Each week in Moms Talk, our Moms Council of experts and smart moms take your questions, give advice and share solutions.
So grab a cup of coffee and settle in as we start this week's conversation about road trips. Please add comments to the comments box below this story and give your own feedback and ideas. And if you have a question you'd like answered for next week, let us know.
Question: With summer vacations in full swing many families drive to their destinations. How do you keep the kids occupied in the car for hours? Is the DVD player in the car the last resort or a must have?
Answer From Momʼs Councilmember Robin Fradkin Matthew (mother of 1):
I have to say that, even with only two and a half short years of motherhood under my belt, I am an expert on this (at least for the 1-2 age.) I am a Philly transplant and grew up in New England, where my son and I travel (by car) solo every 2-3 months. What would be a 6-7 hour ride for grown-ups is easily an 8-9 hour ride with a kid. Here's how we make it through:
- Time the leaving right. Nine in the morning works for us. That way, we ride for a couple of hours, stop for lunch, he naps for a couple of hours, stop for a snack, then ride a couple more hours and we're there, just in time for dinner with plenty of time to acclimate to our destination before bedtime.
- Don't pack snacks. I know this is counter-intuitive. Have something, sure, but don't overdo it. Part of the allure of a road-trip is stopping for snacks you don't usually get. Plus, if you snack the whole time, your kids won't eat meals and you need that time to recharge at a rest-stop. (Also, rest-stop tip: park as far away as possible from the door and let the kids wander and meander at their own pace to get in.)
- NEW toys/books. Pick up a few fun things and break one out every hour of awake travel. I have heard the recommendation of wrapping the new toys, but I have never done that.
- Lap desk/travel tray. (I use this one from One Step Ahead: http://www.onestepahead.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=537347) and it is great for reading oversized books, playing with trucks, and eating the Munchkins we picked up as a road-trip snack.
- Magnets on a baking sheet. I brought this last time and it was a hit. (Leapfrog alphabet magnets for little kids; magnetic poetry for older ones.)
- Laptop/DVD. For us, it's a must-have on a trip. We don't start out the trip with it, but we do break it out and he pretty much has unlimited access to it as long as we're in the car. (I have an actual outlet in my car, which takes care of the battery issue, but when we drive my partner's car, we use an adapter we got specifically for charging multiple devices in a cigarette lighter.) I stock my iTunes library with episodes of Sesame Street and Little Bill, plus some movies he loves, but doesn't watch often (Barney's Christmas Star is a holiday-holdover fave.)
I'm sure I will have more ideas as my son gets older and I'm sure there are things I'm not doing, but for now, these really work. Rides (knock wood) have been relatively painless when I'm prepared.
Answer From Momʼs Councilmember Kristin Luther (mother of 2):
I have found for my kids that listening to kids' CDs and reading/looking at books is the absolute best car entertainment-for hours. My kids love Veggie Tales, Baby Einstein, and Sesame Street music CDs, especially when there's a "story" or narration in between songs. And for the last two years, my older son (almost 8) has LOVED to listen to audiobooks. I visit the library right before a trip, choose a bunch of children's audiobooks, and then download them to my iPod.
When listening to audiobooks in the car, we barely hear from my son on an eight-hour car trip. We also check out some of the Playaway audiobooks at the library-that really saves me the step of downloading the story-though I have found that many of the Playaways are geared for slightly older kids-10 and up.
When my son was younger, and now, with my 18-month-old son, I just tried to keep a variety of books and CDs on hand so that after the 20-30 minute time limit of their attention span is up, we can switch to a new one. We do have a travel DVD player that we have used on occasion for my older son, but probably not since we started using the audiobooks.
Thankfully, both of my boys have always enjoyed the built-in entertainment of a road trip—passing trucks, trains, train tracks, bridges, etc., and so looking out the window occupies them quite a bit too.
Easy car snacks—juice boxes, cheese sticks, fruit, and other finger-foods can pass some time too.