Yesterday, I started writing about my secrets for riding in cars with kids. If you are a parent and you have kids, I am sure you are asking yourself how to make the ride safe and happy for everyone. I hope the secrets I give here from 20 years of experience and many hours of being in the car with my kids will motivate you to get into the car with your kids and go on wonderful journeys of fun and joy together.
Secret #8: Play music and sing with your kids
One of our favorite activities in the car is listening to music and singing. It keeps the kids (and us) engaged and happy. Make sure you bring good music to your car and have a variety of music to suit everyone. Crossing Australia for 6 weeks, we even respected our 1-year-old daughter and sang Barney songs.
When they kids are tired – put on some soft, relaxing music.
A singing game we love to play is to sing a chain of songs, in which each one starts with the last word of the previous song (when we get stuck, we start in the middle).
Being in a small, isolated compartment has a big advantage when it comes to music. You can play it as loudly as you wish, you can sing off tune and you can make up your own words and harmonies, as long as everyone is having fun.
Secret #9: Tell your kids stories in the car
Another activity we love is telling stories. We tell real stories and made up stories, we tell the kids about movies we have seen (skipping the sections that are not suitable for their age) and about famous people.
A long time ago, I made up a kid called “Goosha” and told stories about him to help hundreds of kids to learn very sophisticated concepts. When my kids were born, I used the same kid to talk to them about friendship, values, excellence, learning, courage and commitment (by then I had already told hundreds of Goosha stories and “knew” many things about him). We could be in the car like this for years. Today, I tell my kids about the research I read and about my dreams and goals and we like to dream together about our future.
While we were crossing Australia, Gal was reading “The Consolations of Philosophy” by Alain de Botton, a book the greatest philosophers in history and their ideas. Every day, he would tell us a simplified version of what he had read the night before and we would discuss the various philosophies and test different scenarios to see if we liked them.
Secret #10: Let your kids read in the car
When we lived in Thailand, our car looked like a childcare center and a library. Sometimes, having books in the car is a very good idea. However, reading while driving can make kids throw up, so it is best to have picture books and short books, which do not require lots of concentration. The main reason this idea worked in Thailand was because we often spent several minutes without moving at all.
Secret #11: Play family games in the car with your kids
Family games are a great way to keep everyone busy and happy. There are many games that will keep kids busy for hours.
When they are young and learning the colors, find blue cars or red cars. It is best not to have competitions among the kids but between parents and kids, as this will be bonding for the kids. Since the most popular color for cars is white, this color is out of the game. As your kids get older, they can look for makes or even models of cars. Our kids look for Volkswagen Beetles and play Kiss Buggy.
Of course, this game can be changed to spotting birds, planes, animals, shapes in the clouds, signs and many other things, so you can always adapt it to suit your kids’ ages and styles.
Another game we like playing that works great is a version of “I spy”. One person picks an object or even a person and the rest need to ask “yes/no” questions until someone can guess what it was. You can limit the number of questions, as well as the number of specific guesses (“Is it the steering wheel?”) to make it more challenging. This is a good educational game for teaching kids to characterize, categorize, ask questions and eliminate options. When the kids are old enough, you can complicate this game by including ideas or concepts (like fire or electricity) as possible targets.
The dreaming (or “what if”) game is also one of our favorites. It helps kids imagine and focus on good things. Dreaming ideas are
- What would you do if you didn’t have to go to school?
- If you could go to any restaurant in the world and pick your best dish/desert what would that be (from this, I get ideas for dinner)?
- If you had all the money in the world what would you do with it?
- If you had to spend it on others who would you spend it on and how?
Dreaming can help you learn about your kids, help your kids learn about you and create a family bond, especially if you focus on dreaming together.
Finally, there are card or board games you need to bring with you, like Trivia, which can keep the family engaged for a long time.
Secret #12: Divide and conquer
Encouraging your kids to play together is a good strategy if the kids get along with one another. You can give them ideas for games (see above) or simple things, like cards, and they will keep themselves busy.
