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Are we there yet? Top tips to keep kids busy on the road

Nadine Hill

23 January 2017

Time to Read

2 minutes
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A family road trip sounds idyllic: discovering new places and all that time together on the journey to reconnect with your offspring. But the reality can often mean boredom, sibling fights and cries of ‘Are we there yet?’

There are loads of tips online for travelling with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers (involving sippy cups, driving at night so they sleep and having a lucky bag to keep them stimulated) but what about children who are older?

The great news is that travelling with primary and secondary aged kids can be a breeze with the right planning and preparation. Here are some top tips to make the journey as much part of the adventure as arriving.

Before you go:

  • Take a visit to your local library to get the kids to choose new books for the journey. It’s free, they get something new to read and you can usually keep the book for about 3 weeks before they need returning. If your child gets car sick then libraries also stock audio books for the ride.
  • Get a book about the destination you are visiting so older kids can read up and let you know what what they want to see and do there. Getting them involved makes for a happier journey!
  • If you will be doing part of the journey at night, visit the pound shop before you to go buy some glow sticks. The kids will be amused for ages watching them glow and finding ways to wear them.
  • Gather up a box of shoelaces and stray buttons for an easy ‘jewellery making kit’. Your children can make necklaces, bracelets and bag charms and once they have used up all the buttons on this trip, you can un-thread everything and store the box for the next outing.
  • Prepare a ‘treasure hunt’ before you go, by listing items to spot, such as a certain road sign or a field of cows. You can print off images of road signs or copy them from the Highway Code. Make a copy for each child and laminate each list. They can tick them off with a crayon or dry erase marker, then wipe clean for a second round on the return journey.

Setting off:

  • Let your child take a blanket and pillow in the back of the car with them. It gets them cosy if they want a nap and they can use the pillow as a ‘lap-tray’ for any activities you have prepared.
  • Don’t forget to take your in-car chargers for iPads, phones or gaming consoles. Also be sure that everyone has their own headphones so they can each enjoy their own music or audiobook.
  • Pack an essentials bag for the back seat. This includes snacks and drinks for the journey, an empty lidded yogurt pot in case of car sickness, wet wipes and a carrier bag so everyone can put their rubbish away tidily.

On the journey:

  • Steer clear of expensive, crowded, service stations. Take a slight detour into any decent-sized town and head for the leisure centre. You might find a soft play area, a pool and you can have lunch for half the price.
  • Make all snack times into an occasion - plan out snack breaks to make a journey less of a chore and use food stops so everyone can stretch their legs.
  • Have a satnav for you - and a map for them!  Allow your children to read the map to you - seeing if they can predict the best route before the sat nav gives the instruction. It is fun to try to ‘beat the clock’ and encourages map-reading skills in the kids.
  • Have a stockpile of easy games to call upon if the kids get bored. See my favourite list below.

Here are a few of the best tried and tested car games:

The yes and no game: One person asks questions to try to get a yes or no answer… For example “Are you a boy?”, “Are you hungry” “Do you like broccoli?” and the interviewee has to answer without using the words ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  This game can be quite quick so everyone needs to be alert and is a great pastime when the dreaded ‘I’m bored’ phrase is uttered.

The alphabet game: This one is a lot of fun and only limited by your imagination! Choose a category -- e.g. girls’ names, countries or foods -- then starting with the letter ‘A’, go through the alphabet in turns, coming up with an answer for each letter on the subject. The loser is the person who cannot come up with a word for their letter and they have to sit out until there is just one player left.

The copy me game: This one is great in a traffic jam. The kids have a series of actions to do and they have to see if they can get people in other cars to do them too. For example, first they wave and once someone has waved back, they salute. If someone salutes back then they might stick their tongue out or wave their foot. The idea is to keep going for the longest and you could play and laugh for ages if you can keep coming up with new actions!

The Polo game: Everyone gets a Polo mint to put in their mouth. The winner of the game is the person who keeps it in their mouth whole for the longest without breaking it. This is a great game to encourage some silence if you are in need of peace.

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Nadine Hill

23 January 2017

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Busy mum of two and work-at-home mum, Nadine Hill writes for an award-winning family lifestyle blog, JuggleMum.

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