trips and many roadtrips where they were too little to do much independently so I could drive or help navigate, so below are the items I found very helpful with little kiddos!

Here are the items that often accompany us on roadtrips:
(the logistics)

I have transported our car items different ways, depending on the age of my kiddos.  We have a car, so the two kids are in the backseat.  I often use a large tub that fits between their carseats and pack the items in that.  It makes for easy transport into a hotel room or someone's house when we arrive, as well.  Also the kids can put things in and out on their own easily, as bags sometimes fold in and make this difficult.  The tub also raises the items a little higher, more in-reach for arms strapped into carseats.

In the below picture we have a tub filled with items and then an additional bag of books.  We ALWAYS bring a big bag/picnic hamper of library or our personal books on every trip.  
We have found the "I SPY" books to be great in the car.  There are board books for little ones and regular, large-sized books for older kids.  My kids have loved them at many ages.  

For toddlers and preschoolers, I also bring these little books that go along with cheerios and raisins, and of course the corresponding snacks!  

These days, since my kids are older, we do sometimes pack items into a reusable shopping tote and that works fine, too.  It fits well in the middle between them.  

I ALWAYS bring a metal cookie sheet for each kid.  We call if their "art tray."  This serves so many purposes.  A hard surface for writing on, sides to contain items from rolling away, a "table" for eating snacks on the go across their lap, and magnets stick great to it, too!  

Below are my suggestions....And these are from a lot of different road trips, so I don't bring ALL the items mentioned on every trip, of course!  We try not to bring tooooo much stuff!  However I do try to hit the general categories and bring a couple from each.  General categories are listed below in italics, with specifics listed under each.  

(stationary/drawing/writing items)
*Stickers!  Whenever we get some new ones (in the mail or in kids meals, etc.) I often put them in the cabinet to save for a road trip.  My kids LOVE the little coding dot stickers, especially the white ones to color and still all over the place.  Our rule is only on their body or on paper, so we don't end up with sticky residue all over carseats and the car.  My older infants (old enough not to eat em) loved pulling these off the paper and sticking them all over their feet and legs.  Even my big kiddos still love to play with them!  We recently showed Q how to write one letter on each sticker and then put them together to make words.  

These Melissa and Doug sticker pads are great because they have scenes the kids can put the stickers onto.  I find them at a great price at Half Price Books.  Also the stickers are reusable, so you can peel them off and move them.  If you live near Half Price Books, they have a whole section of sticker books in the kids areas for different ages, and of course, some boy stickers!!
*New notebooks and a pencil box full of new writing implements
I don't even go out and buy new ones, usually.  I just raid my pen cup or our marker drawer and find some they haven't used in a while that are new to them.  A fun sidenote on ink pens (the click kind) is that older kids can learn to take them apart and put them back together during a car trip!  I also round up some notebooks or pads of paper that are new to the kids.  I've even been known to make some from stapled paper.  It's all about novelty on roadtrips!  I like using a plastic pencil box to corral drawing items on a road trip.  For little ones, I don't love markers because the lids are always disappearing.  Crayons are fine, as long as the car won't be getting too hot on the trip and melt them, because you know some will fall down along the seat or on the floor.  Often the gel pens that you click (no lid) work well with preschoolers.  Or colored pencils!  Make sure your child knows that they only write on paper!!  
*envelopes, sticky notes, card stock, blank greeting cards, coloring books, activity pads, sketch pads, sticky notes  (they love drawing on sticky notes and putting them all over the window!)

*Crayon or marker rolls
I sew these myself (tutorials all over the internet) or you could buy them from etsy or make one with a placemat folded over and hot glue.  I love these because they display the items so beautifully and keep them from rolling all over the place during travel.  I keep that little marker roll in my purse at all times for emergency drawing purposes (times we have to wait unexpectedly).  You can always commission me to make you some, if you are inclined.  :)

*Scissors and tape
For kids old enough to handle it--blunt scissors, little pieces of cardstock to cut, and a roll of masking or painter's tape.  You would be amazed how much fun any age of child can have with a roll of tape.  Pulling it off the roll, tearing it into little pieces, taping stuff up......It is a magic item, believe me!  Especially that blue painter's tape that tears so easily.  Great fine motor practice for them, as well!  I have also started including a roll of scotch tape for my older daughter, as she knows how to use it.  We don't bring glue in the car, so tape works well for adhering things that need adhering!!  WASHI TAPE is also a really fun item!  Besides using it for taping, you can also make designs on paper with it, wrap it around sticks you found outside on a potty break, etc.  
*Dry erase markers and board (WASHABLE ONLY!!)
I have had different types of these over the years, but dry erase sets are fun.  Just make sure they don't smell super strongly (some types are BAD!) and that they are washable.  In my experience markers always seem to get dropped on the floor or in the carseat, then sat upon, so washability is a must for us in the car!  Also bring an eraser or old cloth.  

