When we need a quick, easy way to entertain our kids, screens-- iPads, video games, movies, and cell phones-- are almost always the most tempting option. We're well aware that too much screen time is detrimental to kids, but screens still offer such a simple solution that it's hard to turn them down. When faced with a long, grueling car ride, even the most screen-strict parents will resort to those little glowing rectangles to prevent the inevitable whining and complaining from bored children.
Fortunately, there are plenty of screen-free activities that can entertain your kids without the allure of pixels and beeping. These activities are not only more stimulating, but can provide meaningful bonding time while you go about your journey. Here are my favorite screen-free ways to entertain kids on road trips.
1. Talk to your kids.
Turn off the radio. Don't complain, argue, or criticize. Simply take a moment to talk to your kids about what's on their minds, how they're feeling, and what they're looking forward to about their trip. If you're on your way home from vacation, ask them to recount the highs and lows of the trip. You don't often get a chance to have these one-on-one discussions, so make the most of the time you've got and chat with your kids.
2. Dance in the car.
There's no dorkier, sillier, more ridiculous-looking way to pass the time. Before the trip, compile your favorite danceable tunes and then dance the ride away. Make sure that all seat-belts stay buckled (and that you keep your hands on the steering wheel) while you sing, jig, and seat-bounce your way to your destination.
3. Have a scavenger hunt.
Before you hit the road, print off a list of scavenger hunt sights, each worth a certain number of points. Establish the rule that no two people can claim the same sight. When your child sees something on the list-- a purple car worth five points, for example, or a billboard with the word "new," worth three-- he can call it and then check it off of his list. This will keep him active and entertained the whole ride. Make sure your list is long, since it will have to last a while!
4. Play the alphabet game.
This was my favorite road trip entertainment game when I was a kid. Everyone playing the game (parents included) must find all the letters of the alphabet, in order. Kids will eagerly watch out the windows in an attempt to find the most elusive letters and will soon forget their boredom. Once a specific letter has been called, no one else in the car can call it. Prepare for the letter "Q" to be the great equalizer-- Dairy Queens and Quiznos can be few and far between!
5. Bring a travel journal.
Before getting on the road, give your child an empty book or notebook along with a pen, pencil, or pack of crayons. Instruct your child to make this journal as a souvenir for his vacation. He can write poetry, stories, or accounts of his trip. He can come up with fairy-tale versions of things that have happened, or that he hopes will happen, on the journey. He can draw pictures of the sights seen along the way or of things he hopes to see later. This will stand not only as a screen-free way to keep him entertained, but also as a valuable keepsake.
LCD screens are such a common crutch that we can forget how to entertain our kids without them. While there's no harm in letting your child play video games for half an hour, it's wasteful of valuable family time to spend an entire road trip glued to a screen. By using screen-free games and activities on your family's journey, you make the entire experience more pleasant and meaningful to everyone involved.
What are your favorite screen-free activities for keeping your kids entertained on road trips?