Monday, July 12, 2010

Honey, don't forget to pack the baking sheet!

I have had several frantic calls and e-mails the past two weeks from mothers who were facing the daunting prospect of keeping toddlers entertained during a long trip in the car. They didn't necessarily call because they thought I am a wellspring of wisdom and creative ideas. No, I think it was more a matter of knowing that I have recently returned from such a trip myself...and survived to tell the story!! I realize that the extra long school holidays are now at an end, so this post may come a little late for some of you, but before we know it, it will be December and many of us will be making long trips again!

I will admit that of all the preparations I made for our holiday, preparing activities for the long ride in the car took up most of my time. My children, and especially little Arrow, do NOT like being strapped down in their car seats for anything longer than 15 minutes. I am glad to say that he slept beautifully for most of the six hours it took us to reach our destination, and when he was awake he was kept cheerful with raisins! I also kept a bag full of small toys at my feet and 'fed' it to him through the slit under my headrest - he thought it was hilarious! I think the trick with really little ones is to be armoured with PLENTY of little playthings that will capture their attention, and to rotate it with something new as soon as the novelty wears off.

The 'bag of tricks' I took along for Sweetpea took more time and energy to prepare, but being older she was busily occupied for longer stretches of time during the ride itself, making it all worth while. I will share some ideas that she enjoyed, but first allow me to interrupt myself with this little observation:

We were about an hour and a half into our journey when we had to make a potty stop for Sweetpea/nappy change for Arrow at one of the large service stations on the route. Many other families were also stretching their legs and fueling up, and as I was on my way back from the rest rooms with the children, I noticed how many cars had small TV screens on the back of the front seats. One family had two toddlers in car seats, each with his own screen, and it struck me that while mom and dad were standing cheerfully outside the vehicle enjoying a cup of something hot and steamy, the little ones were still glued to those screens, wholely disinterested in anything going on outside the vehicle.

Now mind you, this was during the first week of the Soccer World Cup, and the atmosphere at that service station was electrical! Sweetpea laughed at the petrol attendants blowing their vuvuzelas, and we stood chatting to a group of Australian fans who were travelling to the next game in a luxury bus. I pointed the bus out to Sweetpea and we counted its many wheels, and during the rest of our trip she would very excitedly pick out more buses at every stop.

My point is this: there is so much to be seen on a car trip, be it to the shop around the corner, or to the other end of the country. There is so much to talk about and discuss - even with young children - about the world they live in: See that big excavator? What colour is it? Do you see how much further they are with this road since we drove past here yesterday? Oh, look at that blue crane in the field! That is our national bird. See that cloud that looks like a huge teddy bear?! Here we are passing a donkey cart!

I have so much more on my heart about this, but I will save it for a future post and get myself back onto track by ending with a quote I heard recently: "Let's not sacrifice the eternal on the altar of the immediate..."

So how do I keep my toddler *meaningfully* entertained during long car trips? Here are a few ideas:

  •  Bend me, shape me...A pack of coloured pipe cleaners have found a permanent home in our glove box. I fold over the ends for safety's sake, and pass one to the back at the first signs of irritability. Sweetpea loves bending it into all kinds of shapes, and Arrow also likes playing with these bright, bendable fluffy sticks!

  • Stuck on you...Magnetic books are great for the car, because the pieces usually stay put quite well! I bought a few from Bargain Books where the child has to match colours, numbers, shapes and even letters by placing the magnetic pieces over the corresponding pictures in the books. We also have one on Noah's Ark: one page tells the story, while the opposite page is a colourful backdrop on which the child can stick the magnetic characters and 'act out' the story.

  • The main 'attraction'...An inexpensive baking sheet from the Crazy Store has been a great hit with Sweetpea on long trips. You can get really creative with this for older children, too, but my two-and-half year old was happily satisfied with simple magnetic games: The first was a bag of colourful pom-poms glued onto small round magnets.  (NOT for babies who might swallow them!) I printed out some simple colouring pages and drew circles on them with a black marker. Sweetpea then had to stick a pom-pom onto each circle!

 I also gave her some inexpensive fridge magnets with a garden theme (flowers, bees, butterflies) with which she could build a 'story'.

Small magnets glued to the back of some of Smile's  Logi Shapes is another favourite. For older children you can do the same with a Tangram set (click here to read my Tangram in the kitchen post!)

  • A large clipboard serves as a handy lap easel for a toddler in a car seat who wants to do some drawings or colorouring pages.
  • We also keep a ball or pinwheel windmill handy for when we get out for bathroom breaks. We have such an abundance of beautiful, well-equiped farm stalls in this country, and it is worth it to keep your eyes open for one with a nice stretch of lawn or other safe, open space where little ones can spend some pent up energy running or kicking a ball for a few minutes.
  • I packed a set of Finger puppets and we had many giggles as the Dad did the voices for the characters while I told the stories!
  • And why not make smaller versions of my I Spy Jar (click here to read about it) to take along on your journey?
Hope there are one or two ideas in here that you can use on your next trip. I would love to hear about your tried and tested toddler boredom busters, so be sure to drop me a line!


  1. Great ideas Joyful Mama!! And I so agree with you about those little portable TV screens!!

  2. Hi Joyfulmama,

    I have been visiting your blog recently and to tell the truth, I am stunned. You are so inspiring! In the beginning, i did not see Arrowboy and thought that you were able to spend time with your gal because she was the only kid you had....then i realized that there is another little boy too. Wonderful balancing act!

  3. Hi Indy and welcome to my blog - so glad to hear you've been enjoying your visit to my little corner of the blogosphere. Yep, I sure do have a little boy, too, and that's not all: we have little one due in September, so soon we'll be a nice little crowd for doing all kinds of fun things together! Hope you will pop in again soon!


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