How to prepare for school holidays and road trips with children
School holidays. Sigh.
Mothers and fathers everywhere heave a big sigh and brace yourselves for the fun and mayhem of school holidays, about to be upon us any second. Are you prepared? Probably not, but this blog might help a little (no one can ever be fully prepared for school holidays though, trust me…).
If you have any excursions or road trips planned over the next fortnight, or a trip to the grandparents for some much needed respite, you might be dreading a little the impending car trip with your kids. But fear not, we have some awesome tips and tricks to help you through any road trip no matter how short or long.
So, sit back, buckle in and join us for some school holidays tips to keep you smiling and sane through the next two weeks.
Road Trips with children
Road trips before you had children and then road trips with children are an entirely different thing. They are also a different thing when you have babies, compared to having some recently toilet-trained pre-schoolers, compared to having school-aged kids.
School holiday tips: It’s all about planning
Road trips with children are like anything else you tackle with kids – it’s all about planning. Depending on how long the drive is, you will want to figure out a plan of attack before you set off, so that your trip is as pleasant as possible.
If you have a very long drive and little ones it might be better to drive through the night, or start very early in the morning and leave them in pyjamas and hopefully to get a lot more sleep before the bulk of the driving is done.
Plan breaks and toilet stops around your children’s schedule and make allowances for their age. Older kids obviously can go longer between breaks, as can little babies. Between the ages of 2 and 10 you probably need a break at least every two hours, and make sure they go to the toilet and have ten minutes to run around before getting back in the car.
Try to accept that breaks probably can’t be skipped or kept to less than 60 seconds if you have young children – just factor in beforehand that everything will take longer than you think it will. If you come to terms with this in the beginning it could be much easier for everyone.
Before you set off
Put together an emergency kit. We don’t mean a first aid kit, which you probably already should have in your car, but an in-case-of-kid-related-emergency kit. What goes into this might vary from family to family, but here are some ideas to get you started:
- Baby wipes
- Toilet paper
- Plastic bags (for vomiting in, or storing wet clothes, or rubbish)
- Drink bottle for each child
- Change of clothes for each child
- Hand sanitiser
- Snacks for the road
- Lollies to suck on
Make your own rubbish bin from a Tupperware cereal container
The plastic containers with flip-top lids used for cereal make awesome bins for the car. Line them with a shopping bag and pop rubbish in through the lid. They even keep food scraps contained and the ‘bin’ can roll around the floor and withstand all sorts of pressure from child-handling.
Activities for each child
One mum we know goes to K-mart or the $2 shop before bigger trips to get a number of small inexpensive activities for her children. She can then fill a big bag and bring a new activity out as needed, when the ‘I’m bored’ gets to deafening levels or if you are trying to entertain the children at a roadside restaurant.
It acts sort of like a lucky dip, and the children spend the entire holiday in awe of the magic bag and what might come out of it next.
Tips for on the road
Check those car safety seats
Do you have children under 7 years old? Are there car safety seats in the car the right way? Are you sure? A car safety seat can’t do its job if it’s not installed, fitted, and used correctly, so now is the perfect time to check them over. Here is a quick checklist to get you started.
- Check the seatbelt or ISOfix is connected and adjusted
- Is the child within the shoulder height markers displayed on the car seat fabric trims?
- Have you checked the harness at the right height for the child, and free of twists?
- Only child restraints that carry the Australian Standards sticker have been tested and approved as meeting standard AS/NZS 1754. Child restraints purchased overseas may only be used in Queensland if they comply with AS/NZS 1754.
- Manufacturers recommend you use a child restraint that is less than 10 years old. The restraint will have a sticker showing approval and a date stamp for when the restraint was manufactured.
- Don’t use a child restraint that has been ‘man handled’, that is showing signs of stress or has been in a vehicle crash.
Absolute Baby is a local business that can help if you’re thinking your child’s car safety seat’s “not quite right”
Screens or not?
We are not going to get controversial and tell you to try to go screen free on your road trip – if your sanity is in allowing your kids to have their screens, then go for it.
But you may want to restrict it somewhat if you pay the data bill or if you only have one screen to share or if your kids tend to get carsick.
Work out beforehand how many screens you will let them take and for how long the kids can have them, and tell the children this as you set off. Set a timer for when they need to turn them off and do something else for a while.
Or let them earn screen-time by doing something else for a decent amount of time such as playing nicely with a sibling, drawing a picture or doing a word game with you.
If they demand screens, one fun thing everyone can enjoy is asking Siri random questions – her responses can be hilarious and keep young and old in stitches.
Don’t let your kids get used to any music tracks that you can’t cope with listening to over and over again for the entire trip. Kid’s music/audio books etc. can be notoriously painful after a few repeats. But children will only get used to what you expose them to; there’s no reason why you can’t get them listening to your tunes, or audio books of children’s classics from your childhood.
When you have younger kids
Old fashioned word games and guessing games will never go out of fashion and are exciting to every new generation of children. Try ‘I Spy’, always a favourite, and you can use colours instead of letters for prompts for kids under school age. You might also try:
- ‘Guess what animal I am thinking of’ – like 20 questions but easier for littlies and without a limit on questions
- ‘Alphabet food’ – take it in turns to name a food starting with each letter of the alphabet. You could also do this for animals, and boy and girl names.
Car bingo/scavenger hunt
Prepare this one before you go. Draw up a grid with pictures of things your children need to spot on the trip, then when driving they cross them out or put stickers on them as they get them. Think of things like a caravan, pink car, horses, petrol station, police car, something funny, etc.
When you have older kids
You can still have interactive guessing games with older kids, just up the challenge factor. Some word games with older kids could include:
- Car cricket – for instructions see here https://www.topendsports.com/sport/cricket/car.htm
- Pose brain teasers and riddles to solve, such as those in the game Mindtrap (to buy see here https://www.ebay.com.au/i/352229145199?chn=ps)
- ‘Movie Stars’ – one person names an actor, the next person names a movie or tv show that person was in. Then the next person names another actor from that same movie/tv show. Then the next person names a different movie/tv show the new actor was in, and so on.
Mindfulness for the road
Something that is wonderful for every age is learning some mindfulness practice, and when a family is in an enclosed space for a long time, mindfulness is a very good idea.
Put some family mindfulness apps on your phone before you set off and play a guided session for everyone to join in whenever you feel it’s needed. Check out the Smiling Mind app as one great resource.
And then breathe, relax and focus on the journey, not the destination. You will get through this road trip and the school holidays, we promise!