Guest post from Jennifer Landis
The open road stretches out before you. You’ve got a full tank of gas, and the oil is topped off. Promises of a pristine beach, a cozy campsite or a fun family reunion are about to be fulfilled. You just have to make it your destination. Easy enough, right?
Then, the screaming starts — and you remember it’s not just you and the open road. It’s also those lovely little ones you’ve brought into the world who turn decidedly unlovely just as you reach 65 miles per hour.
So, how can you survive a road trip with littles in tow? By keeping your kids occupied and busy during the family road trip. Here are 12 ways to keep your toddler occupied:
1. Sleepy Time
First and foremost, try and plan your road trip around kids nap and sleep schedule whenever possible. This parenting hack has kept sanity intact for many a mom and dad. If you don’t mind driving at night, leave around bedtime with the kiddo already in their PJs and teeth brushed. Blast the white noise app on your phone and enjoy the peaceful ride.
If you have to drive during the day, you can still encourage sleep around nap times by playing lullabies or white noise, putting away the games and letting the rhythm of the road lull your toddler to sleep. Even 30 minutes of quiet time can make a big difference.
2. Well-Timed Pit Stops
Another important part of planning a trip is the pit stops. Don’t leave this one to chance with a toddler, especially a recently potty trained one. Besides the obvious benefits to making a bathroom break, this is also the time to let the kiddos stretch their legs and run around a bit. So look for a tourist attraction, a rest stop with green space or maybe a stop at a family friend’s house along the way.
Also, as you get in and out of the car, make sure you are correctly buckling the kids into their car seats. While most parents think they have the car seat installed properly, only one out of every 4 children are properly restrained.
3. Felt Activity Board
A felt activity board is a great road trip partner because the pieces are soft and small. Depending on the types of games you bring, you can sneak in a bit of learning, too.
4. Finger Puppets
Another car-friendly game that involves a child’s imagination are simple finger puppets. There are several ways to DIY finger puppets on the cheap, and you can create different imaginary worlds to include all of the kids (and grown-ups) in the play. Also, finger puppets won’t take up much precious room in the car.
5. Music and Books on CD
There is nothing more annoying than the fiftieth time of hearing “The Song That Doesn’t End.” Instead, load up your phone with kid-friendly music before you hit the road, so you can sing along to a variety of tunes. Older kids may also be able to follow books on CD or via an app. You can even involve kids in the planning as you select the playlist and book list.
6. Mini White Board
You know that white board that you have left over from your dorm room in college? It’s time to dust it off for your road trip. It provides an instant tic-tac-toe board or endless room for doodling. You can draw funny faces or play Pictionary. The white board is literally a blank slate for fun.
7. Punch Buggy
Most of the time parents discourage hitting between siblings. However, a good old-fashioned game of Punch Buggy is an exception. Show the kids what a Volkswagen Beetle looks like, then keep them entertained as they scan the horizon for the little bugs.
8. Flashlight Light Show
If traveling in the evening or at night, pack a couple of multicolored flashlights. You can tell spooky stories with the flashlight under your face, teach your kids how to make shadow puppets or play a modified version of flashlight freeze — where you move around in your seat like crazy until whoever is “it” shines the flashlight on you. Just be sure you don’t shine the light in the driver’s eyes!
9. Healthy and Time Consuming Snacks
Boredom, long hours and the desire to stop as little as possible all point to one must-have for road trips: snacks. But skip the sugary drinks and treats for reusable water bottles and healthy snacks. Better yet, pick a snack like raisins — it’s healthy and can be eaten slowly to help pass the time! Other good small bites include trail mix, dried fruit and turkey jerky.
10. I Spy Animals
Younger kids have a hard time with traditional “I Spy” because they don’t know how to spell. Instead, you can play a game that involves animals. Like, “I spy a deer!” or “I spy a puppy in the backseat of that car!” Keep track of who sees the most animals, and they get a prize or special treat at the end of the trip.
11. A Few New Toys and Books
Parents always pack the most loved toys and books for the road trip, which is smart. However, it doesn’t hurt to also bring along a couple of new toys and books that kids will want to revisit over and over. It provides a bit of excitement and breaks the monotony of the long road trip.
12. Portable DVD Player
A realistic list of keeping toddlers occupied on a road trip must include a portable DVD player or tablet. Sometimes, all that will do are old episodes of Daniel Tiger or Peppa Pig — and there is no shame in that!
These twelve ways to keep your toddler occupied — as well as several deep breaths — will ensure your family road trip is a success. Keep your eyes on the road and happy trails!