I am that mom. You know the one. The annoying kind. I am both mother and teacher rolled into one and, for the life of me, I can’t get away from being an educator when I’m with my children. Even when they were younger and thought that “playing school” was a fun activity, I practiced on them for things I was going to try in the classroom. Sometimes, I even let them grade papers with me because they thought using a red pen was fun.
When we travelled, I used every opportunity to continue teaching them, but that’s probably more for me than for them. I took regular subjects from their classrooms and used those occasions as teachable moments.
Teaching math? Use mileage and gas prices for older kids.
Teaching geography? That one is easy when you’re in the car and are driving from point A to point B.
Everything you do at home can be made into a game while you’re in the car on those long road trips and it gives children a chance to pass the time while also learning something.
Here are a few of the tricks I used when my children were young to keep them entertained and educated at the same time we drove places. Some of them are better suited for long trips, but even something as simple as reading road signs can work when you’ve got all the kids in the car on the way to the grocery store or bank. (Ooohhh! More math!)
Math Mileage 1 of 7
Math Mileage is actually more fun than you think and kids can get a sense of money while you're traveling. Once you know how far your destination is, have kids calculate how much gas it will take to arrive. Then, when you purchase gas, make them figure out how much money it will cost to get there. Not only did my children learn to do math everywhere (seriously, even in the backseat of my car) it made them aware of the importance of cost. When they asked me to run them over to a friend's house I'd ask them how much money it would cost me to do that. (Bonus: Sometimes they decided to ride their bikes there because they knew I'd ask them to do this. I win!)
Reading Billboards 2 of 7
Traveling with small children who are learning to read is made a little easier when you spend time practicing reading. When my children were emerging readers and could recognize letters I used signs like this old Texaco sign and asked what letters they read and what sound the "T" made. Once they could read, we made a game of reading as many signs as possible while I was driving. The only time this backfired on me was when I told them we were "Almost there" on a trip and they could read the signs that told them it was still another 100 miles.
Science & Weather 3 of 7
Teaching science-related activities while on the road is easier than you think and my children learned all about condensation and how a defroster works because I couldn't turn off the teaching. I patiently explained to them that when the temperature inside an object is warmer than the temperature outside, this makes the water molecules go through the process known as condensation.
Of course, they had me test it by not turning on the defroster while we were in the car (make sure you're stopped when you do this or else you can't see out the window!) and once they learned that, they constantly asked me on road trips if they could write on the cold windows. "But, mom! I'm writing in the condensation!" is hard to combat when you've just taught them this trick.
Geography 4 of 7
Before technology apps and navigation systems were put in cars, I used the old fashioned foldable maps with my children and taught them geography that way. This was a strictly in-the-car lesson I taught until our insurance guy gave us all the Atlas books we wanted (he was super nice that way).
Sometimes, before a long car trip, I would give my children a map and have them write out the directions to getting there for me. Usually, they wanted to unfold the map in the car and have it out as we traveled which helped them understand mileage and pit stops better.
Disclosure: I am a total map nerd and can look at them for hours at a time. This is a great teaching tool for children.
Fine Arts: Music 5 of 7
I am a true music lover, so taking road trips, for me, usually means an opportunity to listen, uninterrupted, to my favorite songs for long periods of time. Before my children had opinions on music choices, they were forced to listen to anything that I wanted to hear. Taking car trips with children provides an chance to listen to something new or, sometimes, to play in the car.
Mason, my oldest son, plays trumpet and when he finally sounded well enough to actually identify what he was belting out, he brought his trumpet on car trips and played songs for us to guess. I let my children take turns picking a new and different radio station so we could broaden our horizons, too. (Important note: trumpet players must sit in the very back of the car or else they'll blast your eardrums.)
Handwriting 6 of 7
This one may seem like a stretch, but honestly, I teach my children everywhere we go and would let them practice handwriting on my car, in the condensation, and with washable markers while we were driving (writing on paper, of course).
Heck, even if we weren't driving somewhere they would practice handwriting with their fingers in spilled flour or with Jell-o. But, it was something special when I let them write words like "snow" in the snow on my vehicle. I meant it when I said I am a teacher through and through and that I teach everywhere.
Foreign Languages 7 of 7
Honestly, the only language I've ever known other than English is Spanish, and even that is getting harder to remember as I get older. We played games in the car with learning Spanish when I would ask the kids, "Which way should I turn now?" if they were telling me how to get to a destination. "Right! Turn right!" they'd yell. That's when I switched it up on them. "Oh, yeah? How do you say that in Spanish?" and they would have to tell me. (Derecho, if you don't know that, but honestly saying "left" in Spanish, izquierda, is much more fun to trill your Rrrrrrs.)
Practicing road signs is easy with this game, too. When you come to a stop sign ask them how to say "stop" in Spanish or whatever language you are teaching. (That one is "alto.")