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Road Trip Games

My family didn't do road trips. In fact, with six kids squeezed into the backseat of the station wagon, we barely made it to Church on Sunday. Now I know why. With three kids forward and the others rivetted against the seat, there was always someone sitting on top of someone else, squishing a hand, blocking views. No wonder our drives were permeated with my mother's constant advice to my dad to "Slow down, there are children in the back." As if he didn't know.

Our own drives have been better but only because we've come up with game plans bordering on military campaigns to stop the squabbling. At times, we've been desperate enough to suggest something as crazy as sand painting with a bin of beach sand, paper, and glue (Yes, sand did get all over the car) or an impromptu contest such as "Let's see how slowly you can eat a bag of chips. The one who takes the most kilometres gets another bag." I've also done amateur puppet shows with stuffed animals above the front passenger seat to gain 15 minutes of quiet.

In the interest of families who are planning a road trip this summer and mindful that we are trucking across New York State this month to the Baseball Hall of Fame, here are some strategies and tips.

Changing seats. For some reason, all our kids prefer the one spot in the car beside the drink holders, where there' enough leg room to stretch growing limbs (car manufacturers' take note), and where they can curl up against the window to look out or nap. We make them take turns. After one hour, they do a switch with blankets, pillows, Walkmans, etc. into another seat. That gives us three hours driving time until they've all had their turns and we can stop for a meal. When all three were in car seats, it was not that easy. But we used to switch the baby's car seat regularly so that she would at least have a new face to look at. It seemed to help.

Bins for Discovery. It took years to devise this system, but when we got it down, it worked. I filled three rubber bins with toys of different categories: a bin for art materials such as crayons, markers, scissors, paper, play doh, stickers and a plastic cutting board for drawing on; a container for science toys such as prisms, spinning things, oil and colored water in a jar, a shampoo bottle filled with water and some marbles, rubber bugs; and one for pocket games and puzzles such as small cards for Solitaire, foam squares, and travel Bingo. These bins were switched on an hourly basis too. The kids were allowed to play with these toys only during car trips. As a result, they started to look forward to long drives.

Songs and recordings. Tapes from the library have saved many a journey despite the fact we've heard Bread and Jam for Frances at least one hundred times. Some of our favorites over the years have been 101 Dalmations, anything by Roald Dahl, Grimm's fairy tales on the Caedmon label, and showtunes from musicals from Annie to Showboat. My sister Sheila started a tradition of taping the stories she read to her kids and sending the tapes to neices and nephews at Christmas and birthdays. They've been a great hit in the car. We've also brought along a tape recorder with a microphone. The kids have made tapes as Disc Jockeys (using music from the car radio), news anchors, game show hosts, and weather forecasters. A bonus when driving to visit relatives - you can hand over these tapes, often hilarious, as presents upon arrival.

Road Games. Interesting alphabet word games we've played: Travel Alphabet - Find a word on a sign that starts with "A," the next person finds a word starting with "B," and so on. The game ends when the last person finds "Z." Dad's Suitcase: The first person says: "In Dad's suitcase, I put an arrdvark." The next person continues, "In Dad's suitcase, I put an aardvark, and a big-toed baboon," and so on repeating until you get to "zebra" or wherever. Where are you going? - "I'm going to Saskatchewan, and I'm going to scare the snakes," or "I'm going to London, and I'm going to lobber the lobster." (Extra points for made-up words.) Younger kids can each pick a color and shout out everything they see along the road in that color. And then there's always family traditions such as one my daughter started when she was one. Everytime we passed a cow, the kids pointed and yelled, "Cow!" It passed the time.

Kid in a Box. Wendy Pelletier, a mom from Prince George, B.C., has come up with her own backseat solution. It's called Kid in a Box but it's actually a vinyl schoolbag that unzips to sit on a kid's lap. Equipped with pockets that fold down to hold crayons, paper, etc. and a reinforced centre section for drawing on, it's a sure bet for peace and quiet and a place to keep car toys and art materials. Available from Way to Go travel store. Call (416) 928-9166.





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