Make Labor Day road trips less work, more playful learning

This year Labor Day falls as late as it possibly can—Monday, September 7. For many families it’s a last hurrah before the school year begins and a chance to eke out one more Big Expedition. With just a week left to plan, if high mileage is in your future, consider how to keep kids amused on the road.

Based on AAA data, USA Today last year reported that 34.7 million Americans planned to travel over the Labor Day--86% of them by car.  Road trips can be exhilarating, but for kids with energy to burn, they can also feel stifling and confining. Looking for alternatives to 20 Questions, I Spy or Slug Bug? Moms Mini Van blog has posted “101 Car Travel Games and Road Trip Games for Kids.”  They even include Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock, a 5-option twist on the classic game, which includes a nod to the beloved Star Trek character.

Taking breaks and packing yummies and fun stuff also go a long way in peacefully passing the mile markers. In her Planning with Kids blog post titled “Car Travel with Kids: Enjoying the Trip,” Nicole Avery, a “Melbourne mum,” recounted portions of a road trip in Australia with 5 kids on board. One suggestion is to “Take plenty of breaks from the drive, at places where the kids can have some fun.” She also urges playing music and audio books, talking about what everyone is seeing out the window, and making sure each child has his/her own backpack with food and drinks. (Towels and face wipes, too!) The Land of Nod offers adorable animal-character backpacks and colorful lunch boxes that would be ideal.

Teresa Plowright, Family Vacations Expert for about.com, charmingly reminds us that “’rush’ is a four-letter word” and echoes Avery’s advice to allow ample time for stops. She suggests fast-food franchise playrooms, playgrounds, and picnic areas as entertaining pauses. She emphasizes, “A big part of happy car travel is getting out of the vehicle.” Plowright, too, suggests individual backpacks but urges adding crayons, books, stickers, and other activities to them.

To follow up on Avery’s idea of audio play, load the in-car DVD player with catchy educational tunes that will have the whole family singing along! What? Not everyone shares the same tastes, at the same time? Then use ETY•Kids safe-listening earphones. The volume heard will not exceed safe levels; even at the maximum setting on portable players, kids can listen safely for up to four hours per day. And because the earphones block background noise, and provide high-definition sound quality, kids will be able to hear every detail, and won't complain that the volume is too low.

Want to teach kids more about the US or see how much you know? State of Confusion is an amusing and info-packed app, available in Android, iOS, and Mac, that can be fun for the whole family. Start off learning key facts about the 50 states, including state capitals, state abbreviations, state flowers, state birds, state flags, and state nicknames. Next, put together a USA puzzle—a perfect game to learn state names, the location of each state, and which states are next to each other. Finally, test learning by selecting Quiz mode. Geography, memory and visual perception skills all get a work-out.

Other ways to make the miles count for more than odometer clicks include slender, easy-to-pack workbooks such as My First Crosswords Little Busy Book, My First Codes & Puzzles Little Busy Book, and My First Mazes Little Busy Book.

Or get 150+ great early reading books, songs, educational apps, and the original video series Charlie & Company preloaded on the Little Scholar® learning tablet, on sale through the end of August for just $129.99! Use it with or without Wi-Fi—in the car and/or at stops along the way.