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Keeping the Kids Busy During Long Car Rides
I knew that when my husband drove over his watch in our driveway after letting my 16-month old son play with it in the mini-van, that it was time to consider different activities to provide the kids during long car rides. My husband wasn't as mad as I thought he'd be, but he was plenty motivated to quit handing my son items such as the cell phone, watch, and other shiny expensive items to be used as toys in order to stop the crying.
I suggested that we get a plastic container and fill it up with odds and ends and only let my son play with it during car rides. This way the items would be novel as opposed to the "same ole" toys he plays with everyday. I had done something similar to keep in my car and it has been working out well. So to make this goody container, I gathered kitchen gadgets such as plastic measuring cups and spoons, then I went through the toy box and found Happy Meal (R) toys that were too large to be swallowed and put them in the container. I also went to the dollar store and bought some items I thought would be fun for a toddler such as a solar powered calculator, dust rag, mirror, large hair clip, and maracas. The container in my car contains musical and fuzzy developmental toys which seems to keep him happy for the 30 minute commute each day.
It is somewhat easier to keep my six year old preoccupied during long car rides, yet she still intermittently says "Are we almost there yet?". We have her watch DVDs, draw on paper, listen to music, play with dolls, or fidget around with toys. I keep a "fidget box" of toys such as those that are stretchy, fuzzy, or vibratory in a small container. Unlike for my toddler son, it doesn't matter to me the size of the item, because she is past the stage of putting things in her mouth.
For older kids, car games are fun. An example is the alphabet game, in which you have to look at road signs and find the letters of the alphabet in order and see who can get to "Z" first. It never fails that I will drive past a quilt shop or a pizzaria when we are only on "C", and then as we progress down the alphabet we will be driving in an uninhabited area! Another car game is to hand each child a package of colored pipe cleaners and see who can make the most creative thing. This will usually take up at least 20 minutes and depending upon their level of creativity could take much longer.
The big key to keeping kids preoccupied during car rides is novelty. If you have them watch a movie, have it be one they rarely watch or one that is new. If you have toys near them, have it be ones they won't get bored with quickly. If all else fails, put on children's music CDs and have the whole family sing along!