Road trips are about as American as apple pie. I have many fond childhood memories of piling in the car with the family, and setting off for a road trip adventure. Oh, and what adventures we’d have. My dad would take any opportunity to teach us about our new surroundings. Once he even pulled over on the side of a two-lane highway and made us all get out of the car, just so he could show us a dead rattlesnake on the road. He explained it as an “educational lesson about the species that live in this environment.” My mother was not amused.
In a this digital age where life can feel much too busy, take a couple days to create these treasured childhood memories. Put the cellphone away, turn off the iPad, and hit the road — a family that travels together, learns together.
Here are five important lessons your kids can learn from a family road trip:
Lesson 1. Spatial Reasoning
Helping Mom and Dad pack the car can really teach a child a lot. Figuring out the most effective way to get every suitcase, pillow, cooler, and all miscellaneous packages into the car will help teach spatial reasoning, logic, and, most importantly, it will free Mom and Dad’s time to do something else. Encourage the kids to come up with their own plan of action and test it out to see if it works. If it doesn’t work, talk about what might be the problem, and try again.
Lesson 2. Navigation Skills
Before the big day, sit down with your child and map out the trip. Use the Thomas Guide (a staple of my childhood road trips) to find the shortest routes, learn how to read a key, and calculate travel times. Having a child that knows how to read a map will really come in handy when Dad’s “shortcut” puts the family in the middle of nowhere! You can also give the kids a compass and have them help you out throughout the trip by learning all about direction.
Lesson 3. Spontaneity Can Be Fun
Don’t be in a hurry to “make good time” on your family road trip. Instead, take time to stop and learn about all the roads you’ve traveled. Visit local mom and pop shops instead of big chain restaurants; your children might get an amazing history lesson from the little old lady that runs the shady diner on the side of the road. If you are driving at night, pull over to a safe place, and teach the kids about constellations, while looking at all the magnificent stars above. Bonus: This can give everyone a good stretch before you hop back in. Teaching the kids that it’s okay to just go with the flow and veer off the path for a spontaneous adventure can be fun, and it’s great for them to learn how to take new experience in.
Lesson 4. Patience is a Virtue
Being squished in the car for hours can make anyone go crazy. It can also make for the most wonderful memories and laughter-filled moments. When you think you might scream if you hear, Frozen’s “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” one more time, take a deep breath, and instead of totally losing it, bring out your inner-Elsa and start singing just as loudly as your children. You might find that everyone loosens up a bit for a good laugh. Take this opportunity to teach the kids about finding new ways to stay occupied to pass the time. You can all work together to come up with creative games to play when they are feeling bored.
Lesson 5. Potty Breaks Are Very Important
Just remember the golden rule of traveling … When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, especially when you are a 4-year-old. Make it a point to all use the loo before you hit the road until the next destination. Talk to the kids about why it is important to go and not to hold it for a super long time. We’ve even brought a plastic potty with us in the car just in case we got too close to having an accident. Which reminds me, definitely have a change of clothes on hand, for everyone.
Jacinda Boneau is a fabric designer and founding co-editor at Pretty Prudent, the premier design and lifestyle blog providing inspiration and instruction to help anyone create beautiful things, food, and experiences for their friends and family.