Keeping an active toddler occupied during a long road trip may seem like an insurmountable challenge when you're busy packing all the clothes, diapers, snacks and extra equipment you'll need when you get to your destination. But it turns out that with a little advance planning, road trips with toddlers can go surprisingly smoothly. Even short trips can benefit from some tips and tricks.
If your minivan is equipped with a backseat DVD player, then you're home free. Just pop your toddler's favorite movie into the slot and drive. But even if you're not equipped with the latest technology, you can use media tools to keep your toddler occupied during a long road trip. Play kid-friendly road trip music via CD or mp3 player. Or put on a children's audio book for the duration of the trip.
Let your toddler scribble on a reusable magnetic or water-based tablet, then erase her design and begin again. This simple toy can provide hours of amusement for the right child -- you may not need any other strategy to keep your child busy on a long road trip. Another artistic option is a book of stickers and a small notebook or several sheets of paper. You'll need to accept the inevitable fact that not all of the stickers will end up on the paper proper, but if that's not a barrier, you can use anything from a set of transportation-themed stickers to a simple sheet of colorful address labels to entertain your toddler. A more expensive but rewarding option is to buy your child a toddler-friendly digital camera and let her take photos to her heart's content.
Buy a few new, cheap toys for the car trip if you can. Save them for moments when your toddler seems bored or restless, then bring them out as a surprise. With any luck, your child will be occupied by the novelty for a good long while. Good toys to pack for this sort of trick include toy cars and other transportation-themed items, lacing cards and oversized pipe cleaners -- make sure the ends aren't too sharp. Other toys that are good choices for a car trip include magnetic dress-up dolls, potato head toys and other toys with large interchangeable parts. You can also use a metal cookie sheet and large magnetic numbers, letters and other objects as a makeshift tablet. Make sure none of these toys have small parts and that they are labeled as suitable for children under 3 years old.
Pack plenty of snacks. The ideal car trip snack is one that won't be too messy, because cleaning car seats is never an easy endeavor. Try pretzel sticks or dry breakfast cereal. Vegetable puffs, graham crackers, fruit leather and rice cakes are all possibilities as well. Remember to keep food pieces smaller than 1/2 inch in diameter in order to minimize choking hazards. Don't forget to provide a bottle or cup of water with a sippy or sports lid, too.
- The Toddler's Busy Book: Trish Kuffner
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