(tactile objects)

For toddlers and younger preschoolers, especially, their hands need things to touch and explore on a car trip.  I have a VERY active older daughter, and when she was 2-3, she needed a variety of objects to touch and manipulate in the car.  

*Bristle Blocks (or magnetic blocks or some type of blocks that fit together....legos.....)
I NEVER take the whole set of any of these items.  I take about a dozen pieces in a smaller ziplock or tupperware container.  They are all eventually going to end up on the floor of the car, so having a manageable amount is so much easier.  It is also better for the child to work with a smaller amount.  
These have been a hit across several ages for Beck.  


They have lots of purposes.  A package of rubberbands can be strung across the cookie sheet to make an instrument.  They can be placed around a waterbottle--younger kids love putting them off and on, they can even be put on little arms and legs as bracelets, Quinn's favorite task at 2 years old!  
I also happened to have this geoboard from my math teacher days, and my kids love playing with it using the rubberbands.  You can purchase one of these very cheaply at a teacher supply store or online, I am sure.  
I round up all our magnets in a little tub for road trips.  The kids love putting them all over their trays.  Toddlers, especially love this!  Older preschoolers love exploring other items WITH the magnets--seeing what items can be attracted to the magnet.  Great science exploration!  You can also fill a tupperware container with different objects of all different materials so your child can explore and see which are attracted to magnets and which are not.

This type of set of magnets (this came from Half Price Books) would be great for exploring.  Just put the magnets in a little container to keep them all together!  

For older kids you can expand the magnets to letter magnets.  This is a fishing tacklebox and 4 sets of magnet letters (from the dollar store).  We sort them by letter (write the letter in sharpee on the bottom of each compartment).  Kids can make words on their tray, sort letters, trace the letters onto paper.......
Depending on my kids' age and interest.....when Quinn was an age she loved puzzles I bought a plastic folder (accordian folder) with many compartments and put one flat puzzle in each slot, so we could take about 6 puzzles on a trip and keep all the pieces sorted correctly.  Beck loved his fishing puzzles on roadtrips when he was around a year old.  For older kids doing puzzles not on a frame, the cookie sheet works great for a table and keeping pieces from falling on the floor.  Just make sure the finished puzzle fits on the cookie sheet!
 *Pom Poms and tongs and zippered pouches
A hit with older toddlers.  First they get to zip and unzip...and zip and unzip....and get the picture....the pouch.  Then they can take out the pompoms and put them back in.  Then they can try to pick them up with the tongs!  Lots of fun and lots of fine motor!

 *Squeezie toys
Quinn went through a stage where these worked really well with her (2 years-ish).  She loved having items to squish and squeeze while in the car.
 *Lacing and sewing work
We started out with these.  Now I bring a piece of craft felt, a needle and some embroidery floss for Quinn to "sew" on trips.  Depending on the age of the kiddo, but sewing/lacing is always good for the car!  You can make your own sewing cards with cardboard and a hole punch!
 *etch a sketch 
This was a hit with toddlers.  They loved drawing and erasing.

*Little animals (or cars....or any small object) and a compartmentalized tray
My older toddlers and preschoolers loved to sort items.  I would bring this plastic tray (from a box of candy) or an ice cube tray and an assortment of small items (Beads, flat marbles, tiny cars, etc.) for them to play with.  

Another "hit at every age" item.  Toddlers love pushing the buttons.  Older kids love looking at the numbers and doing actual math with it.
 *Busy books
We have homemade versions and store bought versions.  These are wonderful for road trips, especially in the toddler days.  Round up any books you have that have tactile features (flaps, movable pieces, feely textures, etc.)

*Play sets 
This is a magnetic doll dress up set.  We have a bear one that velcros, as well--you put the clothes on the bear.  I always bring one of our little play sets along.  

They can be fastened together to make a long chain.  They can be clipped all over pieces of paper.  They can be bent to make shapes and objects.  They can be wrapped in washi tape to make decorations and bracelets, they can be strung onto pipecleaners.......

