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Cheap Fun for the Road

Keeping the kids entertained while riding doesn't have to cost a thing.

In anticipation of some upcoming road trips and thus, whiny kids, I did something I haven’t done in quite some time: I got creative. Well, in truth, I sought the creativity of other moms by doing a bit of online searching for some fresh ideas on happy traveling. This used to be of utmost importance when my children were younger. I made a point of having a bag ready for each of them just before a meltdown. It contained all sorts of surprises and things that would, hopefully, keep them amused for one more hour.

If my daughter could read in the car without feeling queasy, we could drive to California and be a-okay. Ditto if there were a way my son could run and throw a ball in the car. Sure, we have puzzle books, dot-to-dots, and Mad Libs, but the fun in these will wear out fast. I’m also armed with quite a few camp songs to entertain the crew, but we all have to be in the right mood for those (especially the sometimes-cranky driver).

My search for something new led me to www.momsminivan.com, which was a little overwhelming, but I quickly found a number of great ideas for passing time in the car. I particularly liked the suggestions for games, as my children, aged 6 and 9, are very much into competition. For instance, you can ask the kids how far they think it’ll be to the next town, set the odometer, and see who wins (I’ll have to award prizes for this to work well). There’s also a printable checklist of all 50 states for playing the license plate game, and some super simple ideas for crafting in the car. With a little imagination, materials such as pipe cleaners and aluminum foil can be molded into all sorts of props and creatures.

After making notes of these suggestions, I came across something that looked particularly fun to make. The minivan mom calls it a “treasure bottle,” which is nothing more than a large jar or drink bottle containing rice or birdseed (no more than 2/3 full, though I actually used popcorn and dried beans, because that’s what I had) and an assortment of “treasures.” The treasures can be as mundane as a button or paperclip. The point is for the kids to try and spot each object within. You can either give them a list of everything you put in, or just tell them how many items to look for and have them record each as they go.

What’s sort of dumb about this, in my case, is that we have at least three of these ready-made “Find It!” games which were given as gifts. What’s really dumb is that they cost $20 apiece and the ones I made cost nothing at all (aside from my time, which I’m not counting because it was such fun). My kids almost never pick up the store-bought ones, but I’m hoping they appreciate the novelty of these and the fact that their mother actually took the time to make them. I'll let you know in a couple of weeks exactly how it turns out. If all else fails, there’s always the DVD player.

I’m just thankful that backseat nursing is behind us.

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