Long Car Trips
Whether it’s for a long weekend or for a getaway of a week or more, most families like to use the car rather than trying other means of transport, unless we’re heading overseas (which is another story). Even the teachers here at Friday’s Child Montessori like to get away for a break, and we’re sure you do, too.
Now, we all know that politeness and consideration and generally being gracious and a good citizen are important parts of Montessori learning. But there’s something about long car trips that tends to put people under strain, especially smaller people who are riding in car seats or booster seats, which is the case for most children who are attending an early learning centre. Yes, your child probably does have a long concentration span but children do have a lot of energy to burn and the interior of a car isn’t like a classroom or a home, and there’s not as much equipment to play with and experiment with, especially if you are driving interstate. If you fail to keep small children amused, eruptions in the back tend to break out, which is stressful for you, stressful for the child or children involved and stressful for anyone else in the vehicle.
One way that you can help your children cope with long car trips is to plan the timing of your trip. One good thing about smaller children is that they find it easier to sleep in the car compared to older children (teenagers find it nearly impossible). If you plan your travelling time right so the middle of the trip is in the middle of the day (which is when a lot of younger children like to have a nap) or if you do the bulk of the driving at night, your kids can sleep a lot of the miles away. This may require you to take a fair amount of coffee so you can drive safely and it does have the disadvantage that you have bouncy, refreshed children who are ready to play and explore a new place when you’ve just finished a ten-hour drive and want to sleep. But for some families, this may be the most peaceful option.
However, you can’t get your children sleeping for the entire trip if you’re going on a long journey. You will need to provide entertainment. Some flash modern cars have rear seat DVD players, so your child can watch a good Disney movie (and the driver can listen to the soundtrack) for a good chunk of the journey. Picture books are another alternative if the scenery gets a bit boring (e.g. the Nullabor). While books and DVDs work a treat on straight roads, they are not so good if the road starts to wind, because this can trigger carsickness. If your eyes are focussed on something that doesn’t move while your sense of balance tells you that you are moving, your brain can’t quite cope and reacts by triggering nausea. So make sure that your children can see out the window, even if you have three children and need to put someone in the centre seat. CDs and audio books are also great for kids (and adults) to listen to while they watch the scenery passing by – you can even make the journey into learning time by playing one of those CDs of songs designed to help you memorise facts. Or just enjoy a favourite story! Parents (the non-driver, of course!) can also read aloud if you can’t find an audio version of your favourite stories, although the reader may also have to watch it so they don’t get carsick. This can be the time to hand down some family stories or to talk about interesting facts – it’s great quality time.
Eating snacks and sipping drinks can also help to pass the time for children but can have consequences. Ensure that the snacks are reasonably healthy and don’t cause a huge mess if dropped – nuts are good if your child doesn’t have allergies, as are raisins, dried fruit, cut up apples, crackers (crumbs vacuum up easily) and the like – avoid anything squishy, greasy or sloppy. Water makes the best drink and does prevent overheating but remember that young children have smaller bladders and can’t hold on as long. So make sure you stop from time to time so your children can go to the loo. The experts tell us that we should be stopping for a break during long car trips, whether we have kids in the back or not, just so we don’t get fatigued. One problem that may crop up when driving in rural Australia is that your child may need to go to the toilet and there is no toilet in sight. Here, you have to compromise a little and just let him/her have a wee on the side of the road. Even if another car does zoom past, very few people will be offended and will realise that when a child needs to go, he/she needs to go – and what else can you do in the middle of nowhere? When you do stop, it’s a good idea to let all the kids out for a run around, and if you have several smaller children, it’s a good idea to insist that everyone tries to empty their bladder so you don’t get a small voice piping up with “I need to go to the loo!” five minutes after you’re back on the road again. If you can get to a public toilet, it’s wise to go with your child and insist on good handwashing – and probably dish out the hand sanitiser when you get back to the car. Public loos aren’t anywhere as clean as the toilets at a Montessori centre or at your home, so play it safe.
And if the worst comes to the worst and your children start getting quarrelsome, you can minimise problems by seating them strategically. Put the esky between two children in the back seat so they can’t hit or poke each other easily (this can double as a table for a colouring book in happier moments). Have the non-driving parent sit in the middle or swap seats with one of the rear passengers if possible. Or, if you have a larger vehicle with seven seats, separate the children into the middle row and the rear row to prevent fighting… or just put them into the rear seat so you don’t get driven bonkers by the bickering. Even children who are taught Montessori principles of politeness aren’t perfect!