Learning happens anywhere and any time, usually without you acknowledging it. When you do call it “learning”, that’s when the kids stop doing that very thing. Whether you do traditional schooling or homeschooling, driving in the car is a great time to do some fun family learning any time.
Now, a quick disclaimer. Being on a road trip as the only parent is a survival situation. If you want this mom to be a nice mom, the time in the car is the only “alone” time available even if it’s only in her head. On our long road trips, we are as far from this ideal as possible. We are not the folk-singing, peaceful, travelling family from happy car trips in movies. The four kids are usually fighting over which movie to watch on the TV with headphones, and I have my own book or podcast going for me to block out the arguing. If we are driving more than a few hours, the TV goes on. If for only a couple of hours, the below is the usual. Back to the subject…
When we first started travelling, I used to pack a bag of math books, take the morning time binder, and print out car worksheets. We wouldn’t unpack them, and I would arrive back home feeling like a “failure”.
Just drive and go somewhere. Leave the books and morning time binders at home. If you can’t completely do without, take your math book if you can’t cut it out completely. It totally counts even if you have nothing other than yourself and your kid(s) and the road in front of you. The trip there can be just as meaningful as the destination. It’s all in how you see the situation.
It took me a while to figure out homeschooling while on the road until I the travel itself became part of the school experience. Now that I see learning as a lifestyle, I load up the phone with good listening choices and pack dice, decks of cards, games, and books (and movies, of course).
Audiobooks are on the top of our list of car entertainment, and we have listened to some great ones. While we have done many historical fiction, most of our car books have nothing to do with the traditional learning. They still count!
You’re all working on your imaginations and increasing the love of reading. Family culture is being formed as you have shared experiences of imaginary worlds, made-up words, characters who seem like real people, and story lines that come into their imaginative play at home. The little ones are working on increasing their listening skills and being exposed to bigger words. Even if they don’t know exactly what’s going on in the larger story plot, they understand smaller parts while shooting the toy gun out the window at all the trees or letting Spiderman jump from seat to window.
For short trips or taking a break between books, podcasts are the go-to option. Honestly, once a book is in process, the kids have little patience for podcasts because they want to listen to their story. Through kid podcasts, we have listened to folk stories from the world, debated, and learned all kinds of science facts. There are even podcasts that discuss composers and read poetry and give you the news for the day. Below are our favorites – all available on iTunes.
- Smash Boom Best – A show that pairs two different things and debates them
- Stories Podcasts – Traditional fork stories from around the world and new stories as told by some excellent story tellers
- Brains On – A podcast for curious minds about all things science including animals, the world, and nature
- Stuff You Should Know – A bigger kid and parent podcast about anything and everything
- Stuff You Missed in History Class – History made interesting for bigger kids and parents
Music appreciation! Songs are a part of their heritage just as much as classic stories. Make a playlist on Amazon Prime of songs for easy access.
- Turn on the hymns so your kids can add to their Christian heritage.
- Switch to the fifties channel and introduce the kids to Frank Sinatra.
- Listen together to the songs of your childhood.
- Rock out to rock classics.
- Pick a classical composer or period and look for the differences.
Yes, I realize this is a typical homeschooler thing, but it doesn’t have to be. For Classical Conversations, we best learn a lot of our memory work through short songs for math, English, history, science, and Latin. Even though it really does work, we don’t do these as much as we should. In the car currently, we are singing the Gettysburg Address as well as our school scripture for the semester. Even if you aren’t a homeschooler, there are lots of Bible verses set to song for memory work everyone can do.
The driving world is full of opportunities for real world math. You just have to look for them. The car is full of numbers: speedometer, GPS, clocks, and mileage. Take advantage also of restroom, gas, and food stops. You could even drill math facts, solve mental math problems, and have your kid create real world math problems for you to solve.
- How long until we get there? How long has it been?
- What are time zones? What time is it back home right now?
- How fast are we going? How much faster will we get there if I go 65 MPH instead of 70 MPH?
- What does miles per gallon mean?
- How long will it take us to get there if we stop to pee every hour for 15 minutes each time?! J
- Estimate for me how much it will cost to get you each ice cream? How much change?
- How many movies do you have time to watch?
- What do you notice about the temperature as we move into different temperature zones?
Geography and Science
There is no better way to learn about your world than travel. The kids have seen so many different states and landforms around the United States that learning it from a book is only a reminder of names. They have stories and memories of each.
- Put the phone on the holder so the kids can see the map.
- Download the altimeter app and discuss altitude.
- Put a big kid in charge of the planning or the map or navigation.
- Make copies of paper maps so the kids can track the journey.
- Notice the state border crossings and the landforms that might be the reason for the boundary.
- Point out landforms outside the window: see the mesa, drive up the volcano, compare the river size to another you’ve seen…
- Observe the geographical differences around you in the land, trees, animals, and weather.
Essentially, the options are limitless. Don’t forget the natural learning that comes through life experiences of travel, cooperating with family, language learning, money management, culture appreciation, and family time together.
Listen to them. Turn off the radio and talk to your kids about the world. Ask them questions. Talk about the stuff you see outside the window of the car and see what rabbit trail it takes you down. What are you reading? What are they reading? (link to sarah Mackenzie)
You have a lifetime of knowledge in your head and a kid strapped in with nowhere to go. Sounds like an ideal opportunity to me for real conversations. All you have to do is listen.
Remember my disclaimer at the beginning about how Mom needs alone time? The biggest obstacle to making all this happen is ourselves. We have to turn off our own music, take off our own headsets, and be intentional about seizing the opportunities. This doesn’t mean you have to do that for eight hours all the way to Grandma’s house and back. Put on the movie and the headphones when you or they or both need a break. It’s completely allowed. Just make the rest of the time count because it already does!