LEARNING IN MOTION
By Kacy Vega
Planning a road trip this summer with young ones in tow? Take heart—the journey can be as much fun as the destination.
Whether it’s a short jaunt to Sedona or Tucson, a six-hour drive to San Diego or a day in flight to visit relatives back East, the hours stuck in a car or a cramped airplane will seem magically fewer with a little pre-planning and some imagination.
Preview the trip
Once your vacation dates and destination are set, invite your children to review travel literature and websites with you. It’s good reading practice and being involved with vacation planning gives them a sense of ownership and anticipation.
For a writing exercise, draft a packing list and encourage your child to brainstorm what to take on the trip. Let your child choose activities, games and books to bring along. You may even want to purchase a brand new book for the occasion!
Set expectations for the family trip to ensure a smooth ride. Review appropriate behavior, safety rules, planned excursions and any other pertinent information. If you’re flying, talk about what a young first-time or infrequent flier might encounter at the airport.
Describe what happens before, during and after take-off. This is especially important because flying relies on the airlines’ unyielding schedules—not your child’s—and does not offer as much flexibility and freedom as driving in your own car.
A great pre-flight read for children from preschool to second grade: The Noisy Airplane Ride by Mike Downs.
Shake those sillies out
Ah, the sound of silence when your energetic road companions finally fall asleep in the back seat! Until that moment arrives, why not get the most out of their energy by playing some sing-along music?
Songs with accompanying actions like clapping or snapping are especially welcome when children get antsy and the next rest stop is miles away. If the song calls for an impractical action like “run” or “jump,” think of a suitable substitution like “reach” or “bend.”
If you doubt your older passengers will appreciate the repetitive and overly cheerful nature of children’s music, bring along a pair of ear buds and an iPod. Work with your child a few days before the trip to select and download a collection of favorite songs for a special first-time playlist.
A great song for the road: “Shake My Sillies Out” by Raffi, from the “Silliest Songs” CD by Music for Little People.
Gadgets and games
Traveling is a wonderful way to sneak in tidbits of learning and create memories in the process. While technical gadgets like tablets and smart phones can be a saving grace when attention spans get short, here are some low-tech ideas to consider.
Portables like Rand McNally’s Kids’ Road Atlas, Etch A Sketch, Fisher-Price Travel Doodle, Desk To Go by ALEX Toys and Flip-to-Win travel games by Melissa & Doug (including Hangman, Bingo and Memory—all sold separately) are ideal for car or plane trips and help children practice writing, coordination, memory development and word skills.
Grab a few dry-erase markers and bring the Expo Dry Erase Learning Board. Even a small cookie sheet used as a tray can provide a learning-on-the-go opportunity when paired with a set of magnetic letters.
Keep ’em guessing
When your crew has tired of tunes, grown bored with gadgets and stopped enjoying stories, it’s time to pull out a surprise snack or activity to ease restlessness.
Bringing a few convenient snacks they rarely get is sure to be a hit. Check out dollar stores or sale bins located near the entrances of stores like Target or Michaels for coloring books, stickers or small games and toys that will delight your children for hours. For an added element of surprise, wrap the items in gift paper.
Tucked-away treats offer a handy distraction in the event of an airport meltdown or escalating sibling rivalry in the car.
Try combining story time and snack into one with The Cheerios Play Book, by Lee Wade, a board book for toddlers through preK.
Not the last resort
The old standby word games still work wonders. Make a friendly competition out of counting and identifying cars by color, make or model; keep track of license plates from different states; play “I Spy” or create an alphabet game out of road signs and billboards.
Before you know it, you’ll arrive at your destination, measuring the journey’s success by how infrequently your children asked that tired old question, “Are we there yet?”
Raising Arizona Magazine