Choices: How to survive family car trips

Parents and grandparents spend a great deal of time in the car getting to and from work, driving the children to school, and/or after school activities and play dates. Family car trips are even more stressful during school breaks and holidays; bucking the traffic, looking for someplace to park, visiting family and friends.

Stewart and Jacquie Carter, looking for ways to keep the kids busy during long trips, purchased a video projector for their vehicle’s back seat. This has helped during short jaunts. Longer trips present a greater challenge. They attempted driving during the night, hoping the children would fall asleep instead of jumping around, fighting with each other. This kept the kids quiet, but it became harder for the adults to stay awake during long trips.

“That’s why I created a book to help parents and grandparents encourage learning, every subject, required by national curriculum standards while on the road,” says Diane Flynn Keith, a columnist for the homeschooling publications Homefires Journal and The Link as well as an adviser for

Keith’s book, “Carschooling,” details more than 350 entertaining games and activities to turn travel time into learning time. Keith maintains that her games and activities are fun and educational and that they lead to “wonderful discussion and conversations that bond families together in profound and heartfelt ways.”

“All parents complain about wasting time in traffic jams,” says Keith, “and all kids grumble when there is nothing to do in the car, evoking the universal whine, ‘Are we there yet?’”

You don’t have to be a homeschooling advocate to benefit form the concepts prescribed in Keith’s book. The philosophy behind the “games” is to make learning entertaining and fun. Keith points out that sometimes kids will understand the rules, and other times they won’t, “but please, please, please do not show your frustration and don’t allow the other players to tease. Maintain a joyful environment that is full of support, patience and praise.”

Keep the rules as flexible as possible. “There is often a wide age range in carschools. Give older players handicaps to make the games and activities fair for everyone.”

Turn competitive games into cooperative games by having everyone do the activity together. Set a time frame, and once it is achieved everyone wins or gets a treat.

The most frustrating aspect of car trips is the traffic. Do not let your anger or frustration, with other drivers, or road problems, affect the game. Make up your mind that you and your partner are going to enjoy this trip and the opportunity to communicate with your children or grandchildren.

Keith suggests games that cover all of the subjects typically required by national curriculum standards including English, social science, foreign language, physical education, science, math, visual and performing arts, health, and other electives. You just might learn something new yourself. For example:

• Turn your car into a mobile bug collection box with Windshield Entomology.

• Turn historical markers into roadside textbooks in the game Drive-By-History.

• Use Fastlane Fractions or Dashboard Decimal Drills to reinforce math concepts.

• Pack your stopwatch for the next rippin’ and roarin’ Rest Stop Olympics.

Decide on your “Carschooling” strategies in advance. Set behavior guidelines before getting into the car. Include the kids in a discussion about what behavior is expected and detail the consequences for inappropriate behavior.

Determine seating arrangements before you get in the car. Have plenty of story tapes to listen to, as well as things to do like drawing, coloring and puzzle books.

“Limit time spent playing electronic games in the car,” Keith advises. “Many adults find that children get hyper, frustrated and ill-tempered if they play for too long.”

What about those “She’s touching me!” gripes? “Kids are less tolerant of cramped quarters. Many adults who don’t own vans say that placing a box or cooler between the kids can cut down on bickering over space.” Every little bit helps.

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Jaine Carter, Ph.D., is the author of the book “He Works She Works” and wrote a national weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service. Dr. Carter is a relationship coach working with people to help break down barriers and build bridges toward win/win solutions.

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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