My family loves road trips. We prefer to travel by car whenever possible, but not because we hate airplanes. So, why is a car our favorite mode of transportation for family trips? Because my husband and I like to be able to set the pace for the trip, and also because it’s a great opportunity for family bonding and to let the kids learn something new.
Road trips are so much more than a chance for your kids to zone out with their tablets while you save on plane tickets. If you do it right, they can be just as educational as a classroom.
1. Planning and decision-making
I let the kids help us plan every trip. We talk about how long it will take to drive to our destination and let them help decide where we will stop for breaks. As part of the planning process, the kids get to pack their own clothes — with some guidance, of course. They’ve learned how to decide how many pairs of underwear and socks to pack and what toys they can and cannot live without for a week or so. Letting them get involved in the planning process helps them learn how to make decisions and to plan for unplanned moments.
My family is a bit of a throwback in that we still use paper maps. With GPS systems available on smartphones, many think a good ol’ map is no longer needed. Well, they are in our house. My kids love to trace our route on the map before the trip and while we are driving. Sure, they get a kick out of watching a real-time GPS detailing our route, but we are firm believers in map-reading skills. We use our road trip as an opportunity to teach the kids how to tell north from south and what all the symbols on the map mean. Plus, I’m comforted in knowing that if they ever find themselves stranded without cell service, they have a fighting chance at finding their way back to civilization.
Eventually you will hear the dreaded “I’m bored” complaint. There are only so many movies you want to watch while sitting in the car. This is when the best games are made. My kids get creative with their takes on classic car games like I Spy or the license plate game. They take turns making up songs or telling jokes. Go ahead, turn off the tablets and DVD players — you’ll be surprised by what kids can do to entertain themselves.
“Are we there yet?” Yes, we do get that question about every hour. An effective way I was able to help our kids learn some patience on road trips was to give them a watch — an analog one. I show them what time we left and what time, approximately, it will be when we stop. When they ask me how much longer, I ask them where the hand is on the clock. Watches can teach kids how to read an analog clock as well as some patience.
5. Culture changes
Not everything is like it is at home, especially when you’re traveling far. It’s important for kids to get a taste of new places, from other customs and foods to ways of dress and new rules and expectations. When you stop for a bite to eat, try to discourage the old tried-and-true chicken nuggets meal, and offer a bite of local flavor. They might find a new favorite, and even if they don’t, they have a glimpse into something new.
It’s so much better to learn about history when you travel than from a textbook or website. As you travel, take time to stop at historic sites, and give your kids a fun lesson on what happened there. It’s a lesson that’ll stick much better than anything they would learn at school.
7. Vehicle maintenance
Taking care of your car is a big part of a road trip, and it’s also a great opportunity to start teaching your kids something useful. Let them help search out the best gas prices, clean the windows and check the oil and the tires. It gives them something to do as well as a head start for when they’re old enough to navigate their own ride.
If you are planning a trip soon, consider hitting the road. Not only is it a great way to bond with the family, but your kids can pick up valuable lessons. Get out there, and see the country with the kids.