Tired of being asked the same old question the minute you leave your street? Here are some technology-based suggestions for keeping your kids entertained on car journeys.
Perhaps it’s a traffic jam on your way to soccer practice. Perhaps it’s a road trip. Either way, you’re stuck in a car with the children. When you’re done catching up on their lives … when you’re all talked out about Briony Smith’s party and the puppy you’re definitely not going to buy … when you’ve sung She’ll be coming round the mountain more times than you can count … when you can’t possibly think up another object to I-spy-with-my-little-eye … it’s time to say goodbye to quality time with your family and turn to a technology solution.
“Are we there yet?”
Remember upgrading from cassette tapes to CDs? Back then, who would have imagined how quickly they’d become obsolete? While most older car models still come with the good old CD player, the newer vehicles have converted to car audio systems that take USB stick input. At first, this technology suffered from a bad reputation but nowadays, improvements have made it more reliable. You can even connect your iPod to the car’s audio system and play the songs stored in your play list. Or you can play the iPod directly if your car is still on CD input.
Your car’s audio system doesn’t have to be used to play only music, which runs the risk of a generation war between Roxette fans and those who prefer Katy Perry’s Firework. In our family, we use the CD player to play audio books, anything from The Very Hungry Caterpillar, though Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, all the way to the Harry Potter saga.
Listening to books that are beyond the children’s reading age has an amazing impact on their vocabulary and comprehension, as well as on their imagination. Listening to books read by professional actors, complete with intonation and different accents, not only enhances the book experience, it provides the kids with a great examples of how to read aloud in an entertaining manner, which can lead to improved public speaking and drama flair.
If your child loves to read and is lucky enough not to get motion-sick when reading in the car, the Kindle may just be a fantastic investment for your family’s car trips. That, or an ordinary paperback from the library, of course.
I used to know people who knew people who had DVD players installed in their cars. Now I know such people directly, which leads me to believe they’re becoming more commonplace. If you don’t have such a device in your car, you can use a portable DVD player, an iPad, an iPod Touch or the good old laptop.
A movie is an excellent way of making time pass faster on a longer journey. Just a word of warning, though: unless you’re playing short episodes of Little Einsteins, you might have a problem getting the kids out of the car for a pit stop!
And while we’re on warnings, I’m sure you don’t need reminding that the DVD screen should not be anywhere where the driver can see it.
hand-held game consoles
This can be a PSP, an iPod, an iPad or your own phone with Angry Birds loaded onto it. As long as you’re not opposed to computer games and your child can play them in a moving car without feeling sick, you’re set. Different parents have different rules as to whether this counts as screen time towards the weekly allowable limit. One household I know allows hand-held gaming devices only during car and aeroplane trips – they are banned in the house.
A digital camera is an often-undervalued piece of technological equipment. Most parents carry a camera, or a phone with a camera. The latest iPods and iPads also come with the ability to point-and-click. Children love taking photos. During a car trip, they will snap photos of the scenery whooshing past and take long videos of Mom and Dad arguing about which off-ramp to take.
Try it and you just may end up with something you’re happy to stick in your photo album when you get home. And even if all you find are pictures of
fingers or feet, at least the device kept the said fingers occupied. When you’re stuck in a car with tired children, every minute of distraction counts.
“Are we there yet?”
ages and stages
audio books under-8
- Thomas the Tank Engine stories by W. Awdry. Listening age: 3-6.
- Doughnut Danger by Anthony Masters and Chris Fisher. Listening age: 4-7.
- The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark by Jill Tomlinson. Listening age: 4-8.
- The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. The first in the Percy Jackson fantasy series. The good thing about this book is that it has lots of sequels. Listening age: 8+.
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Listening age: 8+.
- The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, also the first book in the series of Discworld for younger readers. Listening age: 10+.
where to find audio books
- Get audio books from your local library. If they don’t have the one you want, they will usually purchase the book for you.
- Children love hearing you speak. Record books as you read them to your kids and don’t worry if they interrupt you with questions or comments while the tape is running. Years down the line, you will search the recording and treasure their little voices.
- You can also record stories of what happened in your childhood and teen years.
- Search the Internet for legal free downloads of children’s stories and simply download them onto your computer, iPod or phone. http://storynory.com and www.booksshouldbefree.com/genre/Children both offer free audio books for kids.
- www.smories.com/iphone pioneered a concept of having children’s stories read by children online. You can download these onto your iPhone, iPod or iPad.
education ideas on cd
- Great for teaching anything from French to those pesky times tables: www.songsforteaching.com.
- Learn a new language using an audio course for children (e.g., “Little Pim”).
- Heaps of fun topics here: www.kids.learnoutloud.com
- How To Draw (free app)
- Nota to help you learn music theory
- Scrabble for the iPad (unlike in the conventional game, the letters won’t slide off the screen during the car ride)
- 2012 World Factbook – countries, flags, economies
- 10,500+ Cool Facts
Dr. Yvonne Walus is an education specialist consulting for Creative Learning Systems and mother of two.