I LOVE the preschool stage!!! Kids this age tend to be gung-ho for just about anything! And a road trip is right up their alley (at least it was until they had been in the car for 15 minutes!).
There are so many things that preschoolers can do (I’m thinking mainly of ages 2 to 5ish):
Clothing: Choose outfits based on comfort. Dressing up the princess in frilly, scratchy finery for the usual ‘tourist’ photos along the way may just backfire if you can’t get anything but a pout out of her because she’s had a long, uncomfortable ride. One thing that my younger kids LOVE to do while we are traveling, is to wear clothing that signifies where we are going (or have been); but, I’m way too cheap to buy them in the overpriced gift stores once we get there (unless they have a great clearance rack!). We let others pay the high prices, their kids wear them once, and then we get a practically new memento for a fraction of the cost with a little pre-planning; we have found all sorts of great tees at the thrift stores or ebay for locations that we have been or know that we are going. Thomas was tickled to get a Joshua Tree (N.P. in CA) Jr. Ranger t-shirt at Goodwill soon after we had completed the program (and we found it here in MT!). I really like to find the clothing before we go, and the kids are tickled when I pull them out and surprise them right before that trip or stop.
Food: In case you haven’t noticed from my previous articles, we really like to snack while we travel! LOL! The kids are not allowed to ‘graze’, but we do offer a snack now and again – breaks the monotony and gives them a little more energy, which helps with the “I’m tired” and “I’m bored” whines. For this age, we love to take fruit, individual packs of trail mix, string cheese, pretzels, granola bars… tho if you ask my kids, they will request fruit snacks, candy bars, and soda… And my kids love those little disposable toothbrushes, so, especially if you are taking sticky-sweet snacks, think about picking up a few packs, or tossing an extra toothbrush in a baggie in the glovebox…
Toys: For this age, I don’t stock up so much on clearance items, unless it is a toy that we are already collecting… like legos (or duplos) or pet shops…in which case I will buy small add-on sets for the trip. Toys that are hand-held are best; toys where you set up a play scene are not so great as it can get frustrating if it is ruined by bumps or turns. Small building sets that hook together or are magnetic can be fun though. This age loves magnetic/felt books (which we already keep on hand for church) – the ones where you have scenes and you add the details via small magnets/felt pieces. We usually find ours at Costco, but they can be purchased at Walmart, Target, book stores… If your child has a lovey, don’t forget to bring it.
Activities: Preschoolers are a busy lot – especially boys (at least my boys were!)! I always tried to find them colorful books about the location/activity that we were going to do. There are lots of printable games from the internet, and we also played I Spy games or Can You Find (a blue license plate, a car with a dog in it, four trees, a cow, a river, another van like ours…). Make your own version of Bingo based on items that the kids are likely to see in your surroundings; draw a grid and quickly sketch some items for the kids to find – you don’t have to be an artist – the kids will be tickled by the new game even if they have to ask you what a picture is supposed to be (known from experience). My kiddos also love activity books (even the boys) – variety renews interest, so consider mixing in a sticker book, a hidden picture book, maybe one of those coloring books with the marker that ‘reveals’ details or adds colors; I try to choose small books as getting new ones more often is exciting (and I get to throw them away sooner!). Also, hands on games like rock-paper-scissors are a hit…
Music/CDs: One of our favorite on the road activities is to listen to book on tapes. Even preschoolers will sit and listen (and absorb) a hours-long book if it is engaging. Choose based on age appropriateness, and the length (and interest) of your trip. Don’t start an hour long story if you have only a 45 minute drive, or you may just find yourself sitting in the car to finish it even tho you have arrived, and starting a story when driving through interesting scenery in unnecessary (save it for when you need it). New, fun, engaging music is a welcome change: do you remember any songs from your youth that you would like to share with your kids – now is the time (you have a captive audience!:)). And preschoolers love to sing too! If you haven’t already, now is the time to introduce them to family sing alongs in the car!
And now I’m going to reveal my favorite on the road tool (drum roll please) – it is what all my kids enjoy, from preschoolers to tweens – they can share it for games, they can use them individually for drawing, to practice their numbers and letters, to just plain scribble on (and it’s reusable!)… My favorite activity/toy for in the car is a write-on/wipe-off board with WASHABLE dry erase makers! There are lap-size dry erase boards that are the size of a piece of paper – many of them are blank on one side and lined on the other – both can be used to write on. Add in a set of dry erase markers (washable only for this age, at least at my house!), and the kids are busy for hours. My preschool kids play games like tic-tac-toe, draw animals (sometimes making me do the drawing!), practice letters or numbers, scribble :)… and who know what else, but they are busy with those boards for a long time!
Keeping a mental list of activities to suggest when the kids start to get fidgety is a great start to a fun road trip. Let your kids amuse themselves as long as they can/do before starting to pull tricks out of your bag. Kids these age are so varied – some with travel contentedly for days, humoring themselves, while others need some help keeping their minds occupied. And so much of the journey depends on the surrounding of your travels – miles through country with lots of roadside attractions/animals needs little entertainment – while driving I- through Nevada may just use up an extensive list of ideas to keep them occupied! 🙂
Breaks: Probably the most important tool that you will need to utilize while traveling with preschoolers is the ‘pit stop’ – not just for potty breaks (but do NOT forget that each time you stop!), but to get out and stretch their legs for 10 or 15 minutes. If your preschooler is active, this is a great time to hold a mini P.E. class with laps around the picnic table, jumping jacks, or just a wiggle dance. And try to find something interesting about your stop, like chasing lizards in the desert where there is nothing else around, or stopping for a snack at an interesting rest area. Try to plan extra time for random, last second stops – just for when you see something that would be fun to check out like that big cow statue tourist-trap along side the road or a beautiful little waterfall (don’t forget to take pics!). Then encourage them to hit-the-road again to see what other great stops you are going to find!
The destination is not the only great part about a road trip or vacation with a preschooler; with a little effort, getting there may just be the best time!