However, if your kids do not get along well, possibly because they are tired, and start fighting, one parent can always switch places with one of the kids to change the dynamics of the ride. The kid in the front may be able to navigate, while the kids at the back get some personal attention. After a while, swap the kids to be fair.
Secret #13: Hang toys for your baby
Many parents fear riding in the car with babies, but it can be very easy to keep babies busy in the car. I tied my babies’ toys to strings, which I attached to the roof of the car with strips of Velcro (on the inside, it is typically soft and the Velcro attached perfectly). From time to time, I rotated the toys.
I once even put a book there so my daughter could “read” it when she was just 6 months old. You can bring your baby’s favorite toys from home and hang them like this. It is just like having a mobile at home.
Babies alternate between playing, eating and sleeping, and can spend hours enjoying their soft felt activity toys that make gentle noises when they move. They reach for them, look at their colors and their motion and listen to the sounds they make for perfect stimulation.
We were lucky on our long trip, because the older kids kept the little one busy, but we also organized our schedule so that we drove while she had her afternoon nap.
Secret #14: Activities
While on the road, kids cannot really do a lot by themselves, mainly because drawing, reading and writing may make them feel sick, but for short periods, you can bring the kids some coloring books, crayons, pencils, markers and a drawing board. Also good are felt activities, magnetic games, mazes, Sudoku and word searches.
Secret #15: MP3 players
I left this one to the end. I personally do not like it when people sit in the car with their ears blocked by an MP3 player. I believe that going somewhere in the car is an opportunity to be together and if someone is “plugged in”, they are running away from intimacy and wasting some great quality time.
My daughter got her first MP3 player 2 years after finishing high school. She uses it only on the bus on her way to and from work and even there, she reads most of the time. However, I can understand that in some cases, an MP3 player can be a savior. If all else fails, it is better than an unpleasant ride.
Secret #16: Electronic games
Computer games and mobile phone games are again last options for me, mainly because they are not interactive and promote something I do not like – “computer kids”. However, I can understand that from time to time, playing electronic games can be similar to playing a game on a piece of paper. Just make sure your kids play good games – games that teach something valuable – as opposed to bad games, in which your kids shoot, hurt, kill or viciously compete with others.
Secret #17: Play movies
The absolute last thing I would do is get a DVD player in the car. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that watching TV is not my favorite thing to do. I love going to the movies, but I hate scheduling things around the TV and watching lots of junk and ads. I also do not like it when my kids watch movies on the computer, hunched and transfixed on the small screen, so the thought of them watching a tiny screen at the back of the car or, worse yet, on their phone is not very appealing to me. Again, however, I can understand that some parents may consider this a good investment to be able to ride in the car with their kids. The good thing about DVD is that you can pick movies you are happy for your kids to watch and when they are young, they happily watch the same ones over and over again.
Personally, I am not afraid of riding in the car with my kids and I think this is reflected by my kids’ behavior. I know people who never plan on driving for more than 2 hours “because the kids will drive us nuts”. They will not!
If you think about the time in the car with the kids in terms of “keeping them quiet” or “shutting them up” or “making sure they don’t fight”, things will be hard for you. However, if you think that riding with the kids is a great opportunity for bonding, building your relationships, developing them, inspiring them and a great way to use the time effectively, riding in the car with your kids can be lots of fun.
Gal and I drove with our kids thousands of miles in Texas, California, Arizona, Mexico, Thailand, Korea, China, France, Israel, New Zealand (both North and South Islands) and Australia. When I say “thousands of miles”, I mean hours and hours of driving in the car. In Thailand, we travelled around the country in the car for 6 months (out of a year and a half that we lived there) and when we were not travelling, we were stuck in traffic… We love to travel with our kids and they are a lot better off for it.
I hope you use my tips to make your traveling (and even short trips to the mall) fun for you and your kids.
Happy riding in cars with kids,