Monday, July 1, 2013

Road Trip Activities for a Media-Free Toddler

       We recently returned from a road trip during which we logged over 1400 miles in the car.  We worked to spend as little time in the car as possible, but the first and last days of the trip required about 5-6 hours in the car (much of this was through some very, very boring country- no buildings, no trees, few hills...blah).  This can be tough for anyone, but especially for a toddler.  I searched online for ideas to entertain my toddler during the trip, but many of them involved watching DVDs or playing with other computerized games.  We are a media-free family, so I knew that I would need to be a little more creative with my activities. 
    While Q-ball was obviously ready to get out of the car when the time came and did, of course, experience some boredom and frustration, my husband and I were incredibly impressed with the patience she showed and with her ability to largely entertain herself.  Here are the activities that were most successful: As always, I'm a little blog, so I'm not getting any sort of compensation for the links below!

  1. Car Tray. This item was necessary for all others to be successful! We introduced it to Q-ball a few hours into the trip, and she wanted to use it pretty much the entire time after that!
  2. Books, books, books.  Before the trip, I spent a substantial amount of time exploring our public library's catalog for books that related to our trip.  I ended up with over 20 books!  I looked for books that included lots of pictures of the areas and specific sites we were visiting as well as descriptions of activities that we were doing.  Of course, not all the books were successful (mainly the ones with a bit too much of an academic focus), but these were Q-ball's favorite: Fred and Ted's Road Trip and Maisy Goes Camping.
  3. Toy Cars. Q-ball played with these more than any other item!  She parked them, drove them, lined them up.  They never bored her! 
  4. I Spy. I'd never played with game with Q-ball before, but she enjoyed using these print-outs from the Montessori Print Shop. (They are free!)  While she wasn't able to identify object by shape or color, she liked picking out the objects by name or, at times, by subject (something to eat, an animal, etc.)
  5. Animal Matching Cards. This is another resource from the Montessori Print Shop.  I hadn't introduced this activity to her previously, but she enjoyed naming all of the animals and matching them to their "shadow."  We certainly weren't able to achieve any sort of Montessori neatness in our matching piles, but we got the big idea!
Other tips from our travel (most are obvious, but just to confirm!)
  • Schedule naps for car rides when possible.  Q-ball hated the carseat for about the first 9 months of her life, and our road trip when she was 4-months was much prolonged as we had to stop every 15 minutes or so at times to calm her screams, but I'm happy to report, she is now a relatively happy car napper!  (Although she does still like for Mama to sing her to sleep...)
  • Have snacks and water on hand.
  • Make lots of times for active play when you are not in the car.  We used hotel swimming pools at the end of the trips and ran around some green spaces before getting in the car.  When possible, take lunch breaks at parks or restaurants with playplaces. (Q-ball had her first Happy Meal on this trip- we very, very rarely do fast food, but she loved being about to run around the playplace for an hour!)
  • Include lots of cuddles when you are not in the car!  According to Dr. Laura in Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, although you may feel very close to your toddler when you are all stuck in a car together, a car ride can be a separation for a child. Your child needs you to make up all of this time apart with extra attention later!
  • Introduce toys steadily throughout the trip.  I waited to introduce some activities until we were two weeks into our trip, so we'd have something novel on the way home. 


  1. I love the car tray and screen-free activities! I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page:


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