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Traveling with Toddlers and Preschoolers

By Diane Flynn Keith
Author of the best-selling book, Carschooling

Traveling long distances with little ones can be a stressful undertaking but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some ideas for learning with preschoolers in the car that I posted on the Unpreschool at Yahoo Groups. You can subscribe to that list for free by sending a blank email to: Unpreschool.

Color Hunt

Say the name of a color and ask your child to name things that they see outside of the car that are that color. Introduce new colors that your child might not know. If you see something that is silver, for example, point it out. Then try to find other silver things. Even a box of 16 Crayola Crayons will give you color suggestions that your child might not be familiar with yet.

Of course, you don’t have to limit this to what you can actually see. You could think of things that are a particular color. For example, you could ask your child to name some things that are yellow – banana, corn, lemon, daffodil, etc. Then, try to find yellow things in the car and outside the car.

The Crayola website lists the top 50 favorite colors and provides a sample of the color you can see at: Crayola’s Website


Car Fishing

Give your child a short dowel with a long string that has a magnet attached to it. Place a shoebox filled with magnetized letters, numbers, and toys under their feet. Let them “fish” for whatever will stick to the magnet on their dowel. When they reel it in, have them tell you what it is – if it’s a toy, have them tell you something about the toy. Develops vocabulary and improves letter and number recognition.

You can purchase magnetized letters, numbers, words, and more from: Magnetic Poetry


Play Guessing Games

Critter Sounds

Have fun making the sounds of different kinds of critters (animals, birds, insects, etc.) while you drive in the car.

Ask your child:

  • What sound does a dog make?    (Bow-wow or woof-woof.)
  • What sound does a cat make?    (Meow.)
  • What sound does a frog make?    (Ribbit or croaking noise.)
  • What sound does a bee make?    (Buzz or zzzzzzzzz.)
  • What sound does a lion make?    (Roar.)
  • What sound does a bear make?    (Growl.)
  • What sound does a bird make?    (Tweet.)

If your child has never seen many animals, get some picture books from the library with animals. Introduce them to your child and talk about what they look like, where they live, what color they are, what they eat, and what sound they make. Then, next time you’re in the car, you can play the game again — and for a longer time, since you will have added new animals to your knowledge bank. Don’t forget to not only ask for the sound the animal makes — but see if your child can tell you where the animal lives or some other fact about it. If not — tell your child some interesting tidbit. It’s a fun way to interact on the road.

If you’re not sure what kind of sound some animals make — you’ll find lots of animal sounds to listen to at this website.

Enhance the learning with a box of Animal Crackers! As you pick a cookie from the box, talk about the different animals before you eat one.


Geometry In The Clouds and On The Road

Almost everyone has gazed at cloud formations and seen the shapes of animals, mythical creatures, and other things. Why not invite your child to hunt for geometrical shapes in the clouds as you drive along — like circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, diamonds, cones, and more.

Of course, you will see many of these shapes in road signs as well – a Stop Sign is an octagon, a Yield sign is a triangle, a Speed Limit sign is a rectangle, Botts Dots are circles, etc. When you point out a sign, talk about what makes a particular shape, for example a triangle has 3 sides, a square has four sides that are exactly the same length. Your little ones may surprise you by finding shapes in buildings and signs that you pass along the road. Celebrate their discoveries!

Not only will this activity develop your child’s vocabulary, but improve observation skills for math and science too.


Fun Listening Ideas

Listen to Audio Stories!

Jim Weiss, storyteller extraordinaire, has an extensive library of titles available including: Tell Me A Story (includes Goldilocks, Rumplestiltskin, & The Little Red Hen) and Animal Tales (Aesop’s Fables and Grimm Fairy Tales). Listen to samples before purchasing at Weiss’ website.

Music For The Young and Young At Heart!

Raffi – This prolific singer and songwriter has a collection of singable songs for the very young that gently teach respect for the environment and the earth as they entertain. Available at Raffi News


Writing Practice

Write Without Paper or Markers!

Magna Doodle — A lap size magnetic drawing board with an attached writing device is perfect for using in the car to write or draw pictures, numbers, letters, and words. No more worrying about paper and pencils. The travel version stores easily in a car door side pocket. Available at toy stores and Amazon.com.

Magical Books!

Magic Pen books are available in most book stores — they have blank pages, but when you color or scribble over the pages with the magic pen, pictures become magically visible. Magic Pen books are available for all ages in many subject categories and will keep children entertained for long stretches on the road.


More Fun Ideas

Paper Bag Puppetry

Bring along a brown, paper lunch bag and some markers. When you need a diversion in the car, slip the paper bag over your hand and use a marker to draw a face on it for an instant puppet! Let the puppet tell your child a favorite fairy tale or children’s story. Many young children like to talk to puppets and confide their feelings as well.


Mail Call

Save all your junk mail and bring it with you in a bag….when everyone gets antsy, announce its mail time and distribute the junk mail. Let them open it and tell you what it’s about…or just let the little one tear it up.

Alphabet Hunt!

Look for alphabet letters on the license plates of passing cars and billboards.

Surprise Package!

Before the trip get a shoe box for each kid and fill it with stuff you know they will like (crayons, chalk, coloring book, stickers, book, fruit leather, etc.) and wrap it up as a gift — let them open it once you get on the road.

Rest Stop Romps!

Do stop at rest stops frequently and plan to hop, jump, and run together when you are there. Shake those sillies out!

Have fun!

If you like these ideas for the car, you will find many more for all ages in the popular book, Carschooling: Over 350 Entertaining Games & Activities To Turn Travel Time Into Learning Time by Diane Flynn Keith (published by Random House).

2 comments to Traveling with Toddlers and Preschoolers

  • Great ideas. I had to laugh at the junk mail idea. What a clever way to make good use of it and you’re right – they’ll love it. 🙂 Just be careful there is nothing in it that would compromise your identity if it was found by others. 🙂

    Thank you for a fascinating Thanksgiving newsletter today and the permission to use it on our websites. I will be using it this Friday at SandwichINK 🙂

    Have a great Thanksgiving!

  • These are awesome ideas. We have both been carschooled and as avid homeschoolers, we are almost never home and car school almost all of the time. We also carschool on the subway and train. Everywhere we go there ia an opportunity to learn and be with family. Life is Great! So is your site.

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