When my eldest son still lived at home, his contribution to car journeys was the game 'Yellow Car' which basically involved thumping one of his sisters whenever we passed a yellow car. Thankfully, our games and activities have become more sophisticated (and less violent) since then!
The Number Plate Game
When stuck in traffic, the surrounding cars offer an endless source of entertainment, by means of their varied number plates. Taking the last three letters you have to think of the longest/best/silliest word using them all in order. Taking this game further, you can come up with a three word phrase with each word starting with the letters. Older children are further challenged to come up with a phrase consisting of a Noun, a Verb and an Adverb, which will give you a thing doing something in a certain way! Given the letters on the number plate of the black cab in the photo: DGJ, you could have come up with the silly made-up word digglejip or the phrase Dogs Gyrate Joyfully. It actually causes a great deal of laughter, especially if someone makes a rude word or phrase!!
Who is that in the car next to you? Where are they going? Why? What is their relationship to the passengers of the lorry behind them? Traffic is a great source for inspiring creative storytelling. Are these people spies on a mission or are they on their way to visit a long lost relative? Are they undercover cops on the trail of the dustcart bandits in the queue of traffic ahead? Could they be pop stars on their way to a secret gig? The potential for entertaining each other with fun stories is endless.
Think of a topic...girls' names, animals, things you'd find in a supermarket etc. Then, take turns to name something in that category beginning with each letter of the alphabet.
Simple, but effective. Think of a word or a theme and sing as many songs as you can based on that. Favourite themes include CBeebies theme tunes, Disney songs or songs from Grease. It is a lot of fun to work through the family repetoire of songs and when the silliness sets in, we start trying to harmonise with each other that often leads in a lot of laughter!
The Times-ing Game
Having the kids captive in the car for a few hours provides a brilliant opportunity to test their maths skills. But it would be cruel to just make them recite their 8x table verbatim on long journeys so we play a game. The multiplication questions that I fire at the kids have a bit of a twist. Instead of using numbers, I use a cryptic clue to the numbers to be multiplied such as 'the number of hands on a clock', 'the number of wheels on a car' or 'the number of legs on an octopus'. Freddy is able to join in when it comes to guessing the numbers, then his sisters have the task of multiplying 'the number of stations in Monopoly' by 'the number of players in a football team'. If I am feeling really mean I will ask 'the number of hairs on the human head' multiplied by the number of legs on an earthworm'!! Who knew maths could be fun??
On Our Journey
This game is a variation of the 'In my bag' game. Someone names something they will see on their journey...such as 'On my journey I will see a cow in a field'. The next person has to repeat this then add their own thing that they will see, for example...'On my journey I will see a cow in a field and an old man jogging.' This continues with the next player having to remember all the things that came before before adding their own suggestion. It isn't easy!
Being in the car is the perfect time for the family to simply have a chat. There aren't many times in the day when the whole family is altogether and this precious time should never be underestimated. The kids love to talk about school and their friends and things they enjoy doing. Having a captive parental audience is absolutely priceless. So next time you are stuck in a traffic jam, don't curse! Just look at it as being able to spend some uninterrupted chatter time with the kids. It's moments like this that they will remember...they will fondly remember the time they were stuck on the M25 in a traffic jam and they told you about all their friends from school and what they got up to at break time!
We have a wonderful collection of Disney, CBeebies, Justin Fletcher and kids' singalong CDs which work wonders in keeping Freddy happy in the car if all else fails. If the older kids object, they can resort back to the technological delights of their iPods, while mummy and daddy sing to the theme tunes from Numberjacks, The Tweenies and Gigglebiz!
One thing that is lovely for making children relaxed is to listen to a story. Audio stories are perfect for the car, and I think that it makes it even more perfect if the stories are read by someone they love! We have a recording of Nana and Grandad reading some poems and fairytales for their grandchildren. Playing this never fails to delight the children and restores some peaceful calm to the car.
Practicalities for Long Journeys
Always make sure you keep a cool bag of drinks and light snacks on hand to keep the children fed when they get peckish (much cheaper than stopping off at service stations!) Also pack a packet of baby wipes for spills and for freshening up. If you have kids prone to travel sickness be sure to keep a stash of carrier bags (double bagged as many have safety holes in them!) and some kitchen towel in the car. Better safe than sorry! A change of clothes is also a good idea. Keep a fleece blanket in the back of the car in case it gets chilly or have sun blinds in case it gets too hot.
Often for the little ones, car journeys provide a good time to catch up on some zzzz's, giving some peace and quiet! If this is the case, keep the music low and let them rest!
If the journey to your destination is a happy affair, the kids will arrive feeling happy, relaxed and ready to have fun. We drove all the way to Central France from the Midlands last year and we survived in one piece!