Patrick and Madeline are going on a summer trip with their parents. They're driving up to their favorite creek in the Pennsylvania hills. To get there, the family will spend five hours on the road in their car.
Patrick won't mind the drive; he's just a baby, and he sits in his car seat and takes long naps. But Madeline is older, and she tends to get kind of bored during long trips.
Even before the family has left Maryland, she's wondering how much longer the trip will be, and whether it's time to stop for a snack and a bathroom break.
Summer car trips are lots of fun -- as long as you plan for them. Joanne Evers, an instructor in the Family Sciences Child Development Laboratory at Purdue University in Indiana, has some suggestions for making car trips more enjoyable for everyone. Evers has a lot of experience at traveling with children. She's the mother of twin boys who are now teen-agers.
During the trip, Evers suggests, everyone should agree to talk in a quiet voice. That way, the driver won't be distracted from the important job of paying attention to traffic. Everyone in the family must wear seat belts at all times. Babies and toddlers must stay strapped in their car seats. It's much safer to travel that way, and it's the law in many states, including Maryland.
Evers suggests taking rest breaks every 2 1/2 hours. Before you start the trip, plan where you will stop so you have something to look forward to. During the rest breaks, take time to stretch your legs. Evers suggests packing a picnic lunch. It's a lot cheaper than restaurants, and outdoor eating provides a chance for the kids to run around and play catch and get some fresh air.
Madeline's family won't be packing a picnic, though. They plan to stop at a special Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant where they make really good pie. To avoid dehydration -- getting too dry and thirsty from the summer heat -- Evers suggests that travelers pack a cooler with healthy snacks like peaches or carrots, along with a thermos of water. It's also a good idea to make sure there's a well-stocked first aid kit in the car.
When Madeline's mom was a little girl, she used to make the same drive to Pennsylvania with her family. In those days, the trip was even longer. But there were lots of billboards along the two-lane roads. The kids could play an alphabet game by reading the billboards on either side of the road and trying to find all the letters.
Now that most of the family's trip to Pennsylvania is done on a large interstate highway, it's hard to collect enough letters to make an alphabet game worthwhile. Instead, Madeline and her parents could count out-of-state license plates, or red convertibles, or how many horses they see in the fields they pass.
Guessing games can be fun, too. Some families like to sing or make up silly stories as they drive.
Taking along a familiar pillow or blanket and a favorite toy or two can make a trip easier for young children, Evers says. It helps little kids feel more comfortable, and brings back memories of home. If you want to do this, don't be worried that it's too babyish. Many adults travel with something familiar to remind them of home, too. ::
Tips for Parents
Joanne Evers of Purdue University's School of Consumer and Family Science reminds parents that everyone -- adults as well as children -- gets excited and anxious about traveling. Parents need to be patient with themselves as with the children. In addition, she cautions: Any change in schedule is trying for children. Try to keep eating and sleeping patterns as normal as possible. You may be able to sit still in anticipation of the great time you'll have at the beach, but for young children it's hard to think ahead. A child is tuned in to the here and now. Let the kids pack a small bag of toys and a lunch box of their own. Encourage them too include such things as raisins, Cheerios, toy cars, crayons, pencils and paper. Then pack more toys on your own such as bingo games, magnet boards, magic slates, dot-to-dot drawings and a tape recorder with story, music and blank cassettes.
These books contain more ideas to help you get there in one piece: "How to Take Trips with Your Kids" by Sandford and Joan Portnoy (Harvard Common Press), "Games to Play in the Car" by Michael Harwood (St. Martin's), "Steven Caney's Play Book" (Workman). Catherine O'Neill is a free-lance children's writer in Baltimore.