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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Your Kids Don’t Have to Drive You Nuts on a Road Trip

By Denise Morrison Yearian

If your family is traveling in the car this summer, keep boredom at bay and hone your kids’ academic skills with these innovative suggestions.

1. Fortunately, unfortunately. Create a story that goes back and forth from good to bad. The first person may say, “There once was a wizard who lived in a castle…” The next person continues with, “Unfortunately…” and comes up with bad news such as, “The castle was attacked by a dragon…” Then the next person says, “Fortunately…” and adds something good to the story, and so on until it reaches a happy ending.

2. Animal amusements. Name an animal then have the next person think of a different animal whose name begins with the last sound or letter of the preceding animal. For example, if the first person says, “Tiger,” the second person could say, “Rhinoceros,” and the third person could say, “Snake.” This activity could be done with sports teams, music groups, and movies.

3. Practice makes perfect. Buy a small white board with an attached marker so your kids can practice writing letters and numbers, drawing pictures, or playing simple games. These boards are magnetic so bring along magnetic letters and numbers for little ones to practice counting and spelling words. Also put one letter on a page that corresponds to the place you are traveling to then add short words and pictures that begin with that letter.

4. Count me in! Put a new spin on the “Twenty Questions” game by including numbers. Pick a number then have your kids ask: “Is it odd or even?” “Greater than five?” For younger children choose a number between one and ten; for older ones up the ante with larger figures and more difficult questions: “Is it a factor of two?” “Divisible by five?”

5. Tally it up. Watch for numbers on road signs and write them down. After you’ve found five different figures add them up. Or have two people put both hands behind their backs, then quickly bring them forward to show any number of fingers they want. The first person to add all the fingers correctly and shout out the answer wins. For older children, incorporate subtraction, multiplication, or division.

6. Writing reflections. Encourage your children to write a journal entry for each day of the trip and include superlatives: the best part of the day, worst part, something unexpected. If you have preschoolers, record their words and let them draw corresponding pictures. Make it into a scrapbook by including small items collected or purchased along the way.

7. Audio book discussions. Listen to a book on CD or iPod then discuss the plot, characters, and setting. Turn off the story at critical points and talk about what might happen next: “Are you feeling uneasy about this?” “What do you think of that character?” “How do you think the story will end?” If you are visiting a historic site, find books with the setting in that location.

8. Simply stated. Print out a blank copy of a drawing or map of the United States. Each time you find a different state’s license plate, color in that state on the drawing or map. Or attach points to each state. Ones local to this region could be worth one point. Further away, five points. Hawaii or Alaska, fifteen points. Whoever has the most points at the end of the trip wins. Also find a map of the region you are visiting and draw the route for your kids to follow along. Log on to to print out maps.

9. Scavenger hunt. Divide the game into three parts: city, suburbs, and rural. Under each section write or draw pictures of things for your children to look for and then check off as you travel. For the city it might be a bus or a red light. For the country it could be a cow, barn, pond, or forest. For the suburbs, a Walmart, post office, or delivery van.

10. Rhyming ramble. Play rhyming rounds by starting with a word such as “Ball.” Everyone comes up with words that rhyme until the list is exhausted.

11. Word scramble. On a piece of paper write the city and state of your destination and see how many words your children can make using those letters. Offer incentives for words that use more than three letters.

12. Science savvy. If your children are interested in a particular facet of nature such as rocks or birds, pick up a small field guide before you leave home. When you stop at a rest area, look for those types of nature items and compare it with what’s in the book: “Is this an igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic rock?” “What kind of bird did this feather come from?”

Denise Morrison Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines.