Keep Your Kids Happy With This Road Trip Experiment
We’ve done our fair share of road trips. In the last year alone, we had six – racking up 109 hours of drive time.
In fact, right now I’m typing from the passenger seat, rain splattering the windshield and the bumpy roads of North Texas giving me a nice roller coaster effect. One-year-old Bailey is snoring in the backseat, and her big sister is zoning out on The Pirate Fairy…again.
Last year, our very first road trip as a family of four was horrible. Five-week-old Bailey screamed approximately 40 of the 42 hours we were on the road. And those two blissful hours of silence were only thanks to these songs. I wish I were exaggerating, but it really was that miserable.
So thankfully, we’ve come a long way just one year later.
A big part of that is Bailey finally learning how to relax in the car and snooze the day away.
The other part? The iPad.
The glorious, glorious iPad.
What did parents do on road trips before?
Did you have to TALK to your kids the whole time?
Sends shivers up my spine.
Bonus: As a bonus for joining my weekly newsletter, get a free printable road trip activity that will keep your child busy and give their brain a workout.
The Road Trip to End All Road Trips
During a road trip, our limiting screen time rules go out the window. We let Abby watch movies, play games, draw pictures – whatever floats her 6-year-old boat – as long as she wants.
She grows tired of it eventually, so then we have to be parents again.
To stave that off as long as possible, before a trip I print off a dictionary-sized stack of coloring pages, worksheets, and other fun printables for kids.
On that fateful 42-hour road trip last year, we were about halfway through the trip back home, enjoying a rare break from the screaming.
The only thing that would keep Bailey calm was me, sandwiched between the two car seats in the back with my hips at an awkward 30 degree angle so I could fit, and my head bent down toward her face and my hair over my shoulder so she could run her tiny little fingers through it.
(I think my chiropractor gets excited every time he hears we’re planning another road trip. I’m sure I’ve single-handedly financed a boat by now.)
Related: 7 Brain Food Games: The Best Educational Apps for Kids
A Pothole in the Road
There I was, trying to stay as still and as quiet as a human pretzel can be. Bailey was asleep, and our ears were happy.
Abby was silently working on her pile of worksheets.
I closed my eyes. Maybe I could fall asleep too?
“I’m done,” Abby said.
I startled. Bailey whimpered.
“What?” I whispered.
She held up her stack of worksheets. “I finished.”
“All of them?”
She grinned. Proud of herself. But I was panicking.
“Why don’t you watch a movie?” I asked.
“I don’t want to.”
“It makes my neck hurt.”
This was BAD.
Think, Kelly, THINK.
I looked out the window at the cars all around us. Red, blue, black, white.
I had an idea. “Abby, let’s do an experiment.”
“What’s a spearmint?”
“Experiment. It’s what scientists do.”
Her face lit up. The kid digs science.
“What color car do you think is most popular?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Pink?”
I laughed. “Maybe. Do you want to do an experiment to find out?”
“How do we do it?”
We divided a sheet of paper into different sections for each color (yes, even pink).
“And now we form our hypothesis,” I said.
She stared at me.
“A hypothesis is your best guess for what the answer will be. You said pink is the most popular color for a car, so that’s your hypothesis. Our experiment will find out whether that’s right or if it’s another color instead.”
Then Abby started counting.
For each car we saw, she added a tick mark in the corresponding color’s section.
And it was magical.
Something she could do independently to keep her brain engaged, with no talking to wake up her baby sister.
Every little while, I would ask how her experiment was going.
She would have to count up each section’s tick marks and figure out which number was highest.
Counting, comparing numbers, color recognition, AND the scientific method.
It was pretty much the most educational travel activity ever invented.
The Result of Our Experiment?
When we stopped for dinner that night, Abby presented her findings.
The look on her face while she read out the totals for each color?
She did something on her own, from start to finish, and she couldn’t have been happier.
We all loved it so much I decided to make a printable version of it for this week’s trip.
I’m sharing it with you here so on your next road trip, your kids can have a fun project and you get a little peace and quiet without having to resort to zombie-ifying screen time.
On this week’s trip, Abby took the printable on a test drive.
“Ty and I will be your research assistants, Dr. Abby,” I said. “We’ll tell you what color cars we see, and you can mark them off.”
“I’m the boss, but I won’t boss you around,” she said.
I smiled. “That sounds good to me.”
“I’m going to be the best boss ever. I’ll even let you leave work early.”
Related: A Simple Trick to Limit Screen Time – And Get a Happier Kid, Too
Bonus Travel Tip!
If you don’t have this desk-to-go†, it’s a MUST-HAVE for kids on road trips. Abby keeps her pens and pencils in the zippered side pockets, and the desk part has elastic straps to hold paper in place.
Get Your Free Printable
- Get the experiment. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to get it and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be a little sturdier for the kiddos.
- Pack the experiment, give it to the kids when you get desperate, and enjoy the peace and quiet!
Here’s the second page…
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
For more ways to entertain your kid on a road trip without turning her into a zombie, check out 7 Brain Food Games: The Best Educational Apps for Kids.
How do you pass the time on a road trip? Share your tip in a comment below!
Feature photo in Pinterest image by William Warby.
Note: All information on this site is for educational purposes only. Happy You, Happy Family does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician.
I have an almost 3 year old and a just turned 4 year old. We travel at least 2 hours each way nearly every weekend, and they LOVE utheir Tag systems. They (mostly) share the books, and have learned quite a bit from those things. When they eventually tire of Tag (when we are almost to pur destination), they will go ahead and color or very seldomly usey phone. We really try hard not to give them the phone. I live your car game! Thank you!
So glad to hear you like the game! Hopefully your kids will enjoy it for your next road trip. :-)
Do you have any recommendations for a 16 months old who absolutely HATES being in the car. I have the same trouble of her screaming non-stop on road trips. She did it last summer as a 4 month old too. We took a 5 hour trip last week and it was so terrible my stomach was in my mouth :/ We have an 18 hour road trip in 2 weeks. We try driving over night, but she still ends up waking up from a bump in the road and just screaming. What helped your Bailey relax?
Oh, mama. I feel for you! A few things that come to mind…
1. Through trial and error, we found a handful of songs that calmed Bailey down. Those are listed here: https://happyyouhappyfamily.com/2013/10/how-to-calm-crying-baby/
We would play those on repeat, and it would help her calm down for sleep and stay asleep MUCH longer than without the songs on.
2. Another thing we found that would help is me being in the backseat with her, basically hugging her when she was freaking out. So if she were crying and we knew she was sleepy, I would get in the back and hug her, and we would play the songs until she fell asleep. It sucked being squished in the back seat between two car seats, but I think we saved everyone’s sanity by decreasing the screaming as much as possible!
3. I’ve heard it helps some babies to have white noise playing in the car. You can get a white noise app to do this. The one we use is listed here (#3): https://happyyouhappyfamily.com/2013/07/8-newborn-must-haves/
4. We also noticed at night-time she would freak out even more. So we got a carseat mirror with a light and music feature. (We stopped at a Babies R Us halfway between Michigan and Austin at about 7:30 pm to pick that up, we were desperate!)
5. On another long trip, we stopped at Babies R Us to pick up a stack of board books. We read those to her in a happy voice – one after the other – and that helped too.
I hope I’ve given you some ideas to go on…good luck on your trip!
So what color won???
After the experiment, I did a quick Google search to find out what the actual most popular car color is…and it’s white. :-) So then we had a cool conversation about what if it wasn’t actually white, what would that mean, etc. It led to talking about sample sizes and biased experiments, and more. Fun stuff for our geeky little family. :-)
So. Effin. Cool.
And so effin cool that you’ve actually become a Writer with a Blog that people Read. I remember when we dreamed of that. Rock on.
You know what’s cooler? Getting the Brennarella stamp of approval. :-D
You. are. brilliant. Pinning this.
Skye, you are too sweet! Thank you for pinning this little road trip experiment. :-) I see you’re from Austin too! So fun to connect with another local mama. I just followed you on Twitter and Instagram. Off to check out your site!
What a wonderful idea! Such a great way to tie in prediction and results for science – genius! And love the printable (thank you :). We’re using this on our trip to Chicago!
Jacquie, oh I’m so happy to hear you used it on your road trip! We actually went to Chicago on this road trip too. :-)
I hope you had a great family trip and that the experiment provided at least a little quiet time!
So clever and my 7 year old aspiring scientist will LOVE this. Saving it for those moments when the beloved iPad just won’t do anymore. Thank you!!
Christina, I love that your 7-year-old is an aspiring scientist already! I think Abby and your little one would get along very well. :-) Enjoy it on your next road trip!
I LOVE this!! Thank you so much for creating and sharing this! I have seen similar printables of check off sheets, but you actually made this into a usable lesson! My son is going to love it!
Thank you for the printables I am hoping it will entertain the kids for our car trip, at least for a few minutes ;)
This looks fabulous! We take car trips all the time with our 4 children (now 7, 9, 10, & 11) and we do limit screen time even on vacation. For long vacations we prepare binders ahead of time with maps for each state through which we’ll travel, coloring sheets, and games to play. (Your kids might be getting old enough for car Battleship!) I just printed eight of your activities so our kids can to one on the way to Florida, and another on the way home. Finger knitting and loom weaving are great options if your kids can keep the supplies relatively neat.