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Tips for Keeping Kids Engaged on a Car Trip



We’re planning an extensive and interesting vacation this summer by car…

…visiting historical sites, national parks, and other points of interest. Can you give us tips for keeping the kids, ages 10, 12, and 16, engaged?

Also, can our teenager get credit for some of the stuff he does on our vacation?


What a great plan! Keeping spirits up is so important. Do allow some “down time,” too.

Take tips from families who are full-time traveling homeschoolers. These families are on the go in their RVs, boats, and even bicycles for months on end. They are the masters of homeschooling on the road.

While many kids are very much into their electronics while traveling in a car, sometimes it is also fun to have the whole family engaged in looking out the windows. That’s why I’ve gathered this list of car games. There is also a version you can export to your cell phone so you have it along with you. Some games do require you print something out ahead of time.

As for your 16 year old, they could work on studying for their driver’s permit on the road when you are in areas that get cell reception. If they already have their permit, your teen could help out with some of the driving. (Please check with the jurisdiction that you will driving in to determine their laws with respect to out of state permits). In the early stages of learning to drive I allowed our son to drive through a redwood tree along the Avenue of the Giants (Redwood forest) at about 25 MPH. It is something he’ll never forget – he didn’t knock down even one of them!

Everyone should be involved with care of the car, doing specific jobs at each gas fill-up. Fill the tank, check the oil, wash the windows, take out the trash… make your own list.

Learn to use whatever navigation system you prefer to use.

Fill an iPod or two full of music and audiobooks.

Prepare and learn to use emergency kits: one for the car and one for the people. Make a plan for what you’ll do should you get in an accident or get separated.

At the natural areas, I’m assuming you’ll want to take day hikes. Here are some tips for hiking with kids.

Homeschoolers around the USA and Canada have helped me compile lists and links to their favorite field trip venues. Plan to swing through some of these places! Toward the bottom of that page there are links to special topic areas. Some sections of the land are great for finding out everything about, say, dinosaurs, aviation, or the Colonial Period.

As you travel and visitor centers beckon, do pick up materials to continue their interests when you return home. If the items aren’t small, see if the items can be shipped home, or visit their website, and toss items into an online shopping cart to finalize when you get home. You may also save money on impulse buys that way.

Consider some ongoing unit studies. When we did our trip cross country, we did “water tasting,” much as some might do wine tasting. We kept notes of where we were when we got water to drink, and how the water smelled and tasted. There are some places where the water tasted like sulfur!

Another fun topic is ice cream. Think of ice cream as a chemistry experiment. Avoid the big chains, and ask where the best local ice cream can be found.

An ice cream ball can be bought ahead of time and taken along. Bring the rock salt and vanilla, too. Ice can be gotten anywhere soda can be found, or from hotel ice machines. You’ll need to stop for half-and-half, too. Stop at fruit stands to make ice cream or sorbets with whatever is available.

Take photographs. Photography is an art form that can thrill for a lifetime. I download camera and photography manuals and ebooks to my iPad, so if I need tips on how to take a photo in a special situation, I’ll have it at my fingertips. Google your camera manufacturer, model number, and the word ‘manual.”

Have a wonderful time!

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