*Stringing work and pipecleaners
I always bring some kind of string/beading work.  For really young children, a shoelace and super large wooden beads or spools are great (make sure the shoelace has a hard end so they can use it to thread).  This picture below is some plastic cording and letter beads.  I also love pipecleaners and pony beads.  Pipecleaners are a wonderful car item, as well.  They can be used to string beads on, or bent and made into objects of every kind, or twisted together to make a long stick.  

You can also give them a small container of fruitloops and a string or pipecleaner!  

 *Personal items
My kids love having access to their own personal items, varying depending on their age.  Flashlights or headlamps are great, chapstick, hand sanitizer (not for kids who might drink it!), tissues, gum, etc.

My kids love flashcards on trips.  We have a couple different sets--one of dinosaurs and one of animals.  Quinn also has a couple little sets of bug cards she loves to bring and look through (with a very intense concentration!) on road trips.  

Cards to punch out and make into stuff:

*Travel Games:
My kids don't play these games correctly, they just like taking out the pegs and putting them back in.  We have the t's that have been cut off, so they aren't sharp on the bottoms.  

*One soft doll or animal

 *silks or scarves
Often used more at our destination to make tents, capes, etc.  Also useful to block sunlight in a car window!

(books and music) 
My kids love music and they love (and always have!) loved books on cd or mp3.  
We adore the website and their beautiful stories for all ages.  We never have a cartrip without some sparklestories (and they have travel stories you can get, too)!  Usually we bring a portable discman.  My kids love the power of choosing their own cd (from a little book of cd's) and playing it themselves.  We also bring an mp3 player for the other child with a variety of songs and stories.  We love the tiger headphones--they seem to hold up better than others we have had and they also have a little volume control the child can operate.  **note, instead of discman or mp3 player, now we bring our old smartphones, which can download audiobooks from our library's site while on wifi, and then serve as mp3 players for the kids to plug in headphones and listen to their stories!  

I check out books on cd from the library before every roadtrip!  
Now that my kids are older they spend the majority of roadtrip time listening to audio stories.  I love it!!  Often we all listen to stories on the car cd player together.  

Other ideas:
-box of bandaids--let the child open them and stick them all over their body! (have a plastic sack reachable for them to put trash in)

-give them a couple baby wipes and see how clean they can get their carseat and area around themselves (this is a GREAT idea toward the end of the trip!!  If you spin it right, they will get really into it and clean that seat up lickity split!!)

-lollipops are always my "trick up my sleeve."  I keep several ready to go for every road trip and pass them out when we need make it that last hour or to quiet some squabbling.  For some reason having a lollipop in the mouth quiets and calms little travelers!!  

 For older preschoolers and elementary kiddos, lots of handwork items are wonderful for roadtrips.  I have a category on my sidebar for handwork, if you want to check out some of my favorite projects with my kiddos!

And jumping back onto this post after our most recent 2000+ mile roadtrip with an essential--these little battery LED lights were perfect for the trip!  I brought two per kid and passed them out once it got dark.  They aren't bright enough to read by, but they could totally see enough to switch cd's in the discman or find a dropped item, eat a snack, play with small toys, etc., and they didn't bother me driving like flashlights or the interior car lights do.  Plus they served as a great nightlight for them to fall asleep in the hotel room/our relative's house!  Just the cheapy ones from Walmart are what I have.
 Also this book has some great car ideas:

Hope this helped get your brain spinning and planning for your next roadtrip!!  Be creative and spend an hour or so getting a fun box ready for your will add so much joy to your trip!

My two favorite places to shop for any travel items (I ALWAYS shop my house first, but usually bring a couple new items on each trip) are Half Price Books (they have a ton of non-book kid items that are great!!) and Dollar Tree.  I have made great travel scores at both places!

Also remember that the first time young kids are introduced to an item, they may not have interest in it for very long.  That's okay....Let them explore it as long as they want, and then put it away and get it out again later in your trip.  They might use stickers for 2 minutes then move on to the next thing until they have tried everything in your trip box.  Young kiddos are developmentally designed to get the "lay of the land" when they come to a new experience, so this is normal and good.  Just be patient and perhaps later in your trip model how that particular item could be used.  Usually just playing with it in front of them is a good way to peak their interest!

Also, HERE is another post I wrote on travel items...and you can click the "travel" tab on the right hand sidebar and it will show you all my travel posts, tagged as such!