My son was asked to be the ring bearer in my close friend’s wedding, so we took the 11 hour trip to Florida on Thursday, stayed two days for wedding festivities, and drove 11 hours back on Sunday. I am not utterly against screen-time, as my children occasionally watch movies we get from the library or hand-picked shows. But I am against starting a terrible habit of endless screen time, show after show, for hours on end. In the past that is what having access to a DVD player in our van for trips turned into. The meltdowns when the shows were turned off were out of control. Every time we got into the car for a couple of weeks after the trip the kids were asking for shows to be turned on.
A few months ago we took a 4 hour trip and discovered that the DVD player was broken. We considered getting it fixed, but I decided I would challenge myself and the kids on this trip instead. So I planned out a few simple ideas, bought a few hand-held activities, and loaded up on library resources. I was amazed at how well they did. Here are my top 10 screen-free road trip wins. Tested and tried with my two preschoolers.
1. Melissa and Doug Water Wow Activity Pads – These were by far the most popular activity. I actually only bought one pad before our trip, as we had never used them before and ended up ordering a 3-pack to be sent to Florida in preparation for the long ride back. The water in the pens lasts a while, and the variety in the different books kept my kids busy for literally hours. I must share this tip because it would be downright mean not to: use a straw and your fingertip to collect water out of a water bottle to put into the water pen, rather than trying to pour it while riding down the road. Speaking from experience.
2. Cookie Sheet Magnet Lapboard – I got two inexpensive cookie sheets and gathered a bunch of magnets that we had around the house. Some of our favorite magnets are gear magnets and these animal magnets. I also brought our Fridge Phonics which both of my kids really like and worked well on the cookie sheet too. The kids arranged and rearranged magnets over and over. I also used small refrigerator magnets to hold the corner of pieces of paper down for coloring.
3. Lacing Activities – My 2 year old daughter loves to lace things, so I brought a few options of things for her to lace. She ended up working hard on every lacing activity. I stored the materials in zipper bags and scooped out a small cupful at a time for her to hold while she laced. That way if they spilled it wasn’t a huge mess, and I could give her more as needed.
Rigatoni pasta and thick jute – Try wrapping the tip of the jute with clear packing tape to avoid fraying and tying a knot at the end so they don’t fall off.
O- Cereal and pipecleaners – We had cereal for road trip snacks anyway, so it only made sense to add this to our lacing stash. After making it, she ate it all off.
4. Books and Audiobooks – We loaded up on library books for them to thumb through before we went. I propped up a basket between the carseats with all of their books so they were easily accessible throughout the entire ride. My son especially loved reading along with books that came with the audio version. We must’ve heard Caps For Sale over fifty times. For Christmas last year my son got the audiobook The Cat in the Hat and Other Dr. Suess Favorites, so we checked out the 11 correlating stories from the library for the trip.
6. Stickers and Paper – I got a few pads of stickers from the dollar store and brought some construction paper. My daughter decorated the papers, her arms, legs and her clothes time and time again. If the mess doesn’t bother you, this was a huge hit.
7. Gluestick and Paper – I handed her a full sheet of construction paper, some ripped up paper in a cup, and the glue stick and let her go to town. She used the cookie sheet as her “table” for this activity.
9. Clip Cards and Clothespins – You can find links to free printables of these all over Pinterest. I just used ones I had previously printed, cut and laminated for lessons in the past.
10. Clear Pouches and White Erase Markers – We use these clear pouches all the time. You could put a variety of worksheets inside and give your child a low odor dry erase marker to complete the sheet. There is something about writing with a marker that kids love. My two year old just drew pictures and scribbles on it, then washed it off with a wipe, and drew again. My 3 year old son traced letters on his. Both of them used their cookie sheets as their “table top” and little magnets to hold it down.
That wraps up my top 10 Screen-Free Road Trip Wins! I hope this inspires you to think outside the box when planning for your next long car trip or even doctor office wait. Do you have more ideas and resources for road trip activities? Comment below!