By Dr. Rebecca Jackson | Contributor
There are few things better than an annual family road trip and discovering new places together. From state parks to scenic mountain views or a straight drive to grandma and grandpa’s house, road trips are a great way to make memories.
However, going on a road trip with the family can be stressful. Good news is, you can make the most of downtime spent in the car by focusing on learning opportunities. With millions of families hitting the road for vacation, here are some tips on how to make time in the car educational for kids.
Planning Your Educational Road Trip
First and foremost, get your kids involved in the planning of the trip. You can find an age-appropriate book on the areas you plan on driving through and let them come up with ideas or suggestions of what they’d like to do and why. Have them make a pros/cons list for the activities.
You can also involve the kids in planning the stops along the way.
Let them research how long it will take to get to the next town where you can stop for lunch or dinner. Include mileage and time to help with their math skills.
Don’t forget to balance the trip with city/country adventures. Theme parks and museums can be great, but seeing a park, waterfall or different types of vegetation and landscapes can be interesting as well. Driving by famous landmarks is a great teaching moment and a fun way to play tour guide! Create a list and everyone in the car can take a landmark. Research the significance, what happened there, and why it matters. For older children and teens, let them do the research and guide the family through each landmark as a docent in training!
If there is time, plan to stop at different parks and natural sites to look at things you can’t see around home. Consider visiting a waterfall, a forest, a mountain with a view, and more. Going through many different parts of the country is a good opportunity to show kids natural phenomena they don’t get to see on a daily basis.
Taking Your Educational Road Trip
Now that you’ve planned your educational road trip, now is the time to take it! Once you’re in the car, let your kids help navigate. Consider handing them a hardcopy map to trace your route as you drive. Consider letting them navigate where to turn, what exits to take, etc. so you can help them develop map reading and geography skills.
Reading maps and developing navigational skills helps the brain to form more neural pathways and improve spatial awareness.
When families look back on road trips together, they always remember the games played along the way. If you’re in a different region of the country, have the kids start a list in the car of Same/Different – what is the same as home and what is different. Make it fun and discuss restaurants, landmarks, animals, etc. For younger children, play counting games to help improve their numbers. Consider having kids count things like certain colored cars, particular chain restaurants, or animals. The alphabet game is perfect for emerging readers.
Last but not least, listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Pick out some audiobooks or podcasts that are kid-friendly and educational. Play those on the car radio while you drive. Consider picking out a podcast or book that is related to the trip you are taking or one that is linked to something that they are learning in school.
By helping your kids learn while you drive, you can keep them occupied and make the trip a low-stress, enjoyable time for everyone involved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Rebecca Jackson is VP of Programs and Outcomes for Brain Balance.