Summer means family-vacation time. Whether your trip's a short hop to Grandma's or a cross-country trek, most parents -- and children -- dread the drive to their destination.
To make the ordeal bearable, here's a survivor's guide to family car trips.
KEEP 'EM BUSY KEEPING RECORDS -- Give each child a notebook/logbook. Record the passengers, date, destination, departure and arrival times and use it as a diary of en route events. You can also use the notebook for word games, artwork, a nature list or game scores. Children too young to write can dictate or record happenings with pictures.
A photo album with plastic covers can also serve as a vacation scrapbook. Start with a map marked with your route and add tourist brochures, matchbook covers, post cards and original artwork. Instant-print photos are also great additions.
PACKING POSSIBILITIES -- Felt-tipped markers, tape, crayons and lots of paper, with clipboards to rest it on, are indispensable. Small, never-seen-before trinkets are priceless time-passers. Pass them out in times of desperation or put them in a grab bag and have each child reach in and try to guess what an object is before claiming it. Include some edible goodies, too.
WARNING -- Never take along scissors, pencils or any toy with sharp edges. They're hazardous as are such long-lasting but potentially dangerous goodies as lollipops on a stick.
MAKE SOUNDTRACKS -- Take along a cassette recorder and play tapes of favorite songs and records that you've recorded before leaving. Include some stories and listening activities and also record those books that you seem to read aloud over and over. Don't forget a blank tape or two for singing, reciting or telling stories.
FINGER PUPPETS -- Before departure, make your own by snipping the fingertips from a mate-less glove and decorate with button eyes and yarn hair. Or just draw directly onto your fingertips with water-soluble markers. Write the script, tape the performance.
BOOKS -- As well as bringing along old favorites, add some new books to your portable library. If notified in advance, your librarian will select titles appropriate to your destination. But be careful to keep them in a special bag or box to prevent their being left behind at a snack bar or campsite.
COLORED PIPE CLEANERS -- Transform these into a menagerie, a family or geometric shapes. Untangle them and create again.
ACTIVITY BOOKS -- Mazes, anagrams, crossword puzzles, hidden pictures, riddles and work scrambles will keep the whole family busy.
MAGIC SLATE -- This will save the paper supply when playing connect-the-dots, hangman or tic-tac-toe.
CARD GAMES, FLASHCARDS AND MAGNETIC BOARD GAMES -- Many companies now make travel-size versions of such favorites as Scrabble, Parcheesi, Othello and checkers. All have pieces that stick to or rest in grooves on the game board.
DUFFEL BAG -- Have each child pack a few of his or her favorite toys. These bags can be closed tightly, don't take up much space, limit what can be packed and can be easily carried. They also prevent a lot of squabbles that occur when all take-alongs are considered community property.
NAVIGATORS ALL -- Get a map for each child to follow with the route marked. Include a list of landmarks and towns the kids can look for along the way. Have an en route discussion about the key and find examples of large and small towns, main roads, back roads, route numbers and bridges.
REDEEMABLE COUPONS -- Make up your own coupons that have a monetary value -- "Good for the purchase of two postcards" -- or offer a special privilege -- "You pick the next activity" or "You can be navigator."
MAGAZINE PICTURES -- Select scenes showing people or animals in action. Use them as a beginning point for make-believe stories. One person begins the story, each person adds on, and the last person ends it. Let the cassette tape roll, then play it back and giggle.
HAPPY TRAILS MIX -- Avoid salty foods, too many sweets or messy, crumbly snacks. Grapes make an excellent thirst-quencher and snack, as do raw vegetables. Hollow out the center of a carrot with a paring knife and fill it with peanut butter.
BORED GAMES * Give each child a list of things to look for on the trip. A picture list will do for those too young to read. * One person watches the mileage and the others raise their hands when they think one mile has passed. Closest one wins. * To test your recently gained mileage know-how, select a landmark in the distance and guess how far away it is. Check the mileage indicator again. * Decide as a group to draw a person or an animal. The first artist draws the head and shoulders, then folds his artwork under so only the tip of the shoulder lines show. He passes it on to the next person who draws the trunk of the body, folds it under, and passes it to a third artist to complete. Unfold and see the mismatched masterpiece. * Look for natural landmarks that remind you of something. Trees, rocks, mountains, or clouds can look like faces, animals or people. * Choose a word and try to make a reasonable sentence beginning with the letters of the word. (WHEN: We hope Ellen naps.) * Name a word and form words from its letters. (TRAVEL: rave, tale, let, etc.) *Write the letters of the alphabet down the side of a sheet of paper. Try to find things along the way that start with each letter. *Memorizing is fun and takes up a lot of time. Little ones can try to learn nursery rhymes or memorize alphabet books. The older crowd can tackle poetry or limmericks or write their own. * Tongue Twisters are fun, too. To refresh your memory: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. She sells seashells by the seashore. Unique New York. Rubber baby buggy bumpers. Say "bad blood" 10 times. * Sing rounds: Frere Jacques; Three Blind Mice; Row, Row, Row Your Boat. * Don't forget the old favorites: I Spy, States and Capitals, Twenty Questions, Count the Cows and License Plate Tally. * One passenger is the mirror image while the others become the mirror and imitate his actions -- smiling, frowning, an elbow in the air, a head scratch, a wave. * A jump rope and an inflatable ball won't take up much space in your car and will provide a nice break on a long trip. * Switch seats so everyone gets a new view and a chance to count cows and license plates on the other side of the highway.