Low-Tech Solutions for Quiet Car Rides With the Kids

By Courtney Messenbaugh  on September 27, 2012

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My life is loud, but I like quiet. My children are vocal, and sometimes the only quiet I can achieve is if my children are strapped into their child-safety seats watching a movie or playing a game on the iPad. Sometimes I let them do this for even the shortest of car trips.

I know I'm not alone because I recently happened upon some folks who are the proud owners of a vehicle that they've tricked out with three different sets of in-car entertainment screens to occupy their two children.

As parents, we like to tell ourselves that we do this because it makes the kids happy — and it does. But let's not kid ourselves; the main reason we do it is to make ourselves happy. Because as a parent, a little quiet can go a long way.

But is all of this high-tech, in-car screen time really good for our children?

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A Kaiser Family Foundation national survey about children and technology found that on average, children between ages 8 and 18 are spending more than seven hours a day engaging with technology that's unrelated to school. Most of this time is spent in front of a screen, and it doesn't bode well for our children.

What's a modern parent to do? Thankfully, I am surrounded by a bevvy of thoughtful parents who are full of low-tech, non-screen ideas for keeping everyone happy the car. If you have more ideas of your own, please share them in the comment section below. In the meantime, you might consider:

  • Audio books: Remember those? Having a silky-smooth Barry White-voiced narrator read to you and your kids while driving is delectable. The options are limitless, but a couple of my favorites include "Winnie-the-Pooh" for younger kids or "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" for the slightly older ones. Once you get going, everyone will become engrossed, and that translates into quiet.
  • Gel clings for windows: You know those clingy things your kids always want to decorate the house with during the holidays? Give them a packet for the car; just make sure they can reach the car windows while still strapped into their child-safety seats. Heck, give them many packets and keep them quiet for hours.
  • Sticker books, travel journals and maps: If it's a longer trip, give your kids a blank journal, some colored pencils and stickers to create their own travel story. Many children's atlases or maps are available, too. Give them one of the area you're driving in, and let them track your progress, or create a sightseeing scavenger hunt for them to complete on the road trip.
  • Physical games: Think rock-paper-scissors and slug bug (thereby alleviating any sibling frustration that creeps in). These games get kids moving a little and provide more entertainment than one would think.
  • Guessing games: These are the games you played with your parents or siblings as a child and there was no such thing as an iPad or in-car entertainment system. "I spy with my little eye something big and yellow." Others try to guess, and no, it's not the sun; it's my hair! There is a stable of games like this that you can tap into: the license plate game, the alphabet game, 20 questions, etc. These games don't induce silence, but they keep everyone busy and that means less complaining.
  • Actual tangible games: A quick internet search will lead you to printable versions of road-trip or road-kill bingo. Magnetic board games like checkers or chess are also great, and Mad Libs, which have stood the test of time, make everyone laugh.
  • Music: It's crazy, I know, but try Spotify or Pandora for streaming music or even (gasp!) the old-fashioned FM/AM radio. Music impacts a different part of the brain than television or movies do, and it inspires all kinds of creative, relaxing brain activity. Get grooving.

I'm taking a vow now before it's too late: No screen in the car unless the trip will be longer than an hour and even then, in smaller doses. Everyone will be happier in the long run for it.

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