I've been meaning to write this post for about six weeks. For the holidays, we drove about twelve hours to my parent's house and then another twelve hours to get home. I was dreading the drive, anxious about keeping all three kids entertained for such a long time. I emailed a great many wiser moms to gather all the ideas I could and thought I'd share what worked best for our family.
I sat in the middle of the van, so I could reach all the other seats. This way, I was able to hand things up to Kansas Dad (like CDs or water bottles) and also reach the two older kids in the back seat. We used the front passenger seat for more luggage. It's amazing how much we hauled with us!
Movies once were the staple of our drives. Monitoring the DVD player is a bit of a hassle for me, though. (And watching them makes me queasy.) I was also worried about positioning it so all three could see it or if Second Daughter would protest when it was playing (because she couldn't see it or because she could; I could see either happening). So I decided we'd try to limit the time more this trip than in the past. I let First Son and First Daughter each pick three and added some of my own choice (mainly the holiday ones). First Son was at first distraught he'd only have three choices, but then resolved to at least pick the three longest ones he could. Smart kid. They each picked one to watch on the way there and one to watch on the way home, so the screen time was pretty limited. (It was nice to have some extras to pull out when we were all sick at Gram and Papa's house.)
I found a great website was full of entertainment ideas. I printed the bingo cards, scavenger hunt and license plate lists, but we didn't really use any of them. We tried the bingo cards, but First Son didn't really understand the rules. He kept crossing things off randomly.
The most fun and entertainment came from the peanut butter jars I filled with rice and random objects from around the house. I found the idea on the same website (scroll down to Treasure Bottle). It was amazing how many little things I found to fill the jars once I started looking (Lego pirate head, tiny sea turtle, pony bead, miniature pom pom). I think I put about 12 or 13 in each jar (two so each older child could have one at the same time). Because First Son is young, I wrote out lists of the items and had him search for specific items rather than telling him how many there were and asking him to write them all down. We still have these jars. Even Second Daughter likes to shake them and see the objects appear. I probably spent less than twenty minutes filling the jars and they easily entertained the kids for an hour or more each way.
The best idea was from another mom in my homeschool group. She suggested clipboards so the kids could draw and write. They loved them! I have to work on my technique for attaching the pencils as they kept coming off. (I brought extra tape and a pencil sharpener for emergencies.) I wish I had thought to buy a smaller one for Second Daughter. We'll remedy that before the next long trip. It really didn't matter what paper we gave them, they just loved the clipboards. (I started them out with a map of our trip and tried to mark where we were on the way.)
My favorite way to pass the time were the books on tape. I brought along four, but we only listened to two: Magic Tree House Collection: Books 1-8 and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They were both a hit, though we didn't finish either of them on the trip. I enjoyed listening as much as the children and they were much better than listening to children's songs as we had in the past. First Daughter was not as interested in the stories, but she didn't complain too much. I think Kansas Dad wasn't that interested, either, but he was willing to give up radio privileges for sanity's sake. Since the trip, the kids and I have been listening to all the Narnia stories (just started the fourth book). They make the trips in and out of town so much more enjoyable for me!
It was easier to fill our time than I expected. Second Daughter was the toughest. She didn't like any of the toys I brought for her and the books only entertained for a short time. (We brought five books for each child, which limited the piles of books in the van as they really don't entertain for very long on the road. I can't read to them because it makes me queasy.) Mostly I fed Second Daughter crackers, sliced grapes and other such snacks one or two at a time to keep her quiet (bits of chocolate bar in times of absolute necessity). For hours and hours at a time. We liked it best when she was sleeping, but she does not like bedtime or nap time in the car so quiet sleeping time was always preceded by much crying and unhappiness all around. I'm open to more toddler ideas as we're contemplating another trip in a